Exit (1974, 45.44) ***/T½
|[Japanese text] (Intro?)
[Japanese text] (Medley?)
Walk Don't Run
House of the Rising Sun
San Franciscan Night
I Love You
Somebody to Love
Tadoritsuitara Itsumo Amefuri
Wara No Kotoba
I Want to Hold Your Hand
Sea of Joy
To Love Somebody
Mops (there doesn't seem to be a 'the') were one of Japan's top 'Group Sound' bands of the sixties, emulating Merseybeat and suchlike in an oriental manner. By the mid-'70s, they'd obviously long outgrown their roots, not to mention their hair, and shuffled off this mortal coil with a farewell live album, Exit. Except that until near the end of the second track, a side-long medley, there's no sign of an audience at all, with the orchestral intro tape sounding dubbed on at a later date; maybe it's a live/studio hybrid? Anyway, the unknown vocalist spends most of said medley speaking to the audience, with the band occasionally breaking into a tune, with some more familiar than others. They tackle Purple Haze reasonably well, and Walk Don't Run is recognisable, but I can't say I spotted Somebody To Love anywhere, to be honest. Exit itself sounds like a faintly jazzy studio track, followed by presumably their own composition, the rather proggy ten-minute Wara No Kotoba, before what I take to be more live stuff, with an appallingly-edited medley, cutting abruptly from one excerpt to another, with the album trailing off into messing about by the end.
I'm afraid I have zero idea who the gentleman is on the keyboards; there are no obvious musicians' credits anywhere in the packaging, but he seems to concentrate mainly on organ, until you get to Wara No Kotoba, which is swamped in 'Tron strings, with an upfront flute line later on. There's a touch of strings in House Of The Rising Sun, and a more upfront part in To Love Somebody, from the second medley, but that would seem to be your lot.
Incidentally, as you can see from the pic to the right, Mops had an onstage Mellotron, but what you might not be able to see is the back of the machine. Now look to the left, and marvel at someone's handiwork; is that cool or what? Probably what, actually, but I can't say I've ever seen anything like it before; wonder who came up with that logo? And is that a big, swirly paintjob over the whole thing? Wish I knew where this one was now... Anyway, a somewhat average album musically, although with one really nice 'Tron track. You're most unlikely to find this cheap, but just in case...
i [a.k.a. The Story of i] (1976, 46.18) ***½/TT
Best Years of Our Lives
Impressions (the Dream)
Like a Child in Disguise
Rise and Fall
Symphony in the Space
Patrick Moraz [a.k.a. Patrick Moraz III] (1978, 39.02) ***/½
|Jungles of the World
Temples of Joy
Opening of the Gates
The Feast (A Festa)
| Opposing Forces
Keep the Children Alive
Future Memories Live on TV (1979, 36.50) ***½/T½Metamorphoses
C O Existence [as 'Patrick Moraz + Syrinx'] (1980, 39.14) **½/TMind Your Body
Adagio for a Hostage
Moments of Love
Peace on the Hills
Rime of the Ancient Sampler: The Mellotron Album (1993, 3.52) ***½/T½[Patrick contributes]
Patrick Moraz left Refugee, a vague attempt to reform The Nice without Keith Emerson, to join Yes, although he only stayed with them for two years and one album, Relayer. The whole band (even drummer Alan White) released solo albums in 1975/76, with all except White's being at least partially musically successful (perhaps surprisingly), although Steve Howe's is probably less good than Moraz', Chris Squire's Fish Out of Water (****) and Jon Anderson's wonderful and unique Olias of Sunhillow.
i, often known as The Story of i is an early attempt at a fusion of progressive and 'world' musics, with a particular Brazilian influence, in which I'd say it was reasonably successful, although that probably depends on how you feel about the prog side of the proceedings. The playing is excellent throughout, both by Moraz and his large supporting cast, including many Brazilian musicians, although the writing tends towards formlessness in places, at least to my ears. The copious sleevenotes only actually mention the Mellotron once (on Intermezzo, where it's effectively inaudible), although the equipment list mentions 'Mellotrons Mks.I & II', by which I think he means an M400 and a Mk.V. There are various string sounds scattered throughout, but with his new toy, the Polymoog (so it DID come out in '76!), the 'Trons seem to be pushed slightly into the background, so most of the marked tracks above are essentially guesswork on my part.
Strangely, Moraz elected not to use any 'Tron on his second solo effort, Out in the Sun (***), but Patrick Moraz (or Patrick Moraz III) manages what sounds to me like a whole few seconds of strings and possibly some choirs on the rather unnecessary ballad, Keep The Children Alive. The album itself has more of that Brazilian influence, but is overall probably less impressive than i, although the side one material (first three tracks) aren't at all bad.
1979's Future Memories (Live on TV) is exactly what it says on the tin, being a solo performance in front of the TV cameras, with much use of sequencers, although it's still extremely technically impressive. Going by the sleevenotes, it was Moraz' attempt to create truly improvised music, although he does own up to the sequenced parts, without which Metamorphoses, at least, would've been fairly static. The two pieces on side two are 'Tron-free (Black Silk is a piano solo), but the second movement of side one's Metamorphoses has flutes, church organ and strings, in that order, played from an M400 and a Mark V, erroneously credited as a 'Mark II' and a 'Mark IV' respectively (you'd have thought he'd know better, wouldn't you?). In some ways, this is the most musically satisfying Moraz album I've heard, allowing his phenomenal technique full rein, without muddying the waters with various dubious 'ethnic' influences. Incidentally, the inner sleeve has several fabulous pics of Moraz' gear (see picture), which was actually too big to be contained within a four-sided setup, spilling over into a fifth side. Outrageous. Also incidentally, the version of this you're more likely to find (I speak subjectively, of course) is the 1984 reissue.
1980's C O Existence (later reissued as Libertate) is actually co-credited to Moraz and Syrinx, who I believe is the pan-pipe player on the Mellotron-fuelled soundtrack to 'Picnic at Hanging Rock'. Unsurprisingly, more of that South American thing, though more Andean this time, but I have to say, it's pretty cheesy all round; sort of bombastic balladic stuff with those bloody pan pipes warbling over everything. Practically no 'Tron, either; strings on Freedom To..., and apart from a couple of unconfirmed sightings, that's it. Don't bother.
Moraz also contributed to the overrated Rime of the Ancient Sampler: The Mellotron Album, with the fairly decent, if a bit jazzy, Owner's Guide. Some great choir work, and various bits of lunacy described in the sleevenotes as 'special PM sound effects, i.e. vocals, harps, waltz, backward piano' - presumably the same FX he used onstage in his M400 with the Moodies. Probably worth hearing, but don't shell out big bucks for the album.
So; Moraz' solo career's a bit of a disappointment, to be honest; not half as 'progressive' as I was expecting, and not very much Mellotron, either. The only albums that I could in all conscience recommend are i and Future Memories; don't forget, this is the man who replaced Mike Pinder in the Moody Blues, just as they took the decision to sit firmly in the middle of the road for the rest of their career.
See: Yes | Refugee | Moody Blues | Rime of the Ancient Sampler | Mellodrama
Nova Solis (1972, 40.45) ***½/T
|Samarkhand the Golden
Nova Solis (a Suite)
Hyperspace: the Return Home
May I Remember
Morgan were a British quartet consisting of most of the Love Affair (of Everlasting Love fame), with Tim Staffel, ex-Smile (whose other two members went on to achieve complete obscurity with some bunch called Queen. Stupid name, too). Named after keyboardist Morgan Fisher (later of Mott the Hoople), the music is, unsurprisingly, keyboard-dominated, although Staffel provides acoustic guitar in places, along with his excellent vocals. The music? Out-and-out prog, with an occasional dash of singer-songwriterness from Staffel. I think it's safe to say that there are both better and worse examples of the genre, although both Samarkhand The Golden and War Games stand out. Sadly, the side-long title suite doesn't, being a little too ordinary to succeed over its 20-minute length, not to mention the fact that its 'spaceman returns to a devastated Earth' concept has a lot in common with then-recent albums by both Nektar and (especially) Gracious!.
Strangely, the band had to go to Italy to get a record deal (with RCA), and the album was recorded at a state-of-the-art studio in Rome, giving Fisher free reign with their impressive keyboard collection. Sadly, he only chose to use their Mellotron on one track, Samarkhand The Golden, with some brass and background strings, with most of the album's keyboard work concentrating on piano and multitracked VCS3. Morgan lasted long enough to record a second album, The Sleeper Wakes, but while I've no idea what it's like, I'm pretty sure it's 'Tron-free.
So; not bad, not great, bit of a period piece really, with some 'Tron on one track. One for collectors.
See: Mott | Smile
Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (1998, 70.25) */½
Are You Still Mad
That I Would Be Good
|I Was Hoping
Would Not Come
Heart of the House
You may have liked the emotional free-fall of Ms. Morissette's debut, Jagged Little Pill (**); millions did, making her an overnight star. Personally, I couldn't stand the damn' thing, with its irritating 'modern' production and her, frankly, awful vocals; I'm sure they're supposed to convey her emotional depth, but they sounded to me like a non-singer having a not-so-fair stab at becoming one. And as for the songs... As a result her second effort, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, was never really going to endear itself to me, as even her fanbase gently evaporated in the heat generated by its bad reviews.
Most of the songs sound like no more than vehicles for her lyrics, which, to be fair, are genuinely heartfelt, although lines like "We were together during a very tumultuous time in our lives" are deeply unforgivable, even if it's ironic, which I doubt. As on her debut, the programmed percussion makes my ears bleed after a while and at 71 minutes, this album outstays its welcome by, ooh, about... 71 minutes, I think. The redoubtable Benmont Tench (Tom Petty) plays Chamberlin, but next to Glen Ballard's 'synthesizers and programming', it's extremely difficult to spot exactly where it was used, so the tracklisting above may well be heavily error-ridden. Anyway, to my ears, there are some faint flutes on Thank U, cellos (?) on Can't Not, and possibly strings on Unsent.
There's no way I can recommend this awful album on any fronts whatsoever; it only avoids getting an even lower rating because it's at least vaguely professionally done. Mind you, since when was that a recommendation? Truly horrible. Avoid like the plague.
Message From the Throne... (1975, 33.54) **½/T½You're So Free
The First Day
Shine on (With Jesus)
Steppin' in & Steppin' Out
Joy in G Minor
The Ship of Life
Morning Star were a Jesus rock trio from the arse end of nowhere, USA, whose (presumably) sole album, Message From the Throne... (probably 1975) is a strange, drumless effort, full of massed acoustics and godly harmonies. Despite the usual lyrical drivel, this is rather better than many others I've heard, with some funky slide playing on Steppin' In & Steppin' Out and, of course, some Mellotron.
The unknown keyboard player adds 'Tron strings to The First Day, His Will and closer The Ship Of Life, not in a pseudo-orchestral kind of way, interestingly, but more with some appreciation of the instrument's sound. If you really want to hear this, you're never going to find an original, but it's out there as a download; three reasonable 'Tron tracks and some not-too-awful God rock.
Yes (1995, 36.30) ***½/½
All Your Way
I Had My Chance
Gone for Good
Like Swimming (1997, 37.44) ***½/T
I Know You, Pt. 3
Early to Bed
Murder for the Money
French Fries With Pepper
Hanging on a Curtain
Swing it Low
Morphine were a bass (as in two-string slide bass)/drums/baritone sax trio, whose influences roared straight out of jazz and the blues, updating them for a new audience. You could never accuse them of lacking energy or drive, and the songwriting was pretty cool, too. It seems they covered all bases, one minute frantic, the next sleazy, making leader Mark Sandman's onstage death in 1999 all the more tragic, as it seems they were one of the few bands around taking these styles somewhere new.
Yes was their third album (of five), and the first of two to feature Sandman on a tape-replay instrument. In this case, he played Chamberlin strings on Super Sex, to fairly average effect, to be honest. I can't recommend this album on those grounds, then, but it's a pretty cool record, in case it sounds like it might be your kind of thing. Their last effort released during Sandman's lifetime, '97's Like Swimming, carries on the work of its predecessors, mixing jazz, blues and 'alternative' rock to good effect, not to mention Sandman's 'tritar' (three-stringed guitar), heard on Murder For The Money. Sandman adds Mellotron this time round, with a cello arrangement on Hanging On A Curtain, sounding typical unorthodox.
So; Morphine have maintained their popularity in the alternative scene, with surviving ex-members occasionally getting together as Orchestra Morphine. These albums are odd, innovative and pretty damn' unique, although that won't necessarily recommend them to you, of course. The Chamberlin on Yes probably isn't worth hearing, although the Mellotron on Like Swimming is.
Reputation Don't Matter Any More (1976) **/T
Dance With Me
Bomber on the Loose
Out of the Closet
Speak for Yourself
|People Passing People
Who Do We Think (We're Foolin')
Larry Morris Sturdy rose to prominence on the New Zealand scene in the '60s with Larry's Rebels, but after going solo at the end of the decade, then receiving a jail sentence for drug-related offences, his 1976 album Reputation Don't Matter Any More couldn't have been better named. Unfortunately, it's a pretty staid singer-songwriter effort, sounding like a budget Kiwi Elton John in places, although many of the lyrics are unsurprisingly angry, given Morris' harsh treatment at the hands of the establishment, with lyrics such as, "Four years my records made no sound/Yet I saw them spinning round", clearly relating to his incarceration. The only even remotely bright spot on his musical horizon is closer Thank You, a bitter little a capella piece that doubtless endeared him to the critics, but has the advantage of being at least slightly adventurous.
'Melletron' on three tracks, from ex-Human Instinct member Steve McDonald, mostly as a string section substitute, by the sound of it, although he adds choirs to his palette (he's credited with 'Melletron & choir') on People Passing People, strangely titled 'Fallen Dancer' on the lyric sheet. You might've guessed by now that Reputation Don't Matter Any More isn't an essential album for anyone apart from students of Kiwi music, being a dullsville mid-'70s pop/rock effort with unmemorable material, not to mention very average 'Tron use, not that you're likely to find a copy outside NZ anyway.
See: Steve McDonald
La Marche des Hommes (1975, 34.08/42.05) ****/TTTT
|La Marche des Hommes
Le Pays d'Or
La Cérémonie de Minuit
Une Goutte de Pluie
Qu'est-ce que t'as Compris?
Cocktail (disco mix)
Qu'est-ce que t'as Compris? (edit)]
Procréation (1976, 50.50/59.28) ****/TTT½ (TTTT)
Qu'est-ce t'es v'nu Faire Ici
Des Hauts et des Ha!...
De Tous les Pays du Monde
Je Suis le Temps (1977, 37.21) ***½/TTTTC'est Déjà du Passé
Chevaliers d'un Règne
Je Suis le Temps
Magie de Musique
Code Breaker (1983, 38.23) *½/TStill on My Mind
Help the Man
I'm Not That Kind
Never Grow Old
Hall of Mirrors
Morse Code started out as the slightly more mainstream Morse Code Transmission, releasing two albums in the early '70s, before disappearing for three years. They returned with La Marche des Hommes, and it's a bit of a monster. Mixing Genesis-style prog with a distinct French influence from their homeland, it consists of the classic 11-minute title track, with all the other songs being not only of 'regular' length, but also more straightforward, although still retaining a progressive edge. Every track on this album features Christian Simard's Mellotron (it seems they owned two), with highlights being the title track, Cocktail and Qu'est-ce Que T'as Compris? Strings all round, but with quite unusual chord voicings in places, doubtless inspired by French chanson music as much as progressive rock. The very 'mainstream' sound of Cocktail, incidentally, is entirely due to those enlightened folks at Capitol demanding a 'disco' number. Right... The band duly complied, as it allowed them to record an album of the music they wanted to play. Those wonderful people at ProgQuébec finally reissued these albums in 2007, adding a lengthier remix of Cocktail, and its b-side, an edited Qu'est-ce Que T'as Compris?.
Their follow-up, Procréation, is every bit as good as its predecessor, and over 15 minutes longer, with the magnificent 26-minute title suite taking up the whole of side two. As with La Marche des Hommes, the rest of the material is best described as being in the 'compact progressive' style; shorter songs, but with a prog feel, although L'eau Tonne moves slightly towards the middle of the road, if truth be told. On to Procréation itself; this is superb symphonic progressive, with all the twists and turns you expect from the genre, and a fantastic theme coming in towards the end, with the whole being built along the lines of a lengthier La Marche Des Hommes, this time split into three parts because... they could. And why not? Answers on the back of a Mellotron to the usual address. Preferably a Mark II. Talking of which, although a couple of tracks are 'Tronless this time around, the rest of them feature it pretty heavily, especially the end of De Tous Les Pays Du Monde and the bulk of Procréation. Again, mostly strings, but a cello line or two crops up here and there. Bonus tracks on the CD are two non-album single sides, another disco-ish effort, Punch, and its 'Tron-heavy flip, Image.
Typically, by '77's Je Suis le Temps, Morse Code followed progressive outfits worldwide in simplifying their approach, although for them this consisted simply of not including an epic, and incorporating a few less interesting bits, although opener C'est Déjà Du Passé is as good as any of the shorter pieces on its two predecessors. While the Mellotron count is slightly down, there's some decent enough strings and cellos on C'est Déjà Du Passé, while the balladic Berceuses features a good chunk of strings over the piano part. The nearest the album gets to a 'Tron classic, though, is the instrumental Picadilly [sic] Circus, with an excellent repeating rising string line leading into a key change. Oh, and for the only time on any of these albums, there's a little 'Tron choir to be heard on Sommeil, along with the more ubiquitous strings, and an excellent part at the end of the title track. OK, it's all over the bloody thing.
Now, until recently, none of these had ever been issued on CD, leaving naught but a compilation, Les Grands Succès de Morse Code. Despite the omission of the classic three-part Procréation, it used to be the only way you were going to track this music down with any ease and at least it opened with La Marche Des Hommes. Given how much second-rate (and third-, and fourth-...) stuff is available, complete with even ropier 'bonus' tracks of the drummer farting in rehearsal, it's bizarre how long it's taken for these albums to be reissued and it's taken an indie to do it. ProgQuébec have also reissued the legendary, if Mellotron-free Maneige albums, plus some live recordings. Now, we know Morse Code were recorded for Québecois radio; is the recording still out there somewhere?
There is one more Morse Code Mellotron album... After splitting in the late '70s, following being dropped by their label, the band got back together a few years later, sans Simard, releasing the English-language Code Breaker in 1983. By and large, it's appalling English-language commercial hard rock/AOR slush, with just one vaguely acceptable track in six-minute closer Hall Of Mirrors, although I really wouldn't want you to take that as any sort of recommendation. What Mellotron there is played by Marc Leach, known to his mère as Marc Maheux (the whole band Anglicised their names, presumably in a desperate attempt to appeal internationally), with a few string chords in Tough Times, leaving Hall Of Mirrors (probably unsurprisingly) as the album's only proper Mellotron track, with a repeating and rather screechy pattern of string chords reprised throughout the song. This is a truly horrible album, heavily besmirching a great band's reputation and I can only urge you to distance yourselves from it with some urgency. Bear in mind these wise words written by Atavachron on ProgArchives: "Code Breaker can best be described as what would happen if Eddie Jobson produced a collaboration between Survivor and Journey". Couldn't have (and didn't) put it better myself.
So; you need La Marche des Hommes and Procréation, while Je Suis le Temps is worth hearing, with excellent Mellotron work all round. Buy! I shan't mention Code Breaker again.