After the dodgy pop of "Kowtow", Pendragon returned to form with this fine album, which was my introduction to the band (a couple of the tracks even got airplay on Radio 1's Friday/Saturday night rock shows at the time). It's strong melodic, symphonic prog rock, which has a clear appeal to fans of Marillion, early Genesis or maybe even Floyd. The still cheesy lyrics are mostly on a travel / finding-oneself theme, but these are easily forgettable in favour of the tunes.
The anthemic opening track has a intro reminiscent of U2's "Where the Streets Have no Name", with it's pinging guitar and floaty synth pad. "The Voyager" is possibly the band's most beautiful and evocative song, starting with an unhurried slide guitar and atmospheric synth instrumental (hints of Sakamoto and Sylvian's "Forbidden Colours" here?). On the laid-back song itself, Nick Barrett's vocals are tastefully restrained. After a nice key-change, a strong instrumental theme starts up, before concluding with a somewhat overblown reprise of the song's chorus. "Shane" and "Prayer" are less interesting, both what I like to call "podgy", or pompous, over-earnest rock ballads, like a mutated offspring of Pink Floyd and Queen.
On the second side (yes, I have this on cassette) the energy returns. Tracks 5, 6 and 7 were labelled as the Queen of Hearts trilogy, and are segued into each other but their music is not connected in any other way. "Queen of Hearts" itself is a listenable compendium of short passages of typical Pendragon style melodic prog, but shame about the clichéd lyrics. On "A Man Could Die Out Here" they surpass themselves with a tightly-performed, shimmeringly-produced rocking instrumental. There's some singing on top eventually but this is incidental to the band's playing. "The Last Waltz" is a fairly decent (for them!) radio-friendly pop song, with passable lyrics about nostalgia. "And We'll Go Hunting Deer" is a mellow chanting anthem, starting with a cheesy pan-flute to add to the banal one-world environmental theme of the song.
November 1, 2003