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(38 min, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Visionary Dream 4:30 2. Don't Leave Me Now 4:32 3. Irony of Fate 4:21 4. Hopeless Blue Star 6:23 5. Wall 9:13 6. My Heart to the Past 4:38 7. Prelude 4:42 LINEUP: Toshio Egawa – keyboards Kenichi Fujimoto – drums Atsushi Hasegawa – bass Yasuo Sasai – vocals
Prolusion. One of Japan’s most renowned progressive rock bands, GERARD was formed by keyboardist Toshio Egawa and guitarist Yukihiro Fujimura in distant 1982. Ten years later (after the group had released its third studio album) the latter musician left it, while the remaining ones continued as a keyboard trio, inviting a guest vocalist to sing on a couple of tracks on most of their subsequent releases. “Visionary Dream” is their twelfth studio outing to date and is – if I’m not mistaken – the first one to feature a singer as a full-time member. I’m also inclined to think that this is not a completely new effort, but is a collection of the band’s older creations, just rearranged and replayed. There is Gerard’s section on this website, located here.
Analysis. I haven’t heard some of Gerard’s most recent releases, but, nevertheless, their “Visionary Dream” (instantly accessible musical material) brings to mind the though that, beginning with the “Power of Infinity” album, they have gradually simplified their music. Delivered by Yasuo Sasai much in the same manner as has Alex Brunori, vocals are present on six of the disc’s seven compositions. Some of them come with English lyrics, while others feature Japanese ones, the former sung with an accent, as usual. What really matters, however, is that all of the songs are vocal-heavy, at least comparatively, the vocals indicating that a standard verse-chorus approach has been preferred to a more diverse way of singing. Exacerbating the problem is a relative-to-overt flatness to the music overall: even within the tracks’ instrumental sections the band, while playing finely, only occasionally exceeds the bounds of the initial themes of those, very rarely changing the pace either. The compositions Don't Leave Me Now, Hopeless Blue Star and the title one all find the quartet embracing neo sympho-prog and pop-art attributes in their performance that can easily be linked with an Asia-like slant, though there’s generally rather much in common between these three and most of the songs from the first album by the English band, with promising beginnings that sound like they could easily open out into powerful instrumental passages, but fade quickly away instead, replaced by jovial vocals-based moves. Only their instrumental sections gladden the ear, recalling Keith Emerson’s synthesizer playing and Greg Lake’s bass lines merged into an ELP-style arrangement, albeit Egawa from time to time also provides solos that imitate guitar ones. The title track is the best of the songs. Dramatically, it builds to an almost oppressive climax, but lacks the shading that real guitars could have imparted. Anyhow, its initial theme of a full-band sound remains the same almost throughout too, being also achingly romantic in a characteristically Japanese fashion. The other three songs, the Wall, My Heart to the Past and Prelude, which follow one another on tracks 5 to 7, are all ballads, and while the first of them is musically on a par with the first three described pieces, the latter two are both extremely simple, only featuring a piano and vocals. In other words, the second half of the album is particularly disappointing. The only time the band rises above second-rate symphonic pop art (okay, with elements of Neo Prog) is on track 3, the Irony of Fate, which is the sole instrumental on the album, its shortest item. Only here the music is classic symphonic Art-Rock in the band’s best traditions. Bassist Atsushi Hasegawa shows a strong mastery of unique tone effects that keep him more closely aligned to the forefront of the piece’s melodic phrasing. While drummer Kenichi Fujimoto doesn’t step to the forefront too much, he does provide a solid backdrop for the bass and keyboards.
Conclusion. This is an okayish effort at best, even by neo-prog standards. Well, to be fair, there are certainly a few interesting sections on the album, but any truly intriguing material is quite scarce. If you prefer a straight-ahead (Asia-like, mostly happy) symphonic stuff, don’t hesitate to add the disc to your collection. Whereas lovers of a more varied music will miss nothing if they omit it. Those who have never heard Gerard, better choose some of the band’s older releases, such as “Ruins of a Glass Fortress” or “Sighs of the Water”.
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