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(63:49, Ricky Gardiner Songs)
TRACK LIST: 1. Secret 5:20 2. Passing Her 4:35 3. Close to My Heart 5:24 4. A-Ha 6:09 5. Tight Blue Lips 4:53 6. Warm Eyes 5:12 7. Apparently Uncontrolled 5:10 8. Senselessness 6:13 9. You Stranger 5:16 10. Angelus Thread 4:44 11. Meet Me 6:03 12. Here Comes Everybody 4:50 LINEUP: Ricky Gardiner guitar, bass; vocals Virginia Scott piano, Mellotron Tom Gardiner drums
Prolusion. The Scottish band BEGGARS OPERA is something of a living legend in the world of progressive rock, albeit slightly obscure as such. Formed in the late 60s, the band released three classic albums in the early 70s, but since then their efforts started being less jubilantly received and the number of new albums started getting fewer and further between as well. In the 90s founding member Ricky Gardiner started suffering from a chronic illness, which also kept the band out of the live circuit for good, in addition to making it more problematic to actually record music as such - which at least partially explains why the 2007 effort "Close to My Heart" was ten years in the making. Matters seem to have improved over the years though, as a new album followed just two years later in the shape of "Touching the Edge".
Analysis. "Close to My Heart" must be regarded as something of a comeback album for this Scottish band. The fact that it appears 11 years after their previous effort is one side of that story, but the band using the name Beggar's Opera at that time had few matters in common with the band Gardiner formed in the late 60s. In fact, this 2007 production is the first full length studio effort Gardiner has created using this band moniker since 1980, and when 27 years have gone by comeback should be a viable expression to describe this album, at least in that particular context. It is a good album as well - somewhat surprisingly, since most efforts by the band after 1975 appear to have been met with something of a polite lack of interest at best. But on this occasion, the muse seems to have been truly inspiring in the long creative process of creating this CD, which was ten years in the making according to the liner notes. Those with a preferred taste for boundary-breaking and intellectually challenging material might not find the offered material too sustaining though. Those intrigued by technically challenging instrumental performances and eccentric compositional structures will have to look elsewhere. But those with an affection for art rock of the subtle and sophisticated variety might just find this venture to be worthwhile investigating. The 12 numbers at hand are all relatively brief, at least in the context of being progressive rock compositions, with the lengthiest creations barely creeping across the six minute mark. And unlike many examples of the genre, the lead vocals are central in all but one track here, the exception being the energetic bagpipe and symphonic blend that makes up final track, Here Comes Everybody. The rest of this disc is filled with the voice of Virginia Scott, lazy, sensual and dreamlike in a jazz-tinged sort of way, energetic and almost shouting with more of a punk inspired attitude and, on the fourth track A-ha, laden with a raw sexuality that might light fires in men and inspire thoughts of jealousy in their wives and girlfriends. The lead vocals contrast with the instrumentation to a much greater degree than using it as a mere backdrop though, which in itself lends art rock credentials to this effort. The instrumental parts of this affair can roughly be divided into two sorts of tracks: either laidback and dampened creations or rougher pieces with more of an energetic drive to them. The former is made up by lighter guitar textures and atmospheric keyboards and Mellotron in a neat Pink Floyd-ian manner, symphonic, but also containing space-tinged textures. The latter are closer to 70s Hawkwind in style, with rough staccato guitar riffs with something of a punk-inspired edge to them, and with keyboards and Mellotron contributing in pretty much the same manner as previously described. Subtle dissonances from Gardiner's guitar are a feature in both styles, adding a light Robert Fripp-ian touch to the proceedings, while bass and drums serve up a steady rhythmic foundation throughout. Not to the point of ever reaching King Crimson-ic territories, but more like adding a subtle touch of finesse to the overall soundscape.
Conclusion. Those who generally enjoy female lead vocals and who find the description sophisticated art rock to be interesting should have a high probability of enjoying this comeback effort of Beggars Opera. Lightly spiced with symphonic textures with a slight space-oriented touch, fans of bands like Hawkwind and latter day Pink Floyd may be the ones who find this CD to be most intriguing, even if the space-tinged elements are mostly of the subtle and unobtrusive kind.