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RBD  (Mexico)

Rebels  (2006,  55.46)  **
Para Olvidarte de Mi  (2009,  44.07)  *½

What to say about RBD? A short-lived but immensely successful Latin American three boy/three girl sextet with some kind of major connection to Mexican soap Rebelde. 2006's Rebels (presumably a direct translation of the soap title) is an irritating, yet ultimately relatively harmless Latin-flavoured pop/rock release, Armando Avila's 'Mellotron', unusually audible for one of his productions, appears twice, with surprisingly obvious samplotron strings on Tu Amor and This Is Love. Although they officially split in 2008, their last album, Para Olvidarte de Mi ('To Forget About Me') appeared the following year. It's... exceptionally mainstream modern Latin pop, which really is all I need to tell you about this tedious record. Avila is credited with Mellotron again, but where there might be one, real or sampled, hidden away in the brash, radio-friendly mix, really is anyone's guess; without track-by-track credits, I've no idea. Anyway, you don't want to hear this, I don't want to hear this again, no obvious Mellotron, end of story.

RPWL  (Germany)

Trying to Kiss the Sun  (2002,  59.38)  ***½
Stock  (2003,  43.46)  ***
World Through My Eyes  (2005,  70.28)  **½
Start the Fire - Live  (2005,  128.31)  **½
The RPWL Experience  (2008,  67.01)  **½
Beyond Man & Time  (2012,  73.04)  **½

RPWL (named for the four original members' initials) started as a Pink Floyd tribute, releasing their first album, God Has Failed, in 2000. By the time they released Trying to Kiss the Sun, two years later, their name was already irrelevant, but they've obviously stuck with it for simplicity's sake. There's a distinct Floyd influence apparent on several tracks, although plenty of other things also get thrown into the mix, not least a touch of Genesis, with a heavier edge in places (Sugar For The Ape). Best track? Probably the all-out symphonics of You, where their influences coalesce in a fairly pleasing manner. I'm deeply suspicious of Yogi Lang's supposed 'Mellotron', although I'd like to be proved wrong (the sampled piano is dreadful, sounding about as plasticky as it could). 'Strawberry Fields' flutes on the opening title track, with strings to the fore on Waiting For A Smile and Sugar For The Ape, although the choirs don't have that 'Tron ring about them. Saying that, the choirs on You do sound like 'Tron, while the string swells on Home Again are extremely authentic, but I'm still pretty certain they're samples.

The following year's Stock seems to be influenced more by late-'60s Floyd than its predecessor and has fewer changes in tempo, electing to do that mid-paced thing throughout much of its length, although it turns out that it's a 'odds'n'sods' album and shouldn't really be treated as a new release as such. I actually find it a little less interesting than Trying to Kiss the Sun, although anyone who attempts psychedelia in any form in the 21st century should really be given a listen. Don't get me wrong; it's perfectly listenable, just not stupendously interesting, despite its noticeably shorter length. What is certain is that there's far less 'Mellotron', with the only obvious use being more of those 'Strawberry Fields' flutes again on the almost-jaunty Who Do You Think You Are.

2005's World Through My Eyes is similar to Trying to Kiss the Sun, but without any of the qualities that made that a fairly decent album. Overlong and boring, it rarely picks up above its sluggish, Floydian pace, but without being a fraction as good as the Floyd. There aren't any highlights, really, although there are an awful lot worse albums about; it's all just so... uninspired. Plenty of 'Mellotron', which still doesn't convince me it's been anywhere near 35 strips of magnetic tape. Choirs on opener Sleep, strings on Start The Fire, more of those 'Strawberry Fields' flutes on Everything Was Not Enough, with strings on Three Lights and Wasted Land to finish off, though rarely doing anything exciting. Hmmm. Maybe spend your hard-earned on something else?

The same year's Start the Fire - Live is a pretty turgid, two-disc live effort (Roses is especially bad), particularly the first disc, which seems to go on forever. And why throw the chorus to Genesis' I Know What I Like into the middle of Day On My Pillow? The album improves on disc two, opening with the relatively dynamic World Through My Eyes; unfortunately, the improvement is mostly down to a brace of Floyd covers, Cymbaline (incorporating uncredited sections of Echoes and Atom Heart Mother) and Welcome To The Machine, simultaneously plunging the band back into their tribute act days and hauling the album, kicking and screaming, up to a whole **½ (I'm afraid it would've been ** otherwise). Did I hear someone say, "Crowd pleasers"? Samplotron on a few tracks, with strings and over-loud flutes on Start The Fire (although the choirs on Sleep aren't even Mellotron samples), strings on Day On My Pillow, The Gentle Art Of Swimming and Wasted Land, string swells in Opel. 2008's The RPWL Experience is pretty similar to its immediate predecessor, the Floyd remaining their top influence, particularly noticeable on Where Can I Go?, although an unfortunate 'alt.rock' edge creeps in later on. Minor samplotron use, the most upfront being the strings on Watch Myself, but you're unlikely to want to hear this if you don't like their earlier work.

Four years on and 2012's Beyond Man & Time shows little change in the RPWL camp, with another symphonic/Floyd crossover effort. Its first few tracks are deadly - an appallingly bad move - but the album picks up on The Ugliest Man In The World (The Ugly), snatching that extra half star that might otherwise have been denied it. The best bits of this album would make a decent half hour disc, but it's obvious why the band haven't gone down that route. Coincidentally (?), the first samplotron track is the first listenable one, with flutes and strings all over The Ugliest Man In The World, flutes on Somewhere In Between (The Dream Of Saying Yes) and major string and choir parts on the lengthy The Fisherman, which would probably be the best thing here were it a few minutes shorter.

Ra Ra Riot  (US)

The Orchard  (2010,  39.11)  *½

Ra Ra Riot's terrible, plinky indie nonsense does them no favours 'round these parts, I can tell you. Inaudible samplotron, not that it would improve matters.

Ra Rising  (UK)

Seize the Day  (2014,  69.03)  **½

Ra released two albums before becoming Ra Rising for 2014's Seize the Day. They describe themselves as 'progressive', although they're clearly doing something other than trying to recreate what Genesis did forty years earlier (see: any number of current British 'prog', yet not 'progressive' outfits). I'm trying to think of the best way to describe this. Pub-prog? Influences from folk, hard rock and rhythm'n'blues all find their way into the band's music, working well on, say, A Time That Was or Alive And Well, less so when they try to get too clever. Unfortunately, the album features some major 'issues': vocalist Richard Benjamin isn't the world's greatest rock singer and the album's budget production leaves him overly exposed at the front of the mix. The penny finally drops during Alive And Well: Mr. Benjamin needs to sing in a folk outfit, preferably with two or three other singers, as he struggles to stay in tune in places, while his voice lacks any real tone. Guitarist Brian Jones is perfectly competent, but overreaches himself on some of his solos, while the on/off pub-rock drumming merely adds to the album's slightly amateurish feel. Sorry, guys, but I have to be honest. The band feature noted synthesist Steve Hillman on keys, who apparently moved towards prog from EM some twenty years earlier. He uses Mellotron samples on several tracks (usual suspects: strings and choir), but I'm afraid his samples aren't good enough to fool the trained ear. I'm sorry; I hate to be so down on a band doing their own, self-funded thing (been there, done that), but Ra Rising need to take a serious look at themselves before entering a studio again. Keep at it, though, chaps, you'll get there.

Racoon  (Netherlands)

Liverpool Rain  (2011,  39.28)  **½

Acoustic-based Dutch pop/rock outfit Racoon are probably best described as (in Douglas Adams' immortal words) 'mostly harmless'; their fifth studio album, 2011's Liverpool Rain, wanders along in a singer-songwritery vein, almost offensive in its bland inoffensiveness. Shockingly, this actually makes Coldplay sound dynamic. Highlights? Not really, no, although closer Better Be Kind seems to do more with its source material than anything else here, particularly with regard to British veteran Andrew Powell's inventive string arrangement. Wouter van Belle adds keyboards to most of the album, with sampled Mellotron flutes (thanks, Peter) on the last three tracks, No Story To Tell, Don't Give Up The Fight and Better Be Kind, with brief yet intelligently-arranged parts on all three. No, you don't need to hear this, but at least the samplotron's used well.

Sam Rader  (US)

Goldstar Galaxy  (2007,  26.08)  **½

Sam (presumably Samantha) Rader's Goldstar Galaxy mini-album is a kind of indie/orchestral pop crossover, OK for a song or two, but irritating over even its short length. Scott Seiver's Mellotron is inaudible.

Raining Pleasure  (Greece)

Reflections  (2005,  43.10)  ***

Raining Pleasure's fifth album sits somewhere in between vaguely Scott Walker-esque '60s pop, psych and modern indie, at its best on The Day, the circus-y vibe of Kemal and the slowburn Bitter Way. A bit bloody cheeky of 'Spiràl' and guitarist/vocalist Vassilikos to credit themselves with Mellotron, when it's so blatantly sampled. The flutes on The Day give the game away - played too quickly, with a too-consistent attack, while the strings on Kemal drop well below the instrument's range, amongst other samplotron crimes.

Rainmaker  (US)

Long Slow Fade  (2008,  44.15)  ***

San Franciscan's Rainmaker play a variety of low-key Americana, throwing other influences into Long Slow Fade as and when, top tracks including excellent opener The Last Record Store, the bluesy Further From The Truth and Sweetwater Has Run Dry. Jonathan Chi's Mellotron? Inaudible.

Raising Holy Sparks  (Ireland)

Beyond the Unnamed Bay  (2011,  50.50)  **

David Colohan helmed Agitated Radio Pilot (ARP, geddit?) from 1993 until 2011, at which point he began working with two new collaborators in Raising Holy Sparks. Their debut, Beyond the Unnamed Bay, consists of a kind of folky post-rock, the album's centrepiece being the near-twenty minute The Depths Of Bailey Point, an exercise in formless drifting if ever there were one. Less bad material including the harmonium-fuelled Along The Sea's Drumming and There Can Be No Loneliness In Our Singing, but the bulk of the album served only to irritate this listener. Colohan plays credited Mellotron samples (nice to see someone come clean, for once), with drifting, background choirs on The Depths Of Bailey Point and here and there elsewhere, notably on Along The Sea's Drumming. I'm quite certain this music has an audience, but I'm afraid I can not count myself among it.

John Ralston  (US)

Sorry Vampire  (2007,  42.21)  **½

John Ralston is the kind of modern American singer-songwriter who seems to confuse 'heartfelt' with 'wussy', so that his second album, 2007's Sorry Vampire, while containing the odd decent moment, is largely rather tedious, insipid nonsense. Ralston plays 'Mellotron' himself, although the choirs on When I Was A Bandage are not only too clean, but sustain for too long at the end of the track, while the flutes on Ghetto Tested and Where You Used To Sleep simply don't ring true. OK, OK, I've heard worse, but this is a pretty dull, dreary release.

Ramp  (Germany)

Nodular  (1998,  73.11)  ***

Stephen Parsick's Ramp (or ['ramp])'s EM is very much of the Berlin School, although they also display a talent for the kind of gently shifting electronics in fashion in some circles more recently, at least on their debut, 1998's Nodular. Like so many similar, the band make the mistake of thinking that because they can put over seventy minutes of music on a CD, they should, although the disc wears out its welcome after about the first four tracks, at least for someone not highly attuned to the genre. In fairness, no-one's credited with Mellotron, so while the heavily-reverbed choirs on Intrip, Angular and Phasenverzerrung clearly originated from a Mellotron at some point, I rather doubt it was in the studio, being more likely to be when the samples were created. Klaus "Cosmic" Hoffmann(-Hoock) was involved on the production side, so he may have had something to do with them, but it all seems rather unlikely it's real. So; a decent enough electronic release, but indistinguishable from almost everything else in the field for the uninitiated, without even the bonus of any real Mellotron work.

Lee Ranaldo & the Dust  (US)

Acoustic Dust  (2014,  50.48)  ***½

Lee Ranaldo, co-founder of Sonic Youth, formed The Dust after his main band went on hiatus/bit the dust (ho ho), releasing Last Night on Earth in 2013. Acoustic Dust appeared the following year, a live-in-the-studio release, recorded in Barcelona with local musicians augmenting his band, playing a selection of tracks from their first album, presumably new material and a handful of covers, not least Neil Young's immortal Revolution Blues. Yes, it's dark, yes, it's mournful, yes, it's really rather good. Raúl Fernández Refree is credited with Mellotron, but I'm somewhat dubious about the flute line running through Key/Hole, so I'm afraid this is going here until/if I should find out any more. A fine album, however, Mellotron or no Mellotron.

Randone  (Italy)

Singles & Unreleased  (2013, recorded 2003-13,  67.03)  ***½

Italian progsters Randone's Singles & Unreleased doesn't quite do what it says on the tin; Sguardo Verso Il Cielo is previously unreleased, but the other four tracks here have all done time on various various-artist sets, unless by 'singles' they mean stand-alone tracks that don't belong to any group album. Either way, we get their contributions to three Colossus Project collections, The Spaghetti Epic 2: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, The Spaghetti Epic and Kalevala: A Finnish Progressive Rock Epic and Mellow Records' Family Snapshot: A Tribute To Genesis Solo Careers, all but the last-named (Father, Son, from Peter Gabriel's OVO) being the band's own compositions. Do they work, excised from their themed parent albums? Generally speaking, yes, as long as the listener accepts that this is a compilation of tracks recorded over several years. All of the band's strengths and failings are displayed here, The Good (Il Buono) probably being the best of a mixed bag. While I'm not fully convinced that every Randone album listed in their main entry features genuine Mellotron, we're definitely not hearing it here, with many parts (particularly the flutes on most tracks) being played far too fast to be real. In fairness, I haven't listed the first three tracks here as genuine on their parent albums, so it's good to know that my views have remained consistent in the years since I reviewed them. So; worth hearing? If you like what Randone do, yes, although you're only getting six minutes of genuinely previously-unheard music.

Dizzee Rascal  (UK)

Tongue n'Cheek  (2009,  41.31)  ***

I approached Dylan Kwabena "Dizzee Rascal" Mills' fourth album, 2009's Tongue n'Cheek, with considerable trepidation; this is, er, 'grime', isn't it? Some hip-hip spinoff, right? In a manner of speaking, yes; he mixes various related genres, anyway, so what pure grime may or may not be is slightly irrelevant. The music (as against the rapping) on the album is actually very well-constructed, with unusual juxtapositions of sounds and samples and genuinely radical synth and drum machine programming. Who'd'a thunk it? Mr. Rascal (as Brit political pundit Jeremy Paxman called him in an interview) has a talent with his rhyming, too; many of the album's couplets made me laugh out loud, not least most of opener Bonkers. Hal Ritson's credited with Mellotron on Freaky Freaky, to which I can only say, "You've gotta be kidding!" The string sound used throughout the track might have just possibly originated with a real Mellotron, several sample generations back, but certainly isn't played on one here. Well, I'm still reeling at this actually being pretty listenable, despite, on the surface, sitting fairly and squarely in a genre I normally despise. However, not only no Mellotron, but barely any samples as such. One for your disaffected nephew, then, but don't dismiss it out of hand; much better than expected.

Rascal Reporters  (US)

The Foul-Tempered Clavier  (2001,  62.12)  ***½

It would seem The Rascal Reporters have been going since the late '70s, although I hadn't encountered them before finding a 'Mellotron' credit on their sixth album, 2001's The Foul-Tempered Clavier (explanation here for those less elitist than me). It's the kind of progressive record that has fans of the more mainstream end of the genre running screaming, having as much in common with avant-garde jazz as anything, full of pops, clicks and squawks, along with the occasional tune. The band's two chief members, Steve Gore and Steve Kretzmer, are both credited with Mellotron, but all I can hear is an odd flutey sound on Efrem Cymbalist Jr. and some strings that could come from almost anything. Sorry, guys, but I'd put money on a real, live Mellotron, or even samples, having been nowhere near your recording studio. Credited, but clearly not.

Ratatat  (US)

LP4  (2010,  42.35)  ***

Although Ratatat's third album, LP3, featured a real Mellotron (and even pictured it on the sleeve), their imaginatively-titled follow-up, LP4, mixes a real string section with Mellotron samples, quite possibly from the studio machine they'd used previously. The album itself shares its predecessor's eclecticism, from the rattley electronica of opener Bilar through the pseudo-metal of Drugs and the electro of Neckbrace, while the duo summon up the ghost of the still-very-much-alive Brian May on Party With Children. Those samples crop up here and there, notably the skronky flutes and strings on Grape Juice City and closer Alps, also heard on Neckbrace, Bare Feast and Party With Children, amongst others. It's hard to know at whom, exactly, Ratatat are aiming, especially in these days of strict genre quarantine, but their pick'n'mix approach seems to be paying some kind of dividend.

Gemma Ray  (UK)

Lights Out Zoltar!  (2009,  39.22)  ***
Milk for Your Motors  (2014,  43.27)  ***

Gemma Ray has been running her post-Gemma Ray Ritual solo career for a couple of years now, 2009's Lights Out Zoltar! being (I believe) her second release under her own name. Just about any online interview you care to peruse will tell you that she takes a pretty retro stance, the album's pre-psych era feel bearing this out, material like Tough Love and (You Got Me In A) Death Roll having a fairly '50s aesthetic. Although Gemma (on Fist Of A Flower) and Mal Bruk (on 1952) are both credited with Mellotron, when I got a mutual acquaintance to ask her directly, she said she 'doesn't remember using a Mellotron, or samples', which rather confuses the issue, so with nothing obvious on the former and only a string sound that could emanate from almost anything on the latter, it wouldn't appear to be that relevant, anyway. Several albums on, 2014's Milk for Your Motors carries on in the same 'pop-noir' area, highlights including opener The Wheel, Desoto and Motorbike (featuring Suicide's Alan Vega). Although Ed Turner (hi, Ed) is credited with Mellotron on When I Kissed You and Desoto, there's nothing obvious to be heard on either track, although someone adds distant flutes to Shake Baby Shake in a 'decidedly sampled' kind of way.

Real Tuesday Weld  (UK)

I, Lucifer  (2004,  44.13)  ***
The London Book of the Dead  (2008,  48.50)  ***

The Real Tuesday Weld (in honour of the actress of the same name), led by Stephen Coates, describe their sound as 'antique beat', which, going by their third album, I, Lucifer, amounts to a straight cross between pre-war swing and modern electronica. The album was intended as a soundtrack to Glen Duncan's novel of the same name; whether it works as such shall have to remain a mystery, as I haven't read it. I'd say the album's actually more 'antique' than 'beat', few of its fourteen tracks having any real modern influence, although those contemporary riddims pop up here and there, notably on (Still) Terminally Ambivalent Over You and one of the album's best tracks, The Life And Times Of The Clerkenwell Kid. On the samplotron front, we get cellos and occasional strings all over the place, plus what sounds like the Mellotron tubular bells on closer The Pearly Gates. Four albums on, 2007's The London Book of the Dead (ho ho) is, essentially, more of the same, Coates' witty lyrical concerns brightening up what might otherwise be seen as merely a copy of his earlier work. 'Mellotronically' speaking, the album kicks off with that tubular bell sample again, also heard on Bringing The Body Back Home, while Kix gives us some full-on strings, with cellos on a handful of tracks. Do you bother with these? Do you like the sound of what they do? If so, then yes. Simple as that, although you're certainly not going to bother for a few Mellotron samples.

Ben Rector  (US)

Into the Morning  (2010,  37.32)  *
Something Like This  (2011,  38.22)  *½

Ben Rector is yer classic 'modern singer-songwriter' type; having been to see the stupendous, incomparable Richard Thompson literally the night before writing this, all I can feel for this character is, to quote an Ian Dury lyric, 'the purity and depth of my disdain'. Into the Morning is as mainstream as it gets without being full-on, autotuned R&B, frankly; the kind of songs that get used as incidental music on brain-dead US TV shows, which is clearly the intention. If Rector had written more like approaching-acceptable closer Dance With Me Baby, this album would be less offensive. And his insipid 'Mellotron' flutes on Autumn are sampled. Something Like This is marginally less offensive; I'm not entirely sure why, although less atrocious material such as Way I Am and Home helps. Samplotron? The background flutes on Without You? (not that one).

Red Masque  (US)

Feathers for Flesh  (2004,  54.32)  ****

The Red Masque are an American progressive band who reside in that odd, twilight world also inhabited by the likes of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and anything involving Chris Cutler. After an initial EP, 2002's Victoria & the Haruspex, 2004's Feathers for Flesh is their first full-length release, a rollercoaster-ride of vocal and instrumental angularity, reminding me variously of Magma, King Crimson (of course) and Henry Cow, classical guitars rubbing shoulders with household implements, vocal pyrotechnics and thunderous bass. Well, that's one track out of the way. Seriously, trying to single out any one piece here for praise is futile; the album works best as a whole, refusing to outstay its welcome, despite its near-hour length. Despite rumours of Mellotron use (player unknown: three members play keys), the occasional string part scattered throughout the album clearly has nothing to do with a real machine, although the band do mention 'Mellotron sounds' on their website. So; jaded prog fan? Looking for something to pique your curiosity without singeing your ears? I think The Red Masque may be what you're looking for. No Mellotron, but recommended anyway.

Red Sand  (Québec)

Mirror of Insanity  (2004,  39.59)  **½
Gentry  (2005,  42.45)  **
Human Trafficking  (2007,  44.01)  **
Music for Sharks  (2009,  52.57)  **½
Behind the Mask  (2012,  40.45)  *
Cinema du Vieux Cartier  (2013,  49.24)  **½

Québec's Red Sand are helmed by guitarist/keyboard player Simon Caron, a man clearly in thrall to the likes of Marillion, Pendragon and the turgid Arena, for reasons known only to himself; I mean, look at their sub-Marillion logo: what were they thinking? For that matter, why copy crap bands when you could be influenced by good ones? It's easy, I suppose. All of their albums to date follow the same general template: a handful of tracks, mostly grossly distended epics, broken up by one or two shorter efforts, 'featuring' page upon page of sixth-form poetry (admittedly, written in English by a French-speaker), interrupted by lengthy, relatively tasteful guitar solos. It seems Caron just can't wait to spaff all over the mundane backing tracks, so he wails away every few minutes, seemingly regardless of what's actually going on musically at the time. On their debut, 2004's Mirror of Insanity, they suffer from the standard neo-prog delusion: they actually have something to say that anyone might want to hear. I blame Fish. Appropriately-titled twelve-minute opener Blame starts tastefully (if tediously) enough, but after a few minutes of picked guitar and muted vocal, it kicks into typical neo- gear, with one particularly horrible major-key moment. The ten-minute (see? Told you...) Children Memory again features a sort-of tasteful slow section, this time in the middle, but a serious lack of understanding of how to pace a lengthy piece leaves it dead in the water. Poor Mellotron samples throughout, notably the flutes at the end of Children Memory, the strings in the middle of the title track and the crummy choirs everywhere.

Again, the following year's Gentry doesn't start too badly, but before long, we're into mid-paced hell, guitar solos everywhere you look and awful, pseudo-pseudo-analogue synth leads that just scream '1988'. Caron's wilful lack of musical knowledge helps not one jot, causing him to play a repeated wrong note in his first solo (of several) in Submissive, while his patented Steve Rothery clean rhythm sound is very nasty indeed. Lyrically, all the usual clichés apply; what is it with neo-prog and bad cases of navel-gazing? And all these vocalists obsessed with their useless love-lives? I blame Fish. Usual samplotron stuff, notably the strings and flutes on Very Strange, sounding as fake as everything else here. 2007's Human Trafficking is, unsurprisingly, more of the same, the unmitigated rubbish of the eighteen-minute title track followed by the far shorter Lost, a palatable-enough guitar instrumental; unexciting in itself, it's pure genius in comparison to the dreary, plodding nonsense it follows. Another soul-destroying epic, Regrets, features what has to be one of the worst 'church organ' sounds I've ever heard, while the pseudotron choirs across the album are terrible; guys, there are better sample sets out there if you really have to... 2009's Music for Sharks almost made me cry; not because it moved me, but because it made me despair. No. Progression. Whatsoever. Or is there? Shark Man is the least terrible thing yet recorded by the band, actually utilising a modicum of creativity in the arrangement department, not to mention a previously unused snare-heavy rhythm that at least makes a change. Hurrah! Pity it's so fucking long. The rest of the album's the usual shit, though, as you might expect. Better Mellotron samples, for what it's worth, which is very little indeed. Also for what it's worth (also not very much), it isn't that All You Need Is Love.

You thought it was bad so far? You ain't seen nothing yet... 2012's Behind the Mask raises (lowers?) the game, succeeding in being even more painfully bereft of inspiration than its predecessors, copying Marillion almost note-for note in places. I mean, Mask Of Liberty IS, er, a track from Script for a Jester's Tear (The Web? I neither know nor, frankly, care), the mercifully relatively brief whole bringing me to the edge of utter despair. On the samplotron front, we get awful choir samples all over Behind The Mask and here and there elsewhere, for what it's worth, which is absolutely zero. If I say that the following year's Cinema du Vieux Cartier is a great improvement, it isn't meant as any kind of recommendation, merely an acknowledgement that the album's nowhere near as bad as its predecessor, helped along by several piano segments, dovetailing with the record's film-themed concept. In fact, opener Au Vieux Cinéma actually isn't too bad, although there are far too many sub-sub-Gilmour/Rothery guitar moments and bland, major-chord synth washes for this to ever win any awards for originality. Once again, samplotron choirs here and there. Whatever. What really offends me about this kind (OK, most kinds) of neo-prog is its towering lack of ambition; progressive rock appeared over forty years ago and has now spawned dozens of sub-genres, yet certain bands are happy to produce album after album of simplistic crud, with no attempt made to progress. Big Big Train progressed; why can't Red Sand? No, I cannot recommend any of these on any grounds whatsoever. I blame Fish.

Redshift  (UK)

Redshift  (1996,  54.44)  ***½
Down Time  (2001,  60.28)  ****
Faultline  (2002,  74.20)  ***½

Redshift are led by veteran British electronic artist Mark Shreeve (also of ARC), who released a host of solo album in the '80s. They debuted with an eponymous effort in 1996, very typical 'Berlin School' EM, albeit better than many (doubtless due to Shreeve's considerable experience in the field), opening with its probable best piece in Redshift itself, although closer Blueshift finishes with what sounds like an EM take on a famous hymn tune that I'm struggling to place. Shreeve plays Mellotron samples (choir, strings and flute, credited as 'Mellotron') variously on all tracks, in a fairly standard Tangs (Aargh! I said it! I used the 'T' word! OK, the other 'T' word) kind of way, so no surprises here. Have Redshift used those samples again? Probably, as once an EM artist gets hold of a Mellotron sample set, they tend to hang onto them for grim death, whacking them all over everything they do with abandon. However, as I haven't heard any of Redshift's later work, I can't actually tell you for certain (er, see below...).

Unusually for the genre, 2001's Down Time opens with a couple of minutes of solo Rhodes, then as the rhythm gently builds up, a vocal-through-Leslie effect enters the fray, the sequenced synths building into a series of most un-EM-like crescendos. Hey, composed music! Who'd'ha thunk it, eh? As the album progresses, it becomes apparent that this is one of the very best things I've heard from a moribund genre in a long time; Redshift are unafraid to take chances, incorporate elements from other areas (not least the techno rhythms and guitar chords and solo on Mania) and generally do something different. It's robbed of an unprecedented extra half star by its forgettable closing title track and predictably excessive length, neither of which stop this being a rare modern EM delight. Of course, we get the usual samplotron stuff, with string pads, a flute melody, choirs and even some very Tangs-esque string section on opener Nails and a solo flute part at the end of Protoland, amongst other parts. The following year's live Faultline, while a good, dynamic set, lacks Down Time's highlights, despite the occasional piece of storming synth work and some ripping guitar. Samplotron on several tracks, mostly strings, with bursts of choir or flute every now and again, which, I'd be the first to admit, doesn't give you much idea what this album's actually like. It's like a live EM album, I suppose, more inventive than many, but not their best.

Redwalls  (US)

De Nova  (2005,  48.16)  ***

The Redwalls mix powerpop with 'rock'n'roll', whatever you take that to mean. Their second album, 2005's De Nova, is entirely unoriginal, but entertaining enough, although few of the songs seem to have the kind of staying power a band of this kind needs so badly, although opener Robinson Crusoe, Love You and the Stonesy It's Alright aren't bad. No-one's credited with Mellotron and indeed, it sounds somewhat on the fake side, with strings on Thank You, Hung Up On The Way I'm Feeling, Front Page and Back Together that are most likely samples. Overall, then, a passable effort in the 'attempting iconic rock'n'roll' stakes, but it all falls rather short, sadly. If anyone knows any more about the Mellotron sounds used, please let me know...

Reformation  (US)

Fatal Expectation  (2013,  44.49)  ***

Reformation's female-fronted Fatal Expectation sits somewhere in between progressive, ambient, jazz, post-rock and old-school hard rock, the end result being disconcertingly eclectic, which can work against it. I'm not sure trying to pinpoint 'best tracks' is relevant, but the funky, Clavinet-driven Lady In Red is definitely the oddest thing here. Matt Penco's 'Mellotron' on Fell And Forgotten and its closing reprise? I don't think so.

Jon Regen  (US)

Revolution  (2011,  41.13)  **½

Stylistically, Jon Regen's Revolution shifts between piano balladry and a more upbeat pop/rock approach, neither especially interesting, despite some nice Wurlitzer work. The energetic Fighting For Your Love is rather better, although I'm less convinced by the soul/pop of closer Run Away. Regen and Matt Rollings's 'Mellotron'? Sampled flutes on She's Not You (But Tonight She'll Have To Do), possible choppy flutes on the opening title track.

ReGenesis  (UK)

ReGenesis Live  (1997,  67.47)  ***½
Here it Comes Again...  (1998,  67.54)  ****
Lamb for Supper - Live 2001  (2001,  64.53)  ****

The first, and best of the UK Genesis tributes started life in 1994 as Geneside (ho ho), dropping the name a year later after having it consistently misspelt by promoters and deciding it sounded 'a bit metal'. At the same time, they took on yours truly as roadie/driver/general factotum, a working relationship that lasted six years, giving me a fairly unique view into what made the band tick. And it wasn't a pretty sight... I only missed one gig in those six years, which was, of course, the one they recorded for their first album, ReGenesis Live (never did work out the inspiration for that one), with a much sought-after video also receiving a brief release. Despite a slightly murky sound (straight to DAT from the desk), it captures the energy they put out gig after gig (150 in six years - pretty good going for a bunch of guys in full-time work...), with the strongest numbers from their set at the time. Keyboard man Doug Melbourne had just purchased a Roland M-VS1 module (identical to the 'vintage synth' expansion board for their JV1080 rack synth), and made good use of it on four of the five live tracks. To explain... tracks six and seven are two of the three tracks from their original '94 demo for getting gigs, and the 'Mellotron' parts are rather less, er, Mellotron-like.

Here it Comes Again... was a more professional affair all round, recorded onto digital 24-track, the difference immediately apparent. It features the best of their repertoire that didn't make it to the first album, although a couple of less obvious choices might've been nice; to my knowledge, there's no (official) live version of Can-Utility And The Coastliners available anywhere, by Genesis or otherwise (although there are probably good musical reasons why it didn't make it here) and ReGen never released their storming take on The Fountain Of Salmacis, either. Anyway, good versions all round here, with four of the eight tracks featuring Doug's M-VS1 again in its usual role, along with his rather gorgeous Prophet V for all the lead synth parts.

ReGenesis played their biggest gig yet in March 2001, to well over a thousand people at G2, the Second UK Genesis convention, unveiling their complete 'Lamb' show, which was, of course, filmed and recorded onto multitrack. Lamb for Supper - Live 2001 is an edited version of the show, although the entire thing's available on video, I believe. New-ish singer Tony Patterson does a pretty good Gabriel impersonation and plays the flute and, in places, the band actually fool your ear into thinking it's the real thing; you can't give a tribute band much higher praise than that, I suppose. By this point, Doug was using a combination of his Roland module and some super-high quality samples (for the choirs), with Chamber Of 32 Doors and Los Endos being 'Mellotronic' highlights. It has to be pointed out that there's some rather dodgy playing here and there; the contrast between Dance On A Volcano (new to the set) and Los Endos (been played for years) is startling, but then, when did Genesis ever play a perfect gig?

ReGen actually used my own Mellotron twice, at the same venue, the Putney Half Moon (back room of a pub, basically), once in summer '96 and again in February '01, but sadly, neither was professionally recorded, even from the desk. Doug left the band after their '01 autumn tour and I've no idea what his successor uses on the fakeotron front, although unlike a tribute to another famous British prog outfit I could name, at least he uses Mellotron samples, not just generic string and flute patches... Should you buy these albums? Search me - despite working for the band, I never entirely saw the point of releasing albums of Genesis covers, played identically to the originals, other than as a good way of bumping up gig profits or, in some cases, making any profit at all. After the release of Genesis' own Archive box sets, there's nothing on any of these three albums that doesn't have an 'official' counterpart, which is why Can-Utility would've been such a good idea. Then again... There's a handful of other tracks that ReGen played at one point or another for which there are no official versions (The Battle Of Epping Forest and a couple of post-Gabriel songs I believe they've introduced to the set more recently), so it's up to you whether or not you reckon these albums are worth hearing.