07 July 2010

CD REVIEW: The Enid - Arise and Shine (2009, Enidiworks/Operation Seraphim)

For the next 2 weeks, I’ll be taking a look at the two newest albums from British cult legends The Enid. When the band finally returned fully to active duty last year, it opened a stream of new and old material coming out (or back out into print), rewarding their patient fanbase with treasures both old and new to enjoy or discover. The first of these releases was their release Arise and Shine, featuring the newly reconstituted band performing material both old and new.

The Enid in 2009 is a somewhat different beast from that which strode the stage in the 1970s, 1980s, and even 1990s, yet some familiar threads remain constant. Chief among these is Robert John Godfrey, founder member and one of two links to the original band that recorded classics such as In the Region of the Summer Stars, Aerie Faerie Nonsense and Six Pieces. It’s obvious that RJG has expended no small effort to refresh his keyboard skills, and while no songs on Arise and Shine require the kind of dexterous piano playing that exemplified pieces like ‘Touch Me’ and ‘The Loved Ones,’ it’s obvious he’s put the time in to ensure he could play the material he once wrote, and is writing still. The second link to the past is drummer/percussionist Dave Storey, who was also an original member and played with the band until 1979. His drumming is key to the grand and sometimes propulsive Enid music, and having him back in the group is a major key to their tight performances of the sometimes complex Enid material.

New to the band are Max Read, who contributes keyboards, vocals and programming on this release, and Jason Ducker, who adds bass and guitar to the mix. At the NEARfest performance, RJG stated that he doubted the band would still be going now were it not for Read, and on this release I find his contributions perhaps a bit difficult to sort out but perhaps most integral to the richness of these performances, even in a less overdubbed, live setting. Ducker, on the other hand, has an immediately identifiable guitar voice, and it’s clear that he’s captured the traditional Enid guitar sound perfectly. While it is sad that the days of the twin Stewart/Lickerish guitar harmonies are gone, Ducker is no slouch, and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as those two, even if just for his playing (time will tell from a writing standpoint).

As mentioned above Arise and Shine contains material both old and new. Among the oldest tracks represented here are ‘Apocalypse - Judgement Day’ and ‘Avalon - Under The Summer Stars,’ both from In the Region of the Summer Stars, the band’s debut release. These renditions are faithful to the originals while still adding freshness in different ways, whether it’s modern timbres or tones, or what have you. ‘Apocalypse - Judgement Day’ has always been a favourite of mine, and the rendition here is excellent and impressive. Two tracks are also featured from the band’s last release pre-reformation, 1997’s White Goddess. Album opener ‘Castles In The Air – Fantasy’ and second track ‘Riguardon - The Dancing Lizard’ are among the shortest tracks on Arise and Shine, but they are bright, uplifting pieces of music that feature the band’s symphonic, almost classical direction. ‘Riguardon - The Dancing Lizard’ in particular matches the ancillary title well, as the song feels almost like a dance, expressed in notes rather than moves.

One track that might seem surprising to listeners most familiar with the band’s earliest output would be ‘Dark Hydraulic Forces Of The Id,’ originally released on 1994’s Tripping The Light Fantastic. The band’s foray into dance rhythms and sounds may come as a complete shock to listeners familiar with the ornate, romantic symphonics The Enid had previously committed to wax, but when one considers that they had previously performed most of the music for pop/dance artist Kim Wilde’s debut release, perhaps the idea of them playing dance music isn’t that far fetched. ‘Dark Hydraulic Forces Of The Id’ is a dramatic, almost cinematic extended composition, and this band does the material justice while making it clear that this music merits re-evaluation, and should not be disregarded due to its rhythmic, dance like nature.

Rounding out Arise and Shine are two additional pieces from the group’s 1980’s output. ‘Chaldean Crossing’ was one of the centerpieces of the band’s ‘final’ album, 1988’s The Seed and the Sower, based on Laurens van de Post's book of the same title, the song has a definite Eastern feel to its arrangement and sonic choices, and this arrangement offers a strange kind of respectful, restrained grandeur that is entirely in keeping with that Eastern motif. Finally, ‘Sheets From The Blue Yonder’ is a take on the 1986 track ‘Sheets of Blue’ from the Salome album. One of two extended tracks on that release, this composition offers Ducker great opportunity to show off his guitar playing, proving that he is well deserving of his post in The Enid.

Arise and Shine, I think, was intended as much to reintroduce people to the music of The Enid as it was to show what the current band was going to offer listeners old and new. In both cases I believe the release succeeds, and while the furthest thing from a comprehensive greatest hits or best of, is a great starting point for people wholly unfamiliar with The Enid as musicians or writers. Even though I have a good portion of the band’s catalogue I keep returning to this album, as it’s been very enjoyable to revisit old musical friends dusted off, dusted down, and with a new and glimmering coat of paint.

Join me again next week as I take a look at, and listen to, Journey's End, the first new full-fledged studio album from the Enid since 1997.

1. Castles In The Air – Fantasy (5:52)

2. Riguardon - The Dancing Lizard (4:46)

3. Chaldean Crossing - 2009 Revision (9:32)

4. Dark Hydraulic Forces Of The Id (13:28)

5. Sheets From The Blue Yonder (11:15)

6. Apocalypse - Judgement Day (8:09)

7. Avalon - Under The Summer Stars (6:43)

8. Malacandra - The Silent Planet (Early Version) (12:39)

Band Members:

Robert John Godfrey – keyboards, programming

Max Read –vocals, keyboards, programming

Jason Ducker – guitar, bass

Dave Storey – drums, percussion

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