CODA was a band from the Netherlands, which caused quite some interest when they released
their debut album "Sounds of Passion" in 1986, selling out two pressings of the discs in
three weeks. Although interest in the band was high, they never got around to doing live
shows to promote the CD, as what they wanted to do live wasn't financially realistic to take on. Their debut was reissued several times over the following years, but it wasn't until 1996 that the follow-up album, “What a Symphony”, was released, and this proved to be the final release by Coda as well. In 2007 Pseudonym Records released a special bonus edition of the band’s debut, with the original album remastered and all sorts of bonus material added, resulting in the ultimate reissue of "Sounds of Passion", as a 2 CD set.
Disc 1 “Sounds of Passion” (58:30)
1. Sounds of Passion 29:14
2. Crazy Fool & Dreamer 4:25
3. Defended 7:07
4. 4th Movement Single Version 4:43
5. 3rd Movement Single Version 2:28
6. Crazy Fool & Dreamer Single Version 4:24
7. Central Station 2:06
8. Reverberating Sounds 4:03
Disc 2 “The Demos” (63:30)
1. Sounds of Passion Demo 31:25
2. Nevermore 4:25
3. Defended Demo 6:53
4. True Melody 3:19
5. Crazy Fool & Dreamer Demo 4:31
6. What A Symphony-1 Demo 4:48
7. What A Symphony-2 Demo 5:16
8. Reverberating Sounds Demo 2:52
Erik De Vroomen – keyboards; bass pedals; percussion; vocals
Jack Witjes – electric & acoustic guitars; b/v
Jacky Van Tongeren – fretless bass
Mark Eshuis – drums
Karel De Greef – el. & ac. guitars
Jan Stavenuiten – drums
Maarten Holz – bass
Pip Van Steen – flute, piccolo, recorder
Auke De Haan – saxophone
Roel Strik – narration
This double disc outing exceeds two hours in length, but only seven of the sixteen pieces here (running for 55 minutes) appear in their final form, while most of the others are their demos, three of the basic tracks being additionally represented by their single versions. I find it to be both quite a pointless and tedious occupation to compare the better and the worse variants of the same compositions, of whose corresponding qualities I was aware before I listened to them. So I’d better leave it to Olav, my sole work mate on the site, to express his opinion on the matter when writing his part of this duo review. Personally I’ll only examine all three of the tracks from the original “Sounds of Passion” CD edition along with those four extra tunes that are only available on this release. Lasting for almost 30 minutes, the opening composition Sounds of Passion is presented as a five-act instrumental suite that includes a Prolog and four Movements. Besides using bass pedals, bandleader Erik De Vroomen handles a solid set of vintage keyboards instruments, namely Mellotron, Hammond and pipe organ, Clavinet, Moog emulator and grand piano, as well as a number of then-modern synthesizers, whose role in the album, but especially on this, its title piece, is also significant. To cut a long story short, the style here is a crossover between ‘70s canonic Art-Rock, its ‘80s Neo manifestation and something I have to define as Symphonic Ambient, involving also some quantity of elements of Classical, Blues Rock and pop Art, though the 5-minute Prolog only finds Erik narrating to the ‘accompaniment’ of the sounds of nature, such as thunder, rain and so on. The music is overall quite original, yet incorporates certain others’ creative discoveries nonetheless, though while the influences of both Rick Wakeman and The Alan Parsons Project are evident here and there, those of Pink Floyd or Manfred Mann’s Earth Band are mostly hypothetical. Treated as a suite, the composition is multi-sectional indeed, but anyhow it’s for the most part only due to its length that it comes across as having a genuinely epic magnitude. Figuratively speaking, the band much more often explores the ground floor of their built construction than goes up to its upper storeys, so it doesn’t have a sense of complex architecture, despite the presence of intense, bombastic maneuvers in places. Comparatively in general and as regards the piece’s duration in particular, there aren’t too many transitions here, and since much of the composition is originally designed as slow-paced, the arrangements, while being sonically saturated, often lack in diversity let alone dynamism. The remaining two tracks from the original “Sounds of Passion” CD edition, Crazy Fool & Dreamer and Defended, are both complicated art-rock ballads and are fine as long as you reckon without the vocals. Erik’s singing is generally the weakest link here. Thankfully he sings relatively rarely, but when he does the result is often annoying. If he were to sing in his own language he would have certainly been more convincing. The two bonus tracks on the first disc, Central Station and Reverberating Sounds, are both makeweights, the first depicting the bass soloing in an eclectically-chaotic way, and the other representing a set of very brief sketches that have been taken from different sources, and so have no connection between them at all. The only two original tracks on Disc 2, Nevermore and True Melody, are way better, both reminding me of compact and at the same time edgier versions of the Sounds of Passion suite. It’s regretful that the band used the two balladic songs instead of these instrumentals when compiling their debut recording. The playing of keyboardist Erik De Vroomen, guitarist Jack Witjes and bassist Jacky Van Tongerendrum is impressive, whilst drummer Mark Eshuis doesn't always match his partners in technique. As for the embryonic versions of the first two movements of What a Symphony, both of which, to my great surprise, were recorded 12 years before the album of the same name was issued, these are fairly decent pieces also, though of course their final variants are much more compelling.
Despite all the above criticism, I recognize much of this music has a beauty and richness about it, so the “Sounds of Passion” album as such, as well as both the original tracks from the second disc, might well appeal to those who appreciate unhurriedly developing Symphonic Progressive with occasional outbursts of the energy typical of the genre’s classic shape.
CODA belongs to a rather large category of bands: those who have few releases, but were more or less popular at the time they were active and that are regarded as having been underrated today. One of those artists people will mention as "I can't believe they never had a commercial breakthrough" or similar statements. And when listening to this recording it is understandable to fathom why it made an impact at the time of its release, but just as easy to see why it isn't held in as high regard today. The opening tune, Sounds of Passion, is the central composition on this release, not as much for being the title track or the first song on the album, but because it clocks in at just under 30 minutes in length. This is a truly epic composition and an ambitious one too. Main man and composer Erik De Vroomen is familiar with classical music, as can be seen by the structure of the epic, divided into five segments, as well as the naming of those segments – one prologue followed by four movements. Musically this composition contains just as strong elements from classical symphonic music, the prolog an atmospheric opening, mood enhancing musical segments presented in the first movement, darker tinges to the soundscapes and more set musical themes following in the second movement as well as tendencies towards a dramatic climax. The third movement introduces some new sounds and instruments to the composition and generally adds variation, and then the dramatic climax follows in the last movement, with a fadeout at the end. The musical style explored throughout the epic belongs mainly to the category of symphonic progressive, with layers of keyboards and synthesizers creating a melodic and often lush musical picture, strong on mood and atmosphere. Atmospheric melodic guitar licks in a manner similar to early Genesis, Camel or Marillion enhance the moods explored, while the bass guitar often adds some jazz influences to the composition. In the third movement, reeds add some folk-inspired touches to the soundscape, and the use of a pipe organ in the final movement gives this segment a dark, dramatic and at times sacral atmosphere of a rather unique kind. For me there are two weak aspects to this epic composition though. The first and most minor issue is vocals; there aren't many vocal passages here but when they appear, at the start and the end, they are rather weak and heavily accented. The second issue I have here is that the composition, although well thought out and structured, and with nice evolution and development from segment to segment, really doesn't have the same evolution within each individual movement. There are many fascinating and intriguing explorations within each part here, but no real development. Instead of being a part of a musical journey I feel that I'm taken to one location, and then jerked away to witness the next musical idea. Ultimately this makes the individual segments here as a whole a bit uninteresting for me, and I end up listening with half an ear until the next fascinating part within the individual section appears. The epic in itself isn't bad, but for me it ends up as an average composition overall, due to what I find to be a lack of cohesion. It would have been interesting to listen to this composition in an arrangement for a classical symphonic orchestra some day though, as I suspect that this would not have been an issue then. As for the other tracks here, Crazy Fool & Dreamer is the highlight of the CD for me, a mellow symphonic tune with slight jazz influences courtesy of the bass guitar, with strong melody and overall a well developed composition. The final track on the original release, Defended, is basically more of the same, but this one with a longer instrumental middle part that plods on a bit too much to keep up interest. The bonus tracks following on the first CD here aren't really that impressive: two segments from the title track in rearranged and shortened single versions, still nice music to listen to in rearranged form, but they fail to come across as any better overall. The Single Version of Crazy Fool & Dreamer is just as good as the album version, as the tune hasn't been drastically altered in any way. Central Station and Reverberating Sounds are both more atmospheric pieces than songs as such in my opinion, and are nice to listen to without ever grabbing my attention to a major extent. The second disc of this 21st Anniversary Edition of "Sounds of Passion" consists of various demo recordings by the band, including an early demo version of the title track recorded while the band was known as Sequoia. It is a nice addition to the album for fans of the band in particular, but probably not that interesting to other buyers unless they like comparing the first take of a song with the finished product. Thus I won't rate this part of the album, as I doubt that the general reader will have an interest in this part of the release.
Back in 1986 it is easy to understand why this album made an impact. Progressive rock and symphonic rock were not held in high esteem at the time, and fans of this kind of music weren't spoilt for choices when they wanted to buy a new album with their favorite music. This album was ambitious, the sound was fresh and modern at the time, and the overall sound of the album mixed elements from the symphonic rock bands of the '70s with the sound introduced by the artists playing what was coined neo-progressive rock. This last aspect was probably unintentional though, and more of a result of the synths used in the 80's having a rather unique sound. Still, the music here connected the dots between the old and the new, had ambition and was one of few new titles available. As for today’s audience, fans of the aforementioned neo-progressive rock will probably find this release most compelling, as well as people into both symphonic rock and classical symphonic music. People from Coda’s fan base are the ones who will find this release most interesting though, due to the plethora of bonus material in this edition.