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(45 min, Musea)
TRACK LIST: 1. Hello World 5:03 2. Stick Around 4:53 3. Call It Chance 4:14 4. Square One 4:36 5. Wonder 8:37 6. Berlin Wall 5:30 7. Us 4:10 8. Falling Asleep 2:23 9. Billy 5:49 PERSONNEL: Edwin Roes - electric & acoustic guitars Hans Van Lint - vocals; ac. guitar Ron Mozer - keyboards Ed Wernke - drums Bacchus - bass
Prolusion. Next year Dutch band FOR ABSENT FRIENDS (FAF hereinafter) will celebrate their 20th anniversary. "Square One" is their sixth full-length studio album and is my first encounter with their work.
Analysis. "Square One" is made up of nine tracks most of which are overloaded with vocals, but especially the first two, the rhythmic pop-rockers Hello World and Stick Around, each featuring a very poor instrumental background in general and no decent solos. Although the music seems to be original (especially on the vocal front), while listening to these I can't get rid of the impression that I hear Asia at their most straightforward - just using hard guitar textures. The other songs are somewhat more interesting. Falling Asleep, Call It Chance and the title track are all ballads, but while the former features only acoustic guitar and vocals, the latter two involve all five of the musicians, and surprisingly, both turn out to be noticeably more diverse than any of the two described first. Berlin Wall and Us, each can already be viewed as a fully-fledged Pomp-Rock, in the scale of their progressiveness comparable with Kansas's "Vinyl Confessions", Styx's "Paradise Theatre" or Marillion circa "This Strange Engine", in places even approaching the best modern-day creations by Saga, though it's only the latter band with whom FAF have a similar sound - almost everywhere on the album. The former tune is the richest in pace shifts, whilst the latter is notable for its brief, yet impressive acoustic guitar solo. Billy is much in the same style overall, although this is a rendering of the eponymous song by Ange, with Christian Decamps singing one couplet in French and a saxophone solo from another guest musician, Ron Ottenhof. Wonder is the only moderately long track on this 45-minute recording and is in fact twice as long as any of the others, on average. There is still nothing earth-shattering here either, most of the music being slow, but anyway, this is the most diverse composition on the disc, revealing a whole:-) three instrumental sections, one of which is relatively large-scaled.
Conclusion. If you like such Saga creations as "Pleasure & Pain" or "Steel Umbrellas" (some of their most ineffective to my way of thinking) you will probably be satisfied with "Square One" too, though personally I find this music to be a frightful bore. The only matter that makes it somewhat engaging in my eyes is the professionalism with which it's executed. FAF would have very likely climbed the ladder if they had a time machine or could have been transported into the early '80s in any other way.
VM: February 1, 2007
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