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(57:20 / Progrock Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Red Season 5:28 2. Babylon 9:24 3. Song of Times 6:04 4. Islands 4:59 5. Faces of Change 4:56 6. Love Is the Only Place 4:27 7. Master Machine 4:24 8. All For The Thunder 6:06 9. Children Believe 6:26 10. Babylon Remix 4:37 LINEUP: Gary Strater - bass, el. & ac. guitars; b/v Matt Stewart - el. sitar, guitars; b/v Herb Schildt - keyboards Steve Tassler - drums Bruce Botts - guitars Al Lewis - vocals
Prolusion. The history of American group STARCASTLE dates as far back as 1970. Five years later they signed with the major Epic label, who launched their first four LPs, "Starcastle" (1976), "Fountains of Light" (1976), "Citadel" (1977) and "Real to Reel" (1978), the press kit saying these recordings together have sold more than a million copies. "Song of Times" is the fifth release by Starcastle and is dedicated to the memory of the band's founder, bassist, guitarist and songwriter Gary Strater, who recorded his parts shortly before he passed away back in 2004. The point is that drums and bass are most often recorded first of all, prior to other instruments and vocals. So it is only thanks to that fact that fans of the band can hear Gary's distinctive playing on this his posthumous release.
Analysis. Yet another heavily derivative album, the fourth in number in this review series! According to the same press kit, this new Starcastle recording combines their trademark Prog Rock with a more modern sound. Being unacquainted with any of the band's previous releases, I can't compare, but what I hear on "Song of Times" is unmistakably a Yes clone, which yet appears to be somewhat emasculated, compared to the original. Yes very rarely played as straightforwardly as Starcastle usually does, but what's more important is that even the most commercial albums by the legend are less vocal-heavy than this one. It is above all Gary Strater's bass and Al Lewis's vocals that determinate the sound of "Song of Times", and since these musicians' performances are nothing more than impersonations of Chris Squire and Jon Anderson respectively (the imitation being scrupulous down to the smallest details), the resemblance between Starcastle and their benefactors is striking everywhere on the album. Besides, most of the organ and synthesizer passages are patterned after those of Tony Kaye and Rick Wakeman. Only the guitar solos sound neutral, but these certainly don't play a key role here, although a whole five guitar players took part in this adventure, three of whom are heralded as band members. There are no instrumentals among the disc's ten tracks, only three of the tunes, Babylon Remix, Red Season and All For The Thunder being more or less rich in classically variegated arrangements. The former is a shortened version of the ballad Babylon and is much better than the first version, which lasts for nine-and-a-half minutes and is heavily overextended, being simply abundant in repetitions. Red Season and All For The Thunder both suggest something halfway between Don't Kill the Whales from "Tormato" and Rhythms of Love from "Big Generator", the guitar riffs on the former instantly evoking the name of Trevor Rabin. Beginning with a three-voice a-la Yes a cappella, the 7th track Master Machine is structurally similar to those two, but its instrumental interludes are extremely brief, whilst in the vocal sections the players (with the exception of the bassist) don't shine with any diversity at all, much more often laying down the beat than providing solos to support the singing, which is what we get on each of the remaining five tracks. All these, the title track, Islands, Faces of Change, Love Is the Only Place and Children Believe, are either ballads or similarly unhurried ballad-like songs, the latter four all bearing some resemblance to the most mediocre numbers from "Union", such as Miracle of Life for instance. Only the strong, complex poly-rhythmic drumming makes these something weightier than pop-rock songs. Song of Times, while being slow throughout, is IMHO the group's strongest achievement on this CD - in terms of both composition and originality. Its vocal storyline can be perceived as a lighter version of Soon from "Relayer", but there are more purely instrumental arrangements here, with lush orchestral pads and acoustic guitar solos that resourcefully interact with each other, at times in a classical way.
Conclusion. I only can appreciate a 100-percent clone, when a band is in all senses on a par with their idols (Citizen Cain's "Somewhere But Yesterday" would probably be the best example in this respect). Starcastle is not such a case. While being very close to the original, they miss something essential that makes any of Yes's creations without exception sound both spirited and compelling. Unlike most of the other wannabees I've viewed recently however, this group has at least a genuinely live sound, with no programmed ingredients; hence the rating.
VM: May 21, 2007
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