Vacuum (2004, 48.04) ***½/TTTTHills
Shining Bald Heads
Out of the Land
Live Bootleg (2006, 48.27) ****/TTT½Shining Bald Heads
Primitive (2007, 47.09) ***½/TTT½Sound of Sirens
Two Paces to the Rear
When I Was a Tree
Live (2008, 50.37) ****½/TTTTSound of Sirens
Shining Bald Heads
Riding the Elephant
Twilight Alehouse/Another Life
Planet Earth? (2010, 45.03) ****/TTT½Welcome to Your Life
All the Lights in Town
The World Inside
Timeless (2011, 45.01) ***½/TTT
Thunder Has Spoken
In the Wilderness
Let Us Now Make Love
Scene of the Crime
End of the Road
The Watch are Simone Rossetti's post-The Night Watch outfit, and while their debut, 2001's Ghost, features 'Tron samples (reviewed below), they finally bought a real one for their follow-up, from Italian pop legend (it says here) Zucchero. Vacuum is, effectively, a lot like Ghost; The material's good, but seems to lack the spark of the Night Watch stuff, although there's nothing specifically wrong with it. They still sound too much like early Genesis for their own good, and it doesn't look as if if that's going to change in the near future. Anyway, Sergio Taglioni's 'Tron is splattered all over the album, with particularly strong strings work, and the odd bit of choir.
Two years later, the band released a stop-gap album, Live Bootleg, which is pretty much what it says, being supplied with the most basic insert, in a plastic slip-case. Then again, I was given a copy when I bought one of their other albums, so who's complaining? The sound quality is excellent, too, given that it was recorded at several different gigs. I'm told the band take their M400 out with them, at least for 'local' dates, so I have to assume that all the Mellotron here is real. The material, maybe surprisingly, covers not only Ghost and Vacuum, but also a Night Watch track (Ivory being a retitled My Ivory Soul), plus one previously-unavailable track , Doctor Mystere. Mellotron all round, from Fabio Mancini, with particularly strong string and choir work on Heroes, although the reedy, high strings on opener Shining Bald Heads sound like they could be samples, as I know very well that the band's 'Tron doesn't get to every gig. All in all, a good live document of the band, especially worth it if you can score a freebie.
2007's Primitive is... another Watch album. It's difficult to fault their consistency, but in ten years and two bands, Simone Rossetti's gameplan doesn't seem to have altered one jot. It's a good album, and will probably grow on me with repeated listens (when?), but doesn't actually offer anything new. Saying that, Rossetti's English is good, and Berlin, 1936 tackles an interesting topic sensitively, commenting on Jesse Owens' heroic victory at the Berlin Olympics. Decent 'Tron work across the board, from both Mancini and Rossetti, with not only the expected strings and choir (though not so much of the latter), but also a good helping of flutes, especially on the first two tracks. Ex-keyboardist Sergio Taglioni arranged the synth orchestration on closer Soaring On, although a little 'Tron choir creeps into the mix, too. The band followed Primitive with an official live album, er, Live, featuring a mostly different set of songs to Bootleg, including a brief taster of their 'early Genesis' tribute show in Twilight Alehouse, segued here into their own Another Life. Essentially, this works as a great sampler (not that kind, stoopid) of the band's work, with tracks from all three of their studio albums, plus a cover, all with their original versions' Mellotron work present and correct. Now, I know they sometimes use samples (yes, that kind) live, but I'm taking it in good faith that all selections here use their M400.
Early 2010 brought Planet Earth?, which unfortunately reminds me of Duran Duran's first hit. Nonetheless, it's an excellent album; despite their influences (influence?), the band have succeeded in forging their own sound, utilising a couple of harmonic quirks that make their material sound like no-one but them. Trying to isolate any 'best tracks' is rather superfluous, but the acoustic-led Something Wrong is especially good; suffice to say, this band don't do 'bad tracks'. Mellotron throughout, with strings on all but Something Wrong, which features very Genesis-ish choirs, plus flutes on the piano-driven All The Lights In Town and The World Inside.
Another year, another Watch album... 2011's Timeless is an album of juxtapositions; both their most and least ambitious and moving both closer to and further away from their ever-present touchstone, Genesis. They tackle two of that band's very early songs, both rearranged (plus a live version of Stagnation, stuck on the end), In The Wilderness (from From Genesis to Revelation) and Let Us Now Make Love, from their 1970 BBC session, anthologised onto Archive 1967-75, Watch-ising both. To my ears, both work perfectly well, but if you don't like them, you've always got the originals... Most of the new songs on the album are gentler than usual, more in, er, a very early Genesis vein, I suppose, which isn't to say this is their unplugged effort. Highlights include Thunder Has Spoken, Soaring On and End Of The Road, while closer inspection of the music reveals a reoccurring motif from In The Wilderness scattered across the album, notably in End Of The Road. Mellotronically speaking, Rossetti and De Vittorio add a brief string part on Thunder Has Spoken, flutes and strings on One Day and Soaring On and strings on Let Us Now Make Love and End Of The Road, making for a lower-than-usual 'Tron count, but a decent album nonetheless.
So; very strong, 'Italian/English prog' albums, with decent 'Tron. The Watch are in the process of building up a pan-European audience by the rather clever ruse of going out as an (exceptionally good) early Genesis tribute, playing a handful of their own tracks in amongst the Genesis material. If they play it carefully, they may be able to slowly drop the Genesis (if they want to), having drawn their audience into their own stuff, rather in the manner of the better American bar bands in the '70s, a handful of whom made it big using a similar technique. I'll admit this approach irritated me at first, but not only are their covers well worth hearing, but if it gives them a chance in a crowded market, good luck to 'em. Anyway, The Watch are one of a handful of good, 'traditional' prog bands currently doing the rounds, and deserve to be heard on their own terms.
Here they are with a promo from 2004.
Ghost (2001, 47.08) ***½DNAlien
The Ghost and the Teenager
Riding the Elephant
...And the Winner is...
Four years after their sole album, Twilight, The Night Watch's vocalist/chief mover and shaker Simone Rossetti reappeared with his new band, The Watch. While their general remit is the same as Rossetti's previous outfit, there's less overt Genesis-copycat behaviour, with more of an attempt to define the band's own sound within the symphonic progressive spectrum. Unfortunately, the end result on their debut, Ghost, is actually slightly less interesting than the Night Watch's sole release, although it's a solid enough album; it just doesn't really stand out from the pack. There's nothing specifically wrong with the material, it's just... I dunno; less melodic? It just didn't grab me in the same way as Twilight, but then, in fairness, it's an almost entirely different band, with different writing skills.
Sergio Taglioni's 'Mellotron' sounds less fake than on Twilight, but I'm assured it's still samples; the strings are a bit iffy, but the choirs in The Ghost And The Teenager and Heroes are full-on and quite authentic. Either way, the use is excellent, and I'm glad to say the band bought a real one for their follow-up, Vacuum.
So; a reasonably strong 'typical Italian prog' album, with decent sampled Mellotron. I still rate the Night Watch album slightly more, but this is certainly worth hearing.
Twilight (1997, 49.19) ****My Ivory Soul
The Black Cage
A Game With Shifting Mirrors
Flower of Innocence
The Night Watch were put together by vocalist Simone Rossetti, a man who does a mean Peter Gabriel, although his voice unfortunately occasionally slips into Fishisms. Likewise, his band do a mean Genesis, but occasionally find themselves in Marillion territory, which is a pity, as they actually know how to change key, write an eight-minute song with more than one melodic idea etc. While probably not quite as good as Finisterre, say, or their offshoots Höstsonaten or La Maschera di Cera, Night Watch are a decent enough addition to the ranks of modern Italian prog.
I've now had it confirmed that Giovanni Alessi's 'Mellotron' is sampled, which doesn't surprise me in the slightest; not only does it sound too 'smooth', but string parts on My Ivory Soul and A Game With Shifting Mirrors hold way past the eight-second limit, without the characteristic 'swell' you get from studio trickery (been there, done that). The strings (mostly) sound pretty good, while the choirs largely leave a lot to be desired, although every now and again you get a sudden burst of 'authenticity'. Decent (sample) use on every track, with excellent Banksian string swells in several places, not to mention a short solo section in The Fisherman. Occasional flutes (Tomorrow Happened, Flower of Innocence), but the strings are chiefly where this album's at 'Mellotronically'.
The band disintegrated sometime after the release of Twilight, leading to Rossetti starting up The Watch with different musicians. Do you buy this? Do you like classic Italian progressive? Then you stand a good chance of liking the Night Watch, although they're not up to the standards of the best '70s bands, but then, who is?
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