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(55 min, Unicorn)
TRACK LIST: 1. From Hello to Goodbye 1:30 2. Still Waiting Still Wanting 5:45 3. Studies in Heartbreak 14:07 4. The End of a Life 3:47 5. Failures of the Soul 14:09 6. Hourglass Fortune 7:19 7. Love's Futile Fumblings 7:10 All tracks: by McCabe. Produced by McCabe. LINEUP: Steven McCabe - electric & acoustic guitars; keyboards, samples Christopher Knight - drums, marimba & vibraphone
Prolusion. ELEGANT SIMPLICITY is one of the most fruitful and creatively most stable contemporary progressive outfits in the UK, its permanent helmsman, Steven McCabe, being probably the most tried and true keeper of the flame of romanticism on the modern Art-Rock scene. Some of their albums were recorded with an expanded lineup and feature vocals (courtesy of Ken Senior), and the others are purely instrumental, performed usually by the duo of Steven and drummer / percussionist Christopher Knight, just as "Studies in Heartbreak", which is the band's sixteenth release. Equipment: Steven plays electric and acoustic guitars, piano and synthesizers and uses the samples of bass guitar, mellotron, organ, string ensemble and those of various chamber instruments: flute, oboe, bassoon, violin etc. Christopher plays acoustic and electronic drums and percussion, marimba and vibraphone.
Analysis. Those well acquainted with the creation of Elegant Simplicity will be surprised at some of the album's contents, as the music there lies rather far beyond the band's traditional style. Generally, "Studies in Heartbreak" is notable for more novelties than probably any of their previous efforts, but I'd better describe the material step by step and will return to that topic in due time. The short opening track, From Hello to Goodbye, can be viewed as the benefit performance of Steven as an acoustic guitar player. The duel between two different parts of acoustic guitar, one of which runs fast, takes the central place in the show, while the fluid solos of electric guitar and the sounds of mellotron play the role of seconds:-). Then follows the moderately lengthy Still Waiting Still Wanting: a rather sugary composition with lots of repetition and too few tempo changes. I was always thinking that Elegant Complexity would've been a more appropriate name for the band, but the second track is just an elegant simplicity, nothing more. While not really bad, this is, nevertheless, one of the most primitive things in their entire song catalog. If I were the producer, I would have certainly not included it in the CD, especially since all of its further contents are just perfect. The 14-minute title track is very unexpected, finding the band exploring territories where they have never stepped before. Don't expect to hear your typical Elegant Simplicity composition. There is some amount of symphonic (mainly 'mellotron'-laden) arrangements, but most of the music develops in the vein of Jazz-Fusion, quasi improvisations adjoining authentic ones. Besides, this is a highly eclectic composition, full of oddities and angularities that may evoke associations even with RIO. The sonic palette is amazingly rich, combining electric, acoustic and quasi-acoustic textures, with vibraphones, piano, electric and acoustic guitar sharing the leads in most cases. The positivity of the broadening of Christopher Knight's percussion equipment and the extension of his performance duties is especially eloquent here. The End of a Life separates the title track from another epic and is also notable for some uncommon features. It begins as symphonic Space Rock, later on getting more and more qualities of psychedelic music. Both of the longest tracks are brilliant, with the most cerebral arrangements. Although the approach to combine Art-Rock with Classical music, which is the essence of Failures of the Soul, isn't new to Elegant Simplicity (for the first time, it was widely used on their previous album, "Anhedonia"), the composition has a vivid fresh sense. This factor is explained by the larger amount of sounds of chamber instruments available, and also by the non-standard development of the music as such. The point is that the second half of the suite almost entirely belongs to a pure Classical music. The remaining two tracks, Hourglass Fortune and Love's Futile Fumblings, are done in the band's traditional Art-Rock fashion, though the blistering acoustic guitar solos on the latter are reminiscent of the improvisational nature of the title track.
Conclusion. Considering Elegant Simplicity's progression regarding the brave widening of stylistic horizons of their music, "Studies in Heartbreak" can easily be considered their most innovative and diverse album to date. However, I find it being slightly inferior to "Architect of Light" (which still remains my favorite of their output), above all due to the presence of one excessively melodious track. Nevertheless, 45 out of the 55 minutes of the CD's playing time are an essential listen.
VM: July 20, 2005
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