Album review: FOCUS – Golden Oldies

Focus - Golden Oldies

In And Out Of Focus Records [Release date 14.04.14]

They say rock is dead, the endless process of reinvention now limited, and the pioneers now ageing.  There is no doubt that a great chasm will open within the next 10 years as heritage bands stop touring/working and with nothing really interesting to take their place.  I mean – can you really imagine Rival Sons or The Temperance Movement  filling this void?

In what must also be their twilight years, Focus have enjoyed greater affection in the past decade under the engaging stewardship of Thijs van Leer and with original member Pierre van der Linden in tow.  I’ve always loved the band but of course fans will be very much in  pre- or post-Akkerman camps.  Others – more forgiving – will just like anything under the Focus moniker and it is to them that this latest compilation is directed.  Oh, and to those who just want something convenient in the glove box.

‘Golden Oldies’ is an updated greatest hits and whilst the band may have had fun recreating some classic tunes it is all a little pointless.  I won few friends in the Focus camp for slating their latest studio effort, calling it lazy, and ‘Golden Oldies’ is even lazier.

But this sort of release raises the other issue as rock gets old.  Are near-septuagenarian rockers even capable of exciting new music and is it inevitable they will merely trade on former glories?  Do we expect too much from State Pensioner Rock?  I remain always optimistic but there have been a raft of heritage bands recently who could deliver more.  Asia (Gravitas) is one immediate example.

It’s a shame, though, that in the case of Focus there isn’t greater creative input from the younger members (Manno Gootjes and Bobby Jacobs) and that this doesn’t steer the band in a new, exciting direction.

And so to the re-recordings.  I think Thijs and the guys should have picked out less popular Focus repertoire for re-interpretation.  This core set-list (‘Hocus Pocus’, ‘House Of the King’, ‘Sylvia’ etc) is too well-worked and familiar, and “focuses” on the band’s classic 1971-3 period.

Like it or not Jan Akkerman was a key part of that period and his guitar style and general approach almost irreplaceable.  Manno Gootjes does a fairly competent job but to be honest  his predecessor Jan Dumee – who bizarrely is credited with a scream on the ‘Hocus Pocus’ track – was more convincing. The problem must be that any guitarist is torn between playing these tunes by rote or introducing some variation.  If by rote, what is the point of re-recording them other than giving gig-goers a current band souvenir?

Only on the later Focus tracks, which originally featured current band members, is there a sense of true ownership (‘Aya Yippie Hippie Yee’, ‘Neurotica’) whilst ‘Brother’ merely serves to revive memories of the band’s late-1970′s purple period with the questionable warbling of PJ Proby.  Gootjes does excel though on this piece.

At times, when listening to this album I recalled the James Last albums that my Dad raved over in the early-seventies.  They invariably include non-stop cover versions of the latest chart hits always very well played, but never quite authentic enough.  ***

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.

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