Cleopatra Records – Release Date: 22 October 2013
You know all those awkward questions that children ask at various stages of their development – ‘why is the sky blue?’, ‘are we nearly there yet?’, ‘where do babies come from?’, ad nauseum – if they ever ask the real toughie: ‘Dad, what is prog rock?’, answer dramatically by slipping this little gem into the CD player and all will be revealed.
Apart from ‘Close To The Edge’ and ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ you couldn’t find a more definitive progressive rock album if you tried.
Perhaps this is not surprising when you know that XNA is fronted by Genesis tribute band Gabble Ratchet’s lead vocalist David Hussey and composer of many a sci-fi rock opera, keyboardist Adam Malin.
It is even less surprising when you learn that ex-Yes guitarist Billy Sherwood is in the producer’s chair.
For enthusiasts of the genre, and particularly the work of Genesis, Yes, Caravan and Camel, ‘When We Changed You’ is a feast to be devoured at one sitting – the exceptional music demands this – and not bolted down either, but savoured for the masterpiece that it is.
That is not to say it is entirely fault-free, more later, but as an object lesson in how both to compose and perform contemporary progressive rock it’s as good as it gets.
A glimpse at the sumptuous artwork (hardback digi-book with 24 page insert) and a track list with titles such as ‘Banner Of The Whyte Boar’, ‘The Vale Of Avalon’ and the sixteen-plus minutes of ‘At Childhood’s End’, any aficionado will know what’s coming.
And it doesn’t disappoint.
Things get underway with the instrumental, organ-led and faintly middle-eastern vibe of ‘At Childhood’s Beginning’ which is followed by the exceptional title track – its remarkable Hackett-like solo pushing it near the front of the queue for the the album’s highlights.
The fifteen minute ‘Banner Of The Whyte Boar’ is a track for which the term ‘sprawling epic’ was created – more time sig. changes than you could shake a stick at, wonderful instrumentation and a mediaeval saga to link the whole thing together.
The aforementioned flaws appear in both ‘The Flying Dutchman’ and ‘Annapurna’ where a garrulous libretto is half-sung, half spoken making the tracks sound rather comedic and wacky – especially so on ‘Annapurna’ where the vocals are delivered in a cringe-making, and frankly ridiculous, Raj era aristocratic English accent.
Fortunately, the closing sixteen minute tour de force that is ‘At Childhood’s End’ (despite its somewhat syrupy lyrics) carries the album home in a blaze of glory and the day is saved.
This is outstanding progressive rock of the highest calibre (occasional dodgy vocals notwithstanding) played by exceptional musicians.
It gets five stars, but without its little faux pas, would have got an unattainable six.
Review by Alan Jones
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