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Main Category: Art Rock
Also applicable: Lush Pop
Starting Period: The Psychedelic Years
Also active in: The Artsy/Rootsy Years



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Year Of Release: 1968
Overall rating =

Yes, that's exactly how you'd think British psychedelic music recorded by Greek musicians in France would sound. Provided you'd ever think about it.


Track listing: 1) End Of The World; 2) Don't Try To Catch A River; 3) Mister Thomas; 4) Rain And Tears; 5) The Grass Is No Green; 6) Valley Of Sadness; 7) You Always Stand In My Way; 8) The Shepherd And The Moon; 9) Day Of The Fool.

The best way to explain a particularly unusual sound is, of course, try and do it through comparison. Like "The Flaming Lips sound like the Beach Boys trying to sound like the Beatles if Brian Wilson tried to sound like John Lennon and not like Paul McCartney". Or "Pearl Jam sound like shit". Yes, despite the numerous annoying yelps of people who contend that every piece of music should be listened to based on its own individual rules, comparison is nevertheless a mighty weapon in the hands of a reviewer. So here's to comparison.

Now then, we were going to talk Aphrodite's Child and their debut album here. And the first and foremost comparison I would offer are none other than the Moody Blues. Yes, by all means, as Vangelis and his compatriot, croonster extraordinaire Demis Roussos (let's just forget his solo career ever existed, shall we?) ponder over the artistic path to take, they certainly take the Moody Blues into account. Well, maybe a little Bee Gees, too. But given their background (Greece) and their working environment (France), they couldn't just emulate any of these bands. No, they had their own private ambitions, more expansive indeed than the soon-to-be tummy of Roussos, and the ones that are responsible for both the positive and negative aspects of the record.

From a purely serious (logical, mathematical, rational, cold-hearted, snobby, sarcastic, nihilistic, post-modern, politically correct - or politically incorrect, not that there's much difference) point of view, this album sucks notoriously. Cheesy syrupy vocals that make you think better of Ted Nugent on atmospheric pretentious ballads that make you think better of Billy Joel. "Epic" numbers with big bombastic production exploiting psychedelic cliches that scream "1968!" at you as if they really want to make you believe that was the most important year in history or something. (Actually, I can't prove that it wasn't, but I wouldn't include Aphrodite's Child into its top ten events all the same). Whitebread soul excourses. No truly independent vision. A bunch of kids who want to be stern and artsy and actual but don't have the least idea of what they'd actually like to tell the world - and why is it that it's Aphrodite's Child the world needs to tell these things and not Neil Diamond, for instance.

But strange as it is, it all works. It's one of those crazy paradoxes I like to discover - the sound is technically not "original", yet it's definitely unique in its own way. And, of course, it's all due to the astute Greek mind of Vangelis. There are some guitars on here theoretically, but I hardly hear them (and as far as I know, these guys weren't too hot on guitars themselves, with Roussos and an uncredited guy called Silver Kolouris handling them alternatively); all the record is thoroughly based on Vangelis' keyboards. And boy, does he revel on here: there's nothing even closely resembling the stern minimalism of his solo work. Pianos, organs, Mellotrons, overdubbed to hysterical level, all played in a vicious, aggressive manner. That doesn't mean he sounds anywhere near Emerson, as throughout the entire record he evades show-off-ey finger-flashing warp-speed solos and the like. But he shows himself to be an apt user of all kinds of sonic gimmicks, with echoey production, reverb, distortion, etc., and thus compensates for the lack of guitar perfectly.

It all really comes together on raving tracks like 'You Always Stand In My Way', which might have passed for a stupid take on "soul", with Roussos almost throwing a fit in the studio, if not for an absolutely incredible keyboards arrangement. A moody, but sharp organ pattern in one speaker - a majestic heavenly Mellotron part in the other speaker, plus occasional distorted harpsichord notes added to achieve further perfection. Same goes with 'Don't Try To Catch A River', whose title brings on strange associations with 'River Deep Mountain High' (indeed, there are melodic similarities as well) - the main harpsichord pattern that drives it is pretty funny, while the occasional whooshing Mellotron outbursts and organ 'insertions' attract your attention as fine as anything.

This magnificent keyboard sound is, like I said, the main attraction and distinguishing sign of the entire record - in 1968, few people would dare to bring keyboard experimentation to such complex levels, not even the Nice. But I won't deny that the melodies themselves are also pretty fun. For instance, I quite enjoy the three "corny" ballads - heck, if I enjoy the Moody Blues and ELO, nothing can prevent me from praising a ballad by Aphrodite's Child when it's really well-written. 'End Of The World' is my favourite, with a few well-placed hooks, a few adrenaline-raising powerful piano chords and a few chillin' 'AIIIEEEYAH' by Roussos that are probably meant to signify the protagonist approaching said 'end of the world' (yeah, the song's simply a love ballad, but "metaphysically loaded", if you know what I mean). The European megahit 'Rain And Tears' is pretty nice as well, graced with luvingly gentle harpsichord playing... and say what you will, but Roussos' tremblin' oh-so-Greek vocals are indeed beautiful in their own way. 'Valley Of Sadness' is also good, if a bit repetitive.

The two 'epics' of the album are a bit more dubious - 'The Grass Is No Green', in particular, sounds exactly like what you'd expect of two intelligent well-bred kids having inhaled for the first time and describing the results. But Roussos' Eastern influenced chanting is catchy and, well you know, authentic. It's really a triviality, but I'd still like to remind that these Greek guys really knew what 'Eastern motives' are better than anybody in the Western world, as popular Greek music is infested with Turkish influences - which means that, experienced potheads or not, they could be pretty good at capturing the 'pothead world' as it is. And turns out they were pretty good at capturing the world of paranoia, as well, as 'Day Of The Fool', the album-closing number where Roussos impersonates a poor romantic madman (quite a thrilling story, too).

About the only misfire, I'd say, is 'Mister Thomas' - a rather lame Britpop imitation a la Ray Davies which naturally comes across as nothing but a manneristic number, too carnivalesque for its own good. Well, I'd be surprised if they did succeed in this genre, so it's simply a bit strange they'd want to try the style out at all. Maybe they were big Kinks fans? Whatever.

It's interesting to speculate on the subject of what could have happened if the band were allowed to work in Britain (they weren't) and recorded and released End Of The World in London instead of Paris, consequently reaching the "progressive" Anglo-Saxon part of the population instead of the "uncool" continental European part. At the very least, this could have seriously cost the Moody Blues a big part of their fanbase. On the other hand, maybe it was only logical to have stayed on the continent, as Vangelis' heavy use of interweaving keyboard and orchestration parts certainly ties in far better with the European symphonic practice than with the far more restrained British tradition. It's fun to compare this "catchy", "commercial" sound that Aphrodite's Child have with some of the "inaccessible", "elitist" music of Britain's most renowned prog bands and eventually discover that in certain ways, Vangelis wrote music that was far more complex and multi-layered. You just don't notice it at first, but it's right there. Cool album, in short - if a bit too eccentric for its own good.



Year Of Release: 1969
Overall rating =

Greek musicians doing American country-rock (among a million other things) - this alone makes the record worth owning.


Track listing: 1) It's Five O'Clock; 2) Wake Up; 3) Take Your Time; 4) Annabella; 5) Let Me Love Let Me Live; 6) Funky Mary; 7) Good Times So Fine; 8) Marie Jolie; 9) Such A Funny Night.

Once again, I'm impressed. The band's ability to present themselves as a historical curio/novelty act second time in a row, with a whole bunch of unpredictable twists and classy songwriting-a-plenty, is certainly worth admiring. "Novelty" - I'm not hesitating to use that word, because in this particular context I'm peeling off its negative connotations. Certainly the idea of, for instance, having the President of the United States whacking his Secretary of State with a golf club is "novel" (not to mention rather crude), but this would certainly immortalize the name of the President with far more success than any amount of tax cuts or Operation Freedoms. Likewise, the idea of raffinated, classically-educated Greek young men take on genres like funk, country, and music hall may seem grotesque - and it is, and that's what's so unbelievably cool about it.

The band's second album is thus even more diverse than the first one. Vangelis, Roussos and Sideras are all over the place again, only this time, true to the "back to the roots" spirit of 1969, they take it a little easier on the psychedelic vibe and instead, get a bit harder and heavier in some spots and a bit "rootsier" in others. Which doesn't actually prevent them from ending the record on one of the silliest notes that ever came out of Mr Evangelos Papathanassiou's pocket. But that's the gist!

Oddly enough, though, the experimentation is even more "solidly" counterbalanced with Roussos' trademark croonster ballads - ballads that are getting dippier all the time and give some serious hints at the San Remo-targeted, sugar-coated mush that would constitute his solo career. (Actually, it's no coincidence that I mention San Remo here: in between this and the preceding album, Aphrodite's Child did record a couple ballads expressly for the San Remo festival. I have them on the 2-disc Collection which also comprises both studio albums, but haven't yet dared to listen - and I doubt I will unless somebody provides me with a priori evidence that could convince me to try them out. For Heaven's sake - one of them is called 'Quando L'Amore Divente Poesia'!!) Luckily, Vangelis is always there to save the day with a visionary organ/Mellotron landscape or two; his participation is what rescues 'Annabella', in particular, apart from the odd, almost proto-ambient, background, merely an atmospheric love chant bathed in sounds of the ocean, the kind of thing that Bryan Ferry would do with much more class anyway but a few years later. Same goes for the European hit 'Marie Jolie' - originally released as the B-side to the far more interesting 'Let Me Love Let Me Live', but since the latter raised too many questions (see below), it was naturally the former that the people were going for.

On the other hand, complaints do not apply to the gorgeous title track, where the main inspiration certainly was 'A Whiter Shade Of Pale' (naturally! who wouldn't want to make history with a stately mid-tempo organ-based anthem? The easy way to achieve demi-god status at least in some people's eyes); yet this doesn't prevent the song from having hooklines of its own, as well as building up to a series of climaxes so overblown and yet so adequate - all thanks to Roussos' undeniable vocal power - that they almost manage to beat Procol Harum at their own game. It's hard to tell whether it's this track or 'End Of The World' that better epitomizes the "lonely romantic" spirit of the age, but in the end it all depends on whether you're preferring to imagine yourself astride the top of a moonlit cliff or a-walking down that moonlit forest path. (And don't tell me you've never tried to imagine either. The only people that don't are those that sue fast food chains over extra calories).

If you do happen to like these ballads, though, and would like to challenge me to an ICQ duel for daring to criticize 'Annabella', chances are you might not like the rest of the album - which is a fine illustration for the term "eclecticism" if there ever was one. Let's list some of the candidates, shall we? 'Wake Up' is essentially a bluesy jam with some hard rock overtones, yet the verses of the song actually are more in the psycho-folk vein, again drawing on comparisons with the early Bee Gees. (It's also the first - and the last? - song to quote the band's name, albeit within a rather strange line: 'Aphrodite's Child will tell you on the back'. WAY back? WHOSE back? Back of WHAT? Back of their tattered old English manual?).

'Take Your Time' has the audacity to introduce country-westernish guitars and harmonicas - again, there is no mistaking the non-authenticity of this stuff, just like you can always tell a Bee Gees song from a John Fogerty tune, because whenever Europeans are doing country arrangements, they seem to be always crossing them with music hall. That doesn't mean the song isn't professionally and quirkily (in the good sense of the word) produced, and I do love it for the catchiness and fun alone. That is, until the moment it ends in the obligatory "fun in the studio" part; for some reason, every band at the time had to include some 'goofy drunken fun' at the end of one of their songs. Does it belong there? Damned experimentation.

The main single from the album, 'Let Me Love Let Me Live' starts out pretty decently, with a ferocious beat, tasty wah-wah licks and one of those, you know, one of those attempts at "teenage declarations" that all the garage bands were competing in a few years ago to see who beats out whom in the sincerity and sharpness department. Well, I don't know anything about sincerity here (not to mention the band members were anything but teenagers at the time), but the melody sure rules. The jam at the end of the song is a bit overlong - I feel that they were just trying to push up the album's running time here (and it's still pretty short at that) - but it gives a great glimpse at their methods of constructing a wall-of-sound, and has a fun rush to the end, too.

Meanwhile, 'Funky Mary' shows the band's interest in weird percussive effects. Yep, formally it belongs to funk, I guess, but there's next to no guitar, just layers of totally wild percussion and a thoroughly restrained vocal that just lets you concentrate on all the drums, phased drums, backwards drums, marimbas, and (finally) electric piano that also prefers to function in a percussive way. On 'Good Times So Fine' the band abandons experimentation and goes for some catchy cheesy pop - the irony of the song is how its slow part, with Roussos doing a (rather flaky) Armstrong imitation, totally doesn't fit with its fast bubblegummy part, where the vocals sound like a goofy parody on Micky Dolenz of the Monkees. And 'Such A Funny Night' ends the day with a slice of (presumably Greek-influenced) pop, thoroughly irresistible guitar melodies and lots of the corniest-ever-sounding 'la-la-la's that effectively eliminate any hopes Aphrodite's Child could have garnered of being respected as a serious art-rock band. And looks like we have to thank them for that.

The closest analogy among the records the average music fan may have heard is presumably the Bee Gees' 1st - which I actually rated higher than these two records because of its being more "authentic" sounding; there's little doubt in my mind that the Bee Gees had a better understanding of both traditional British and American music than Aphrodite's Child. (Plus, there's simply more songs on that album; make that the decisive factor if you will). However, what the Bee Gees had always lacked themselves was a first-rate musician/composer/arranger/experimentalist, which is why their material can often be considered just plain boring beside Vangelis' goofy, but nearly always eyebrow-raising ideas. Both End Of The World and It's Five O'Clock may suffer from cheesiness and lack of experience, but they always make it up with a one-of-a-kind approach. Granted, this can be witnessed much better on Aphrodite's Child's last - and decisive - recording.


666 ****1/2

Year Of Release: 1971

No, no, they didn't go Satanic. The only thing they wanted to do was to present their own conceptual musical version of the Apocalypse - one full year before Genesis' 'Supper's Ready'. Well, er, Vangelis wanted - I'm not sure about the others. All the music on here is written by Vangelis, while Roussos and Sideras are apparent sidemen; worse, 666 has absolutely no commercial appeal, at least, it was certainly oriented on quite a different fanbase from Aphrodite's Child usual listeners. I mean, so many people bought the band's records just because they wanted to hear Roussos croon out 'Rain And Tears' and 'It's Five O'Clock', and here you got yourself a double album which almost seems to drown in its own bombast and pretentions, full of bizarre twisted musical segments, weird noises, not to mention an album that starts with the band chanting 'We got - The System, To Fuck - The System!'.

At first sight, an album like 666 could hardly be good - I was amazed at how good it was. The important thing is that 666, unlike 'Supper's Ready', isn't really burdened with all kinds of personal interpretations and cryptic Gabriel-style puzzles. It is full of cliched lyrics, of course, but much of the lyrics are simply taken directly from the Apocalypse, with just minor changes t fit the rhythms and moods. At times, the 'by-the-book' interpretation even becomes grotesque, as in these spoken 'interludes' where a fully official announcing voice says stuff like 'That was... The wedding... Of the Lamb... Now comes... The Capture... of the Beast...'. Yet don't let that distract you from enjoying the experience in its whole.

Nothing here is too complex - but nothing here is too unmelodic, either, and just as in the case with the previous AC albums, everything is interesting, everything is completely unpredictable. The first three sides of the album just fling you from side to side in all directions, from ambient to hard-rocking to pop to prog to psychedelic to folk to 'weird', and almost every track (and there are lots - most of the songs/compositions/'sonic moments' are pretty short) has something new to say and openly serves its purpose.

A full review of the album could take a book; without a doubt, 666 is one of the most 'all-encompassing' albums of 1971, and describing all the songs here would be pretty useless. I'll just concentrate on the first side for an example. 'The System', as I already said, has the word 'fuck' in it. Then 'Babylon' comes up, an upbeat folk-rocker with resplendent acoustic guitar that hardly predicts the musical terror of the rest, but serves as a warning to all those unaware... 'Loud Loud Loud', on the contrary, is a simple minimalistic piano-based tune where a childish voice recites the 'presuppositions' of the Apocalypse. And then the major highlight - 'The Four Horsemen', a true art-rock classic where the band brilliantly alternates moody ominous verses with an incredibly catchy vocal melody in the chorus ('the leading horse is white...') before bringing it down with an excellent 'cathartic' guitar solo. Then there's 'The Lamb', an instrumental composition that seems to borrow heavily from Greek and Turkish folk motives, all set to a steady Western rock beat. And 'The Seventh Seal' closes it off with a bit of sitar and a bit of a psycho setting, well, just what we need for the seventh seal.

And so on. Don't be afraid to look into this stuff even if you're afraid of 'pretentious rock' in general - 666 is one of those truly rare albums which manage to combine pretentiousness with accessibility and don't sound corny at that. This is where the band finally not only catches up with the Moody Blues, but ends up beating the Moody Blues on all counts. Not to mention that they show considerable experience: arrangement, production, playing and singing are all ace, much more than an average listener could have expected of a bunch of Greek geeks caught up in an Anglo-Saxon rock world.

I really can't rave enough about this record - too bad the band dispersed after it. I'd have to guess Mr Roussos wasn't exactly pleased with the style Vangelis had imposed on the band. No 'Rain And Tears'? No 'Marie Jolie'? Criminy! So, instead of singing 'The Four Horsemen' till the end of the world, Demis preferred to lay his crappy solo career upon us. To each his own. Nevertheless, I'd just have to point out that 666 isn't really so perfect in the end - as a double album, it just doesn't have that much potential, see. A minor complaint is 'Infinity': hearing Irene Papas' five-minute hysteria as she bellows 'I am to come I was' in all possible manners can be fun for the first time, but not for the second time. A MAJOR complaint is 'All The Seats Were Occupied', an unstructured nineteen-minute 'jam' on the fourth side that's mainly based on endless reprisals of themes from the other parts of the album. That's overkill. A short reprise section might be nice, but nineteen minutes of this bog just convince me that Vangelis had enough material to fill up three sides, but not four, and just concocted that brew at the last minute to fill up the remaining space. Damn! He'd be much better off following the example of Genesis and making up a 53-minute single LP or something.

Then again, the rest of the record is so friggin' wonderful I'd have to give it the props either way. I don't have the least doubt most people would call this stuff 'dated' or 'ridiculous' or 'obsolete', etc., but why not kick off the burden of one's prejudices instead and dig in the record? Nobody ever made music like that, and I doubt anybody ever will, not in our age of cynicism and scepticism anyway.


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