Spite Extreme Wing
Spoke of Shadows
Spirits Burning (US) see:
Vltra (2008, 54.42) ***/T
I don't think it takes too great an intellect to work out what general form of music Spite Extreme Wing play. Clue: it ain't sunshine pop. They are (or rather, were) actually an Italian black metal troupe, whose fourth and last album, Vltra (I presume that's the Roman 'V'; they didn't have a 'U'), is a surprisingly tuneful album, relatively speaking, using acoustic guitars and keyboards, although the traditional ridiculous-speed drumming and grunting 'vocals' are ever-present and correct. Track lengths vary from very brief to several near ten minutes, making this something of a black metal/prog crossover record. Black prog? There's a couple of covers here, although they're not actually listed: IV is better-known as The Misfits' Devilock, although I believe the lyrics have been changed, while X is their take on The Beatles' Helter Skelter, as revered by Charlie-boy Manson.
'Azoth' plays Mellotron, apparently a 1971 M400, if the hype's to be believed. There's also a vintage Orange amp and a Roland Space Echo on board, though rather less obviously. Given the layers of reverb (quote possibly from the space echo) under which everything's buried, it's rather hard to tell exactly where said Mellotron's to be found. V? Dunno; there's something there, but there's 'something' on several tracks. Near-definite choirs on VII and even more definite strings on VIII, plus distant choirs on X/Helter Skelter are the ones I'm highlighting, but any/all could be wrong.
Anyway, one for the metal fraternity (NEVER a sorority...) members who want something both brutal and vaguely tuneful and complex. Don't bother for the 'Tron though.
Split Enz (New Zealand) see:
The Complete Pet Soul (2001, 33.21) ****/T
Tuesday Through Saturday
You Ought to Know
Love Songs of B. Douglas Wilson
I'll Never Fall in Love Again
Splitsville began as a jokey side project from Baltimore's Greenberry Woods that took on a life of its own and outlasted its mothership. They released an EP, Pet Soul (very good, chaps...), in 1998, expanding it considerably three years later as their fourth full-length release, The Complete Pet Soul. As you might've guessed by now, it's essentially a Dukes of Stratosphear-style homage to The Beatles, The Beach Boys and anyone else they could think of who wrote great pop in the '60s and began with 'B', and while it frequently tips over into pastiche, it's slightly less obvious than the Dukes, and at least all concerned use their real names. Not a bad track to be heard on the album, although their cover of Burt Bacharach's I'll Never Fall In Love Again, bizarrely incorporating a snatch of Buggles' Video Killed The Radio Star, is probably less than wholly essential.
Mellotron, from guitarist Matt Huseman, on (at most) two tracks, with a repeated string part actually opening the album in the brief Overture, which sort-of does what it says on the tin, with probable background strings on Popular, though I wouldn't swear to the latter. For that matter, I wouldn't swear that Overture's part is genuine, but it sounds pretty good, so I'll give it the benefit of the doubt.
If you like your pop powerful and worship at the altar of the 'B' bands, you will almost certainly love The Complete Pet Soul. Like so many other almost-forgotten musical forms (prog, AOR for Chrissakes), powerpop has moved into a ghetto all its own, where loads of obscure bands produce relatively identikit albums in their chosen style, with an absolute gem popping up every now and again. I'm not sure if this is that gem, but it's damn' good at what it does, although its Mellotron input leaves a little to be desired. Buy anyway.
Spock's Beard (US) see:
Spoke of Shadows (2014, 48.17) ***½/T
|Tilting at Windmills
Drama of Display
Current progressive duo Spoke of Shadows are a collaboration between drummer Bill Bachman (Neal Morse) and Warr guitarist Mark Cook Herd of Instinct, whose eponymous debut (released on Djam Karet's Firepool label) bears a sizeable stylistic debt to various eras of King Crimson, amongst others. Top tracks include scene-setting opener Dominion, the sprightly Harbinger, the highly Crimsonesque Tilting At Windmills and the doomy Dichotomy, but nothing here disappoints, in an occasionally angular, instrumental modern prog kind of way.
Djam Karet's Gayle Ellet plays Mellotron strings on Splendid Sisters, although all other 'Mellotron' use (strings and/or choirs on most tracks) is sampled. This is a fine release that should keep Djam Karet and later period Crimso fans happy; let's hope the duo stick around for long enough to record again.
See: Djam Karet
|7" (1973) ***/T½
And Now for Something Completely Different! - Sabre Dance
Going by their second (and last) album, 1972's Triad (***), Spontaneous Combustion were a typical-for-the-era progressive-ish outfit (on Harvest, although to my ears they could just as easily have been on Charisma, Neon et al). A non-album single, Sabre Dance is a ripping version of the well-known Khachaturian piece, à la Dave Edmunds' Love Sculpture, backed with a slower take, strangely (and Pythonesquely) titled And Now For Something Completely Different! - Sabre Dance.
An unknown musician (guitarist Gary Margetts? Bassist brother Tris?) adds Mellotron strings to the flip in pleasing, if slightly inessential style, although it's always nice to hear one used well. You're unlikely to find the original single at an affordable price, but since both tracks have been added to the Esoteric remaster of Triad, they're worth hearing if you're going to buy it anyway.
It's All About (1968, 37.48) ***½/T
Love Really Changed Me
Here I Lived So Well
Too Much of Nothing
Sunshine Help Me
It's All About a Roundabout
It Hurts You So
|Forget it, I Got it
Spooky Tooth are one of the many psych-ish outfits who sprang up in the UK in the late '60s, although they achieved somewhat more longevity than many, although as far as I can work out, keyboardist/singer Mike Harrison was the only member to last the course. In many ways, It's All About is very much of its time, with the whimsical Love Really Changed Me sounding like it fell out of the previous year, complete with strange 'bubbling water' effects; think 'a rockier Traffic', and you won't go too far wrong.
Uncredited Mellotron on one track only, with some nice strings work on It Hurts You So, presumably from Harrison, though it could be the band's token American, Gary Wright, who went on to a reasonably successful solo career in the '70s. The band went on to release several more albums including a collaboration with Pierre Henry, split up and reform at least once, and write a song that would get Judas Priest into very hot water in a US court in the '80s. Backwards masking; yeah, right. Anyway, not bad album, one good 'Tron track.
Girls Can Tell (2001, 36.03) **½/T
|Everything Hits at Once
Believing is Art
Me and the Bean
Lines in the Suit
The Fitted Shirt
Anything You Want
Take a Walk
|Take the Fifth
This Book is a Movie
Chicago at Night
Kill the Moonlight (2002, 34.52) **½/T
The Way We Get By
Something to Look Forward to
Stay Donít Go
Donít Let it Get You Down
|All the Pretty Girls Go to the City
You Gotta Feel it
Back to the Life
Gimme Fiction (2005, 43.48/56.15) **½/½
|The Beast and Dragon, Adored
Two Sides of Monsieur Valentine
I Turn My Camera on
My Mathematical Mind
The Delicate Place
I Summon You
The Infinite Pet
|Was it You?
They Never Got You
Merchants of Soul
[limited ed. 2-disc set adds:
You Was it
I Summon You (demo)
Sister Jack (piano demo)]
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007, 36.26) **½/T½
|Don't Make Me a Target
The Ghost of You Lingers
You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb
Don't You Evah
Rhthm & Soul
My Little Japanese Cigarette Case
Black Like Me
Spoon apparently named themselves after the Can song, although they're hardly what you'd call an influence; Spoon play a really average kind of indie, Texan style, of the variety that makes me wonder just what, exactly, people see in them? I suppose 'indie' as a genre relies too heavily on the 'pop' end of things for me, while missing out on joyous melodies, excitement and all the other things that make great pop. Or maybe I'm just getting old. Actually, I dreamed about telling people I was getting old last night; what the hell does that say? I'm getting old, I suppose.
Spoon's third album, Girls Can Tell, is, to my ears, indie-by-numbers, sounding like a muted version of several better things with all the life taken out. Why? Why can't they inject a bit more (any?) passion? Maybe they think they have. Maybe they actually have and it's my skewed perception that's at fault. Anyway, the album bores me greatly, but at least has the good grace to be short by modern standards. The Mellotron's played by band leader Britt Daniel and Conrad Keely, with a flute melody and string chords on opener Everything Hits At Once and some admittedly very nice flutes on the grammatically nonsensically-titled 1020 AM (is that grammatically nonsensical, too?).
Reviewers seem not to rate their follow-up, the following year's Kill the Moonlight, but it sounds like more of the same to me. One song actually stands out from the morass of boredom; Someone Something sounds slightly like an Aladdin Sane outtake, admittedly without most of what made that record so good, but at least it didn't send me to sleep. Mellotron from an unknown player, possibly Eggo Johanson, on Back To The Life, with what sounds like reversed, pitchbent strings, although that pitchbend may be giving away the potentially not-entirely-authentic origins of the sound... Or not? 2005's Gimme Fiction sounds just like Spoon, which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on your point of view. I think it's bad. Anyway, usual old stuff, one sort-of 'Tron track, although I would be less than wholly surprised to find out it's sampled. A building string part in They Never Got You from Britt Daniel, not even credited as 'Tron, so veracity unlikely.
2007 brought Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga to Spoon fans. A good way of assessing this album is to look at the track lengths, funnily enough; six of the ten are within seventeen seconds of each other, and only one of the other four is more than twenty seconds outside this range. Formulaic is the word we're looking for, I think. To be honest, after playing three Spoon albums back-to-back, I'll be more than happy if I never have to hear them again. Dull, dull indie by-numbers. The ubiquitous Jon Brion plays Chamberlin on the album, with a bonkers flute part on the oddly-titled Rhthm & Soul, with a mere few seconds of the same at the end of My Little Japanese Cigarette Case and dotted throughout closer Black Like Me, although I think the strings are real.
Boring indie. You'll either like it or you won't. I didn't. Very ordinary 'Tron/Chamby work, and I suspect the former's sampled on at least one of these.
Stick Figure Neighbourhood (1981, 41.30) **½/T
Stick Figure Neighbourhood
Friends in the Media
|Only for Athletes
Spoons were an early Canadian new wave band, breaking through with a run of singles from their second album, 1982's Arias & Symphonies. Their debut, the previous year's Stick Figure Neighbourhood (yes! Non-US spelling!), engineered by a young Daniel Lanois, shows that the band were every bit as competent as their better-known contemporaries, making it unsurprising that they went on to greater things. Better tracks include opener Conventional Beliefs, Red Light (the band's Moog Taurus at the beginning, not Lanois') and the synth-heavy Ice Age, although there's a little too much filler for comfort, losing the album a good half star.
Producer Graeme Pole worked with Hugh Syme (Rush) on Ian Thomas' Glider the previous year (thanks, Graeme) and called him when he needed a Mellotron for the recording, Syme playing his own M400 on two tracks, with distant strings on For Tran (ho ho) and more upfront ones, plus choirs on Only For Athletes. So; an interesting album that might have done better had it been British or American, although its Mellotronic input is too low to make it worth tracking down for that alone.
The Wind & the Wave (1993, 41.21) **/½
Whatever Happened to Love
A Way Back
Mona Lisa Said
The Blessing (of the Fleet)
The Sacred Journey
When Nothing's Sacred
I Saw a Blind Man
Mona Lisa's Encore
Billy Sprague is a fairly typical CCM artist, although he relents on 1993's The Wind & the Wave, with some tracks not being immediately identifiable as Christian. Musically, it's all pretty anodyne stuff, as you might expect, the worst moment being on Kumquat May, which opens with a little girl talking to her dad. She's saying what she'd like to do and when he says, "And where would you go?", her reply is, "To see God". BLEURGH! Did I hear someone say 'brainwashing'? And to think I've been berated for slagging god-botherers...
John Mark Painter plays Mellotron on I Saw A Blind Man, with string chords opening the track, then reprising occasionally throughout the track. Despite its irritating jaunty feel, it's about the best of a bad bunch here, but far, far from essential.
Pony (1999, 50.06) ****/TT½
Don't You Ail, Flash the Sea to Steam
Well, Spratleys Japs are the nearest I've yet come to finding my way onto my own reviews pages (until Litmus, of course), and it's not that close... The story: summer 1998, and Tim Smith from the rather wonderful Cardiacs asks me if he can borrow my Mellotron. It had just been on loan to ex-Cardiacs keyboardist Bill Drake, and had started showing signs of incipient breakdown, but I drove it down to Tim's studio anyway. Within days it started playing up very badly indeed, eventually needing a complete motor board upgrade, but Tim loved the inherent wobbliness of the sound, and while playing around with it became inspired to write an album's worth of new material. The end result was Pony, featuring Tim's girlfriend Joanne Spratley and various other luminaries of Tim's acquaintance.
Like everything he's involved with, Pony has that unmistakeable 'Tim sound', with those strange Cardiacs scales, melodies and chord sequences. This is probably nearer to earlier offshoot The Sea Nymphs than Cardiacs themselves, with less of the mother outfit's manic energy, and more female vocal, although it's instantly recognisable as being from the same 'family'. Aside from my ailing 'Tron, there's lots of piano and fucked-up synth/sampler work to be heard, with less guitar than Cardiacs usually employ. Most of the 'Tron work is high strings in the background, until you get five minutes into Vine, when the whole band takes off, and the 'Tron's pushed to the front of the mix, duetting with what sounds like slide guitar, but could be almost anything. All four 'Tron tracks are good, though one of the album's highlights is the eleven-minute Cabinet, which would definitely have benefitted from some strings. Maybe it had broken down completely by that time...
They concurrently released an EP, Hazel, the title track of which, quite bizarrely, is none other than Fear from the album, re-titled. No, I don't know why, either. Anyway, both the album and the EP are available from All My Eye and Betty Martin Music, and are fairly essential for Cardiacs fans unaware of their existence. There's enough wobbly Mellotron to keep aficionados happy, too. Buy.
Spring (1971, 40.16/57.56) ****/TTTTT
|The Prisoner (Eight By Ten)
Song to Absent Friends (the Island)
A Word Full of Whispers]
Spring 2 [a.k.a. Second Harvest] (2007, recorded 1972, 57.30) ***/TTT
|Jack & Jim
Helping the Helpless
A Word Full of Whispers
|Get My Share
Hendre Mews (diff. mix)
A Word Full of Whispers (diff. version)
Fool's Gold (bonus)
Ah - proto-prog territory again. Spring's sole LP has assumed significance beyond its actual content as a 'Mellotron album' amongst fans of early progressive rock; it certainly is stuffed with MkII; not just most tracks, but most of most tracks. Three band members are credited with playing it; vocalist Pat Moran, guitarist Ray Martinez (who went on to better-known things, I believe) and keyboard man Kips Brown, although with a single machine (even a regular dual-manual one), they can surely only have played it one at a time. This also doesn't account for how they might've played this material live; most of the way through opener The Prisoner, for example, the Mellotron strings are overdubbed with either flute or very clicky brass. Unless, of course, they'd had the left-hand tapes replaced with another set of right-hand ones, à la the Moody Blues; producer Gus Dudgeon's sleevenotes state "Everything on the album is exactly as it is on stage - with the exception of some over-dubbed acoustic guitar". Curiouser and curiouser...
Spring certainly gets some Mellotron in; apart from the two tracks where they managed to resist the temptation, the band slather it all over everything, mostly to good effect, it has to be said. The music is probably less interesting than I'd been led to believe, sadly; typical early progressive, just with Mellotron instead of organ, or indeed, anything much else, although Brown also sticks in the odd bit of organ and piano. So, to be brutally honest, a rather ordinary proto-prog album, but packed to the gills with The Beast, justifying its 'Mellotron classic' tag. The original triple fold-out sleeve is gorgeous, but you're unlikely to find one, so I'd settle for the CD, although the bonus tracks are a bit unexciting.
Trying to untangle the Gordian knot of confusion surrounding Spring 2 (a.k.a. Second Harvest) is a job worthy of Hercules, to stretch the Ancient Greek connection from their debut's Golden Fleece to breaking point. OK, it's not quite that obfuscated, but a collection of what sound like demo recordings leaked out on Far-Eastern CD a while back, possibly as early as the '90s, although their status seemed to be nearer 'bootleg' than 'official'. The Second Harvest label finally released them officially as, er, Second Harvest in 2007, giving the rest of us a chance to hear what all the fuss is about. Er, very little, if truth be told; better contributions include High Horse and the 'bonus' versions of Hendre Mews and Fool's Gold (are these the same bonus tracks as on their debut?), but the majority of the material is rather limp mainstream early '70s rock, with little real progressive input. Although their MkII crops up on several tracks, the use is well down from Spring, with naught but murky strings on Hendre Mews, a clicky sax solo and strings on High Horse, strings on A Word Full Of Whispers, vibes on Losers and another sax solo on Get My Share, although I suppose that's still an awful lot more Mellotron than you'll hear on most albums on this site.
To sum up: Spring is a so-so effort, but a Mellotron classic, while Second Harvest is a lesser album on both fronts. Worth it for the enthusiast, possibly not for the rest of you.
Karma (1999, 49.30) **½/½
|His Last Words
It's Always Something
Religion of the Heart
Shock to My System
In Veronica's Head
Act of Faith
Untitled ('Hey Maria')
These days, Rick Springfield is apparently considered the 'thinking man's AOR artist', though I'm not sure if that's a particularly enviable area to inhabit. Karma opens with an odd little piece devoted to his father, His Last Words, with various voices speaking about parental death over a muted backing, but after that, it's straight into what Mr.Springfield does best, i.e. extremely mainstream AOR for people who find Journey and Foreigner too heavy. This kind of music is loved by millions, but not me, I'm afraid. It's all done with impeccable 'taste', but its lame pop/rock glossiness is the sort of thing that makes me want to play Black Sabbath, VERY LOUD. I can't really pick out the tracks I particularly disliked, but I can say that His Last Words makes for an interesting diversion, and the untitled hidden track, usually known as Hey Maria, is slightly more interesting than the rest of the album, and also gets in a subtle reference to female masturbation.
As for the Mellotron, played by either Richard Shindell or Springfield himself (I'm not sure which), well, I can only hear it on one track, Prayer, with a brief flute part. As far as I can tell, all the rest of the strings are generic samples, although there may be more 'Tron hidden in the mix here and there. So; if you like AOR, you'll like Karma, and if you don't, you won't. That's it. Oh, and don't bother for the 'Tron, but I expect you'd already worked that out for yourself.
The Rising (2002, 72.51) ***/0
Into the Fire
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
Countin' on a Miracle
Let's Be Friends (Skin to Skin)
|Further on (Up the Road)
My City of Ruins
Magic (2007, 47.43) ***/T
You'll Be Comin' Down
Livin' in the Future
Your Own Worst Enemy
Girls in Their Summer Clothes
I'll Work for Your Love
|Last to Die
Long Walk Home
The Rising was Bruce Springsteen's first album to feature the full E-Street Band since the huge-selling Born in the USA, nearly 20 years earlier, and I'm glad to say, it's far more down to earth, with a noticeable lack of the cheesy synths that made Born... so painful. The Rising relies far more on good 'ol Hammond and piano, with orchestral backing on some tracks, and sounds like... a Bruce Springsteen album. I'm not quite sure what else I can say about it, really; if it's by Bruce Springsteen and it sounds like Bruce Springsteen, I suppose it has to be Bruce Springsteen, really. Songs about injustice, songs about ordinary, hard-working people - business as usual, then. That isn't meant to sound negative, either - Bruce is exceptionally good at what he does; it just doesn't grab me.
Roy Bittan is, oddly, credited with playing Mellotron, although Springsteen's never been known to use one before. Well, he doesn't appear to've used one again, going by the audio evidence; I've heard rumours of distant strings on Countin' On A Miracle, but I'll be buggered if I can hear them, just a regular string section. So; Springsteen fans need apply, the rest of us probably don't, especially if you were hoping to hear any Mellotron. Also, the album's hideously overlong; STOP filling CDs to near-capacity, please!
Five years on and Broooce summons the E Street Band again for 2007's Magic. Yup, it's a Bruce album... For us, the non-faithful, they all sound pretty much the same, I have to say, but I'm sure his hardcore fans love it. Patrick Warren is credited with 'tack piano and Chamberlin' on several tracks, but I suspect that's 'either/or', as against 'both'. In fact, all I can hear is faint background strings on Long Walk Home and a more upfront part on Devil's Arcade, although the cello on the latter is real.
So; two Bruce Springsteen albums, very little tape-replay. You're probably better off with his '70s efforts if you want to hear The Boss at his best (note: NOT his '80s full band albums...), and you really aren't going to come to these expecting to hear any decent 'Tron or Chamby work.
See: Patti Scialfa