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Retroheads - 2006 - "Introspective"

(64 min, Unicorn)

TRACK LIST:                    

1.  Rainy Day 5:28
2.  Living in a Hubble 8:42
3.  Black Hole Eyes 6:51
4.  One World 5:36
5.  Be Aware 6:21
6.  I Turn to You 6:32
7.  Slaves of Gold 7:14
8.  Tidal Wave 8:26
9.  Karma 9:28


Tore-Bo Bendixen - bass; keyboards
Tommy Berre - el. & ac. guitars
Ann-Kristin Bendixen - vocals
Mike Mann - lead vocals
Deborah Ginius - flute; vocals
Gry Stordahl - keyboards, organ
Trond Gjedlinn - drums

Prolusion. Originally a quartet, Norwegians RETROHEADS appear as a septet on their second release, "Introspective", four of the participants being newcomers. The words on the CD insert can only be read with a microscope, and since I am not possessed of an eagle eye, well, I am sorry if I've misspelled any of the names when listed the musicians above. The review of the group's debut album, "Retrospective", can be read here.

Analysis. Okay, the number of Retroheads has grown, and I must say the enlargement of the band's lineup is definitely of benefit to their new sound - partly due to the appearance of a real drummer of course. Their style has undergone some major changes too, which in its turn is in many ways due to the fact that Tore-Bo Bendixen excused himself from the duties of a lead singer, relinquishing them to Mike Mann whose vocals have much common ground with those of Saga's Mike Sadler. However, the influence of Saga is present on this album's instrumental plane too, being obvious in the construction of many general musical phrasings, so it is not impossible that the new singer was engaged just because his vocals well suit the course the group has chosen this time around. Now, it must be noticed that Retroheads have so subtly approached the formation of their new musical image that the influence quite harmonically coexists with the identity of their own sound, which they already found while being occupied with their, say, retrospective researches, and still retain with success. All in all, only one of the nine songs on the disc, Black Hole Eyes, brings to mind the group's previous passion, Pink Floyd. This is also the most accessible track here - just an Art-Rock-like ballad. As to the other eight songs, all of them are quite uniform in their sound and are distinguishable from each other almost exclusively in the level of their progressiveness. Starting with the album's opener, the vocal-heavy Rainy Day, and down to the last track, Karma, each of the subsequent ones in the primary style reveals more and more instrumental interludes, as well as more diversity within their vocal sections. If Living in a Hubble, One World and Be Aware are as progressively saturated as the best songs from Saga's "Worlds Apart" or "Heads or Tales", then the next three songs, I Turn to You, Slaves of Gold and Tidal Wave, are each on a par with any of those from "Generation 13". As to the songs' peculiarities, although each of them can in a way be called a rocker, only One World features an episode with a pronouncedly heavy sound, evoking progressive Hard Rock at its best. Be Aware stands out for a brief, yet very impressive orchestral prelude. Not surprisingly, the clavier-like solos on I Turn to You have some feeling of Baroque music. Slaves of Gold is rich in passages of acoustic guitar that are resourcefully interwoven with its basic fabrics. Karma is notable for its striking contrast between intense and restrained arrangements. The only track on which the amount of purely instrumental arrangements exceeds that of mixed ones, Tidal Wave is in all senses a culmination of the album. Whether they join Mr. Mann in singing or sing alone (which takes place on each of the tracks, but not as often as I would like it to), a duo of women, Ann-Kristin Bendixen and Deborah Ginius, is the most original voice on the album's vocal angle. Deborah also plays flute, but her solos on that instrument more or less frequently find their way to the fore only on One World and I Turn to You, otherwise appearing only occasionally.

Conclusion. While Retroheads' new effort is still retrospective rather than introspective in character, it sounds noticeably fresher than its predecessor and is generally a much more mature creation. I only regret the simplistic Black Hole Eyes was included. Without it, "Introspective" would've been a fully coherent album. If you, as I do, like Saga's most underrated, yet most progressive effort "Generation 13", you should be pleased with this CD as well.

VM: December 13, 2006

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