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TRACK LIST: 1. Dormouse: a Theme 1:08 2. Waiting for the Axe to Fall 6:14 3. Mindhive 4:00 4. The Claws of a Crayfish 5:41 5. My Sleeping Slave 3:26 6. Darkness at Noon 1:50 7. Prequiem 1:53 8. Gift of the Flame 6:08 9. Interview with a Dormouse 1:17 10. Thermonuclear Cheese 1:54 11. The Search for Terrestrial Life 5:33 12. A Fistful of Fortitude 2:41 13. Love Theme from No-7 7:06 14. Storia Senti 6:42 15. Infinite Supply 4:57 16. Dormouse: an End 2:16 LINEUP: Phideaux Xavier – ac. & el. guitars; piano; vocals Mark Sherkus – keyboards; el. guitar; vocals Gabriel Moffat – el. guitar, lap steel Rich Hutchins – drums Matthew Kennedy – bass Valerie Gracious – vocals Aeriel Farber – violin; vocals Johnny Unicorn – keyboards; saxophone; vocals Molly Ruttan-Moldavsky – vocals; percussion Linda Ruttan – vocals
Prolusion. Hailing from the United States, PHIDEAUX is a contemporary prog rock ensemble, and already a quite renowned one, although its history only counts eight years. This is also a highly fruitful collective, since “No 7” (as the title implies) is its seventh effort to date. The outfit has its own section on this site, where all its albums are listed along with links to reviews.
Analysis. Another quite strong release from what is a small rock orchestra rather than a conventional band (though, this time, not without some shortcomings). That said, this is a 100-percent concept creation, with no pauses between its 16 tracks, one of the moves that it begins with seeming to be its thematic nucleus of a sort, as it returns a few times. Lyrically, the CD represents a 3-part poem: Dormouse Ensnared, Dormouse Escapes and Dormouse Enlightened. The writing is fairly allegoric but, anyhow, it has a central personage/protagonist which, moreover, is highlighted as such. Strangely enough, the album didn’t get a corresponding title. Musically there is quite a lot in common between “No 7” and two of the band’s previous outings, “Chupacabras” and “Doomsday Afternoon”, even though this one is noticeably less rich in elements from Classical music than either of those (particularly the latter, which features a 14-piece symphonic orchestra). The point is that – unlike the previous Phideaux recordings – these three have really much to do with vintage symphonic Art-Rock, the hero of this occasion revealing seven tracks which, to a greater or lesser degree, belong to the style. Four of those, namely The Search for Terrestrial Life, Waiting for the Axe to Fall, The Claws of a Crayfish and Mindhive, are complete masterworks. Resembling mid-‘70s Rick Wakeman and Camel (plus early-‘80s Eloy in the first two cases – particularly strongly when the lead vocals are provided by a female choir), all of them are full-blown, considerably complex compositions, compact of many changes throughout their length. Bits of Classical and Jazz-Fusion serve as subsidiary stylistic features for each, though The Search for Terrestrial Life has additionally some folksy quality to it. Albeit referring to ‘80s Art-Rock, Gift of the Flame is also a strong piece of music, somewhat reminding me of a cross between Camel’s “Stationary Traveller” and “Eye in the Sky” by The Alan Parsons Project. Dormouse a Theme is fine in its own way, and a full-fledged composition, despite being very short. Played by fingering, this is a piece for acoustic guitar, reminiscent of Steve Hackett in its approach. The same, aforementioned Camel 1984 release – only at its most reflective – can also, to some degree, serve as a reference point regarding Interview with a Dormouse and Thermonuclear Cheese. There is nothing groundbreaking about these two songs, as they’re texturally transparent and slow-paced throughout, but, nevertheless, each leaves a fairly pleasing overall impression. The same remarks are by and large relevant to My Sleeping Slave and Infinite Supply – two Procol Harum-inspired ballads, both of which only feature Phideaux Xavier as a singer. Darkness at Noon, Prequiem and Dormouse an End are also ballad-like songs, but extremely simple to my mind, none ever getting a full-band sound. A Fistful of Fortitude, Storia Senti and Love Theme from No-7 (the last two of which – the longest tracks here – are both obviously overextended) all develop in a very similar way – by simply alternating full-blown art-rock arrangements with reflective soundscapes, the latter covering about a half of each. What, however, does really leave much to be desired about these compositions is the vocals, which sound either far-fetched (la-la-la, blah-blah-blah) or fully meaningless, at times even harmonically conflicting with the music. And, while I realize that all these features are instantly striking because the songs that bear them do follow one another (instead of being dispersed over the album – which would have not broken its conceptuality, as the vocals are wordless in all cases), I’m also sure that the pieces would’ve been much more likeable had they been purely instrumental.
Conclusion. A few of the tracks available here are artificially extended and tend to hold the album back to some extent. So the question on the agenda is still the one that has been the talk of the town since the appearance of CDs – I believe there is no need to repeat it here. It’s a myth that prog lovers hate to deal with albums which last for less than one hour, and Phideaux’s previous releases (the majority of which are akin to LPs in length) serve as direct evidence of the fact. Anyhow, “No 7” is one of the band’s most progressively saturated creations, and while it is slightly inferior to the aforementioned “Doomsday Afternoon” and “Chupacabras” in this respect, most of it is refined music which will not disappoint even the neophytes into their work. A fan? Then just go buy the disc immediately.
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