Gungfly [Release date: 10.02.16]
Rikard Sjoblom, for the uninitiated, is the multi-instrumentalist frontman for Swedish avant-progressive rock darlings Beardfish.
He was also the prime mover behind Gungfly, who briefly piqued interest from the music press a few years back and has recently been collaborating with British progressive outfit Big Big Train.
So, no shortage of credentials then.
‘The Unbendable Sleep’ is his second attempt at a solo project following the mega-obscure ‘Cyklonmannen’ in 2006, and it is always interesting to see, especially when the artist is vocalist for their day-job band, just how much the solo project is at variance with the norm.
Whilst Beardfish are quite heavily progressive in a King Crimson kind of way, Sjoblom has knocked off many of the harder edges here and taken things more to the Moody Blues/Caravan end of the spectrum to make ‘The Unbendable Sleep’ a much more accessible piece of work.
And therein lies the problem. It still has its moments of occasional heaviness, both lyrically and musically, but whether these are enough to satisfy the prog cognoscenti is a moot point as it definitely runs the risk of being too poppy for the rock crowd and too rock for everyone else – neither fish nor fowl if you will.
Exampli Gratia are the first two tracks. Opener ‘Love And War Part One – I Am Who You Are’ has some very nice chiming guitar and a rock verse but a very poppy chorus and this continues on ‘Realm Of You And Me’ where a nice acoustic intro segues into another another rather pop chorus aided and abetted with some rather trite lyrics – “I don’t feel safe anywhere but in your arms”…Er, no.
Things improve significantly on the eleven minute progressive rock epic ‘Rhyme And Reason’ – easily the standout track on the album – where a heavier riff, juxtaposed with chiming guitar (a Rickenbacker, surely?), is interspersed with a harpsichord solo, some tasty organ and topped off with edgy, politically strident lyrics – a tasty amalgam of Morrissey(!), King Crimson and Atomic Rooster.
The rest of the album certainly has its moments – the jazzy overtones of ‘Under Northern Skies’, the almost classical instrumental ‘Building A Tent For Astor’ (replete with accordian solo) and closer ‘Love And War Part Two: Lucky Star’ with its pleasant acoustic intro, its bit of Stevie Wonder piano and some very tasty fretwork bringing things to a satisfying coda.
However, it’s a testament to Sjoblom’s lineage that I was expecting something a little more than what ‘The Unbendable Sleep’ offers if I’m honest, as it seems to be falling between two stools – is it rock or is it pop?
It’s rock, Jim, but not as you’d expect it to be (although you’d have to go a long way to better ‘Rhyme And Reason’ as a prog masterclass) and the lack of real direction does the album as a whole no favours – despite exemplary musicianship throughout.
Still well worth a listen though. ***
Review by Alan Jones
Alan sequences “The Eclectic Mix” on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, third Sunday of the month at 18:00. Expect some prog.
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In this two hour special David Randall plays a selection of the GRTR! reviewer choices for ‘Best of 2019′ and announces the results of the popular poll. First broadcast Sunday 22 December 2019.
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