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"I just know I'm here, and I know I'm there, and I didn't know I knew"

Class E

Main Category: Prog Rock
Also applicable: --------
Starting Period: The Interim Years
Also active in: --------



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This band was a mighty disappointment for me - in fact, at a certain point I almost wanted to drop them out of the picture, but then I realized I actually do need a page on a band like that. See, to a certain extent Fruupp could be named as THE band to illustrate the passing of progressive rock and its exhaustion and even degradation by the mid-Seventies, and it's also the kind of band that would clearly demark the line between 'moderate' prog fans like yours truly and diehard prog fans who like anything as long as it's complex and atmospheric. Mind you, Fruupp weren't a bad band by all means: they were technically accomplished, not too bad at actually structuring at least some of their songs, and relatively humble-sounding so as not to disgust anybody with over-the-top pretentiousness. In a certain way, it's not even their fault that the music they were making turned out so lifeless, it's just that they appeared too late to successfully woo over the formula which was already milked to near-unconsciousness by the major league bands of 1969-73.

Fruupp were Irish, led by guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Vincent McCusker, and as such, really represented an anomaly on the Irish scene of the time, which was much more dominated by bluesy outfits like Taste and - naturally - all kinds of folk bands of the Clannad type. Their aim was much more ambitious than that, as they chose to perform lengthy compositions heavily influenced by Yes and Genesis, with classical music elements as strong and sometimes even stronger than Irish folk ones, in fact, listening to Fruupp albums you would hardly guess the band's Irishness at all. The final result was more akin to the Canterbury sound of bands like Caravan and Camel, though, as Fruupp went far more in the 'innocent fairy-tale' direction than Yes and Genesis, whose music alternated "sissiness" with moments of severe harshness and roughness.

Of course, Ireland did not hail its heroes, and they went to Britain and Europe, where they didn't really manage to ever chart either, but at least they managed to establish a small cult following there, much like gazillions of similar 'underground' prog acts. The lack of chart success was really painful, and the liner notes to Fruupp albums, written by their long-time friend and companion Paul Charles, are full of sarcastic remarks about how David Bowie used to prevent the band from hitting #111 instead of #114 and how Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells were unjustly getting in the way of Fruupp's obviously superior albums (yeah right)... As a recording outfit, Fruupp struggled around for three years, suffered the loss of a key member in early 1975, and finally collapsed after only the fourth album because the stress was too hard to bear.

So why didn't the band ever manage to break it? The answer is obvious - however decent their music might have been, they weren't offering the world anything it hadn't already heard. If anything, Fruupp proved that the prog formula had run out of steam; here we had lengthy, formally well-written compositions worthy of airplay on stations that used to previously dedicate time and space to King Crimson and Jethro Tull, and it just wasn't working! No matter how well they decorated their album sleeves, no matter how successfully they tried to render their compositions more accessible with either hook-filled vocal melodies or cheesy synthesizers, it just didn't work. Of course, they probably could have gone on pumping out similar product for a cult of diehards, but they chose the wise way - if nobody needs it, it probably just ain't worth the bother.

They are clearly a 1-star band, yet it's not like they aren't worth your attention at all. Fruupp's original 4 albums have been wisely packaged as 2-fer editions, saving your money and search process [if undertaken at all]; too bad the band's record company has done that for the price of butchering all of the records by throwing out one full-time composition from each, which prevents me from assessing Fruupp's treasure chest in its entirety. But then again, I kinda understand them - for once, Fruupp have been subjected to a commercial move that actually makes some sense. Out of these 4, I have even come to treat Seven Secrets as some sort of minor masterpiece, with untrivial approaches to orchestration and some particularly gorgeous melodies, and recommend it to everybody.

Too bad that unless you really really fall in love with that style, outside of Seven Secrets there's not too much to bother about. Despite the few attempts at diversity, Fruupp's records all sound the same, and that 'same' is pretty formulaic- uninvolving at best, deadly boring at worst. On its own, each and every tune in the Fruupp catalog might have something to offer; taken in perspective, this is just pallid, pointless self-repetition. That said, I do not at all feel any hate toward the band - however boring and bland it may sound at times, it is always saved by a light and humble approach to the material. Another good thing is that Fruupp never really concentrate on the lyrics: the instrumental parts are usually the main focus of the song, and the sung parts in most cases can be seen as merely an atmospheric prologue for better things to come. (The lyrics itself are generic, but hardly offensive, ruminations on fairy-tale stuff and pseudo-philosophic ramblings). So, in general, if you're seriously prog-minded, you might just find the love of your life in these beauty-loving guys. If you're not, but manage to see one of these cute little 2-fers on sale for cheap, give it a shot - eventually, you might even come out with a few wonderful gems among a sea of relative trash.

Lineup: Vincent McCusker - guitars, vocals; Peter Farrelly - bass, flute, lead vocals; Stephen Houston - keyboards, oboe, vocals; Martin Foye - drums. Houston left, early 1975, band collapsed soon afterwards.



Year Of Release: 1973

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 9

Well, considering you SHOULD own at least ONE such record, it might as well be a good bet. Boring, but not without its charm.

Best song: DECISION

Track listing: 1) Future Legends; 2) Decision; 3) Graveyard Epistle; 4) Lord Of The Incubus; 5) Olde Tyme Future; 6) Song For A Thought; 7) Future Legends.

Fruupp's debut sounds a bit rushed to me, but considering that their last two polished albums would be far worse, that might not really be such a big problem. Also, the album contains what might probably be the best Fruupp song ever, recorded as the first song on this album (I don't count the pretty, but unexciting orchestral introductory title track, of course). 'Decision' joins together all of the band's influences, and while not particularly catchy or breathtaking, demonstrates all of the dudes' good sides without engaging too much in the bad ones. First, there's this little distorted guitar intro over a tribal beat and then there's this main part of the song which is almost jazzy in its essence, then there's a little bit of a jazzy instrumental break, and then McCusker enters with a terrific bluesy guitar break - it's moments like these that actually don't let you forget the band originally started on the same scene with Rory Gallagher. I think there's Celtic elements to be found somewhere here, too, but don't quote me on that, because when it gets to minor details, I couldn't tell Irish from African (and neither could you, unless you're one of the band members yourself).

However, from then on it doesn't get all that different. Prepare yourself for one similar-sounding sonic assault! The good news is that, unlike some of the later efforts, this one doesn't have McCusker's guitar pushed to the background, so you can really appreciate the efficiency of this guy. He definitely has a bit too much blues in his veins to really ever threaten the experimental nature of Steve Hackett or the unusual techniques of Steve Howe, but he's also Irish, and so is able to eventually wind himself playing a perfect mix of bluesy notes and folksy jangling. Or bring in something entirely different at times; for instance, the instrumental mid-section of 'Graveyard Epistle' has this strange little 'Eastern dance section' that seems to emerge almost out of nowhere and then returns the song back to its rather boring jazzy instrumentalism. His peak on the album, though, apart from the obvious 'Decision', is on 'Song For A Thought', whose final instrumental passage, beginning with a moody oboe solo from Stephen Houston, then lets RIP with a beautiful guitar solo (unless, of course, you think that letting RIP means playing your guitar a la Eddie Van Halen, in which case Fruupp are essentially a bunch of whiny wimps... well, they were, more or less, but whoever said wimps were undeserving of artistic merits? We can't all be the children of Arnold Schwarzenegger on this planet!).

Anyway, 'Decision' is an excellent song, 'Song For A Thought' has an impressive instrumental section, and... uh... it's hard for me to tell anything else about anything else. Now truly, Fruupp always sucked at songwriting worse than Bill Gates did at demonstrating his user-friendliness, but at the very least Seven Secrets had some really well-written, impressive compositions; Future Legends I can only regard as a vehicle for 'sound-testing'. It's a good thing Fruupp never went for side long epics, or I'd have to hang myself; but considering that for the most part of this album, I can't really tell one song from another unless I concentrate on the pauses in a real serious way, that's small consolation. Stuff like 'Lord Of The Incubus' or 'Olde Tyme Future' isn't memorable even a single bit.

You could say they're going for pure atmospherics here, but these are actually songs, not just moody ambient pieces. One band causing similar reactions in me is the German prog outfit Eloy, but at least Eloy used a more diverse palette of sonic techniques, employing their keyboards at full might, plus, what Eloy did was really paint ambient-style sonic pictures rather than develop any true dynamics. Fruupp, on the other hand, don't record anything on here that they couldn't easily have played on stage with their four-man lineup, and pretend to actually be going somewhere when they really aren't.

Of course, even the more boring songs have their moments, and at times a fantastic guitar lick or a beautiful short synthesizer solo jumps out, and now that I think of it, the mixed vocal/instrumental melody at the end of 'Olde Tyme Future' is not half-bad. But you really have to be a diehard of that kind of music to enjoy this stuff fully. One thing I DO admit, though, right at the very beginning, is that Fruupp do NOT really sound derivative. Like I said, they betray bluesy, jazzy and folksy influences, and obviously they had listened to a lot of Genesis and Yes in their time, but they don't really sound like any other band I've heard so far.

Maybe the closest in style to this debut album are Camel, with their emphasis on the instrumental side, slow/mid-tempo becalmed melodies with a solid balance between the guitars and keyboards, medieval stylistic tinges and nothing that really grips you by the neck and leaves you breathless. But Fruupp are far more rooted in the folk tradition than Camel were; Camel, I'd say, leaned more towards the jazzy edge of the business, which makes Fruupp the 'Soulful' kind of band and Camel the 'Technically Minded' kind of band. Not that I like this definition myself, but you'll just have to pardon me for lack of a better idea. Anyway, if you're a veteran reader, you should already KNOW by now the things I'm saying even if I'm a-sayin' them wrong. And if you AREN'T a veteran reader, what kind of a fruitcake are you to begin reading these reviews with Fruupp of all things?



Year Of Release: 1974

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 11

Ah yes! These Irish dudes know some things about relaxation music, they do.


Track listing: 1) Wise As Wisdom; 2) White Eyes; 3) Garden Lady; 4) Three Spires; 5) Elizabeth; 6) The Seventh Secret.

Every bad poet has written at least one wonderful poem, and every mediocre prog band has released at least one album where it all kinda comes together. Fruupp began as a so-so blues-influenced wanky outfit, and ended as a pathetically average pre-Wind & Wuthering third-rate synth-dependent sonic marsh, but in between that and that there were Seven Secrets, a record that I'm not madly in love with but would avidly recommend to anybody interested in the good sides of Seventies' prog. (Of course, you're bound to get it on one CD with Future Legends, but I've yet to hear anybody complain about getting two albums instead of one for the same price even if the second one is complete shit, which Future Legends moreover ain't. So there).

McCusker's guitar kinda steps back here, at least, there's next to none of those lengthy solo marathons of Future Legends. It's pretty much admirable, then, that with all the structural changes, the style is almost the same, evening-coloured heavenly-tinged medieval-shaped atmospheric tunes. But at least this time around, there are actual melodies thrown in, and the compositions have a certain identity of their own. You know how important an identity is for a song, right? Or else it's as if you were listening to some Kansas-style mush, where occasionally it seems that the compositions only differ because some of the notes are played in the reverse order. Sometimes there's not even that, but of course, you're too lazy to check it out.

Anyway, the tracks they have salvaged for the CD (one song left off, as usual) all display a certain level of, uh, consistent creativity. I would really complain about the album opener, 'Wise As Wisdom', though, because that one sounds just like a generic prog tune should - lots of time and tempo changes, short outbursts of meaningless organ and guitar solos, occasional chorale vocal harmonies, and, well, you know. Sometimes I think that the biggest problem with prog rock is that TOO many people at once thought that as long as their production would imitate the angels in the sky, they could safely get away with offering it to the general public. 'Wise As Wisdom' is just that - heavenly and all, but as Jon Anderson once said, 'We Have Heaven'! So enough already!

On the other hand, just get past 'Wise As Wisdom' and you're all set up for the good things. 'White Eyes' is also seven minutes, but it's much humbler and also much cooler, a relaxed little shuffle with jazzy overtones and snippets of funny catchy vocal melodies, which actually becomes even more and more becalmed as it goes forward, bordering on rag-time-style piano improvisations. Then, when it's all but gone away, towards the very end Houston steps in with a marvelous little synth riff that I for one would have certainly enjoyed around for much longer. Anyway, it's a nice case of self-restricted humbleness and as inobtrusive as it is, actually can be quoted as a major highlight.

Then there's 'Garden Lady', which is much more energetic and frivolous (in parts), and which - if you ever get to hear it - you will probably forever remember as the 'I can see the sunshine I can see the moonshine' number, because that line is pronounced in such a dumb manner, like a nursery rhyme or something, you could almost doubt these guys' intelligence. But the rest of the song is entertaining, with a solid crescendo going on as it slowly progresses from a quiet ambient pattern through a convoluted McCusker solo (the lengthiest, but also the best on the album) to a moody near-Gothic arpeggiated section not totally unlike the one in the Beatles' 'I Want You' and back to the vocal section.

The two final tracks are really the reason for an 11, though. There's 'Three Spires', which is maybe not as memorable as 'Decision', but I'd say it's easily the most beautiful thing Fruupp ever did - a gorgeous acoustic ballad graced by moderate string quartet flourishes and a terrific vocal delivery from Pete Farrelly. I'd go as far as to trace elements of Brian Wilsonism in the track, but I seriously doubt Fruupp would ever have let their dignity fall so low as to let themselves and their proud Irish blood be influenced by some Yank surf band... then again, Mr Wilson sometimes has a way of working himself into your mind quite subconsciously. Whatever. There's also 'Elizabeth', which is longer and more epic-similar, and it opens with a terrific Mozartian strings intro - one really wonders why Michael Rennie didn't incorporate his strings quartet in the heart of Fruupp songs more often - before subseding into a stately slow orchestrated piano ballad with XIXth century classical overtones, if I'm not mistaken. The strings on this particular track are amazing: easily some of the most creative patterns I've heard on a rock record outside of, uh, ELO maybe. And it all closes with a funny little snippet of a cartoonish guy with a cartoonish voice chanting a little ditty about the 'seventh secret' in question in a pronunciation and a tone not unlike the one Andy Summers uses in 'Be My Girl Sally'. Almost too good for a conclusion, eh?

So my advice to the non-prog-fanatic crowd - if you ever happen to get this album, concentrate on 'Three Spires' and 'Elizabeth', two of the three main reasons (together with 'Decision') for Fruupp's existence, and work your way from there. This is a rewarding process. Me, for instance, who happened to hear these two songs last instead of first, only decided onto a positive rating for the band upon that inspiring event. Before that, I was just gonna settle on a big fat songwriting zero for these guys, but hey, whaddaya know? There's actual TALENT here!



Year Of Release: 1974

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 10

A bit more 'glammy' in the presentation, and the synths are a muck, but some nice songs overall.


Track listing: 1) It's All Up Now; 2) Prince Of Darkness; 3) Jaunting Car; 4) Annie Austere; 5) Knowing You; 6) Crystal Brook; 7) The Perfect Wish.

Aaaarrrgh! The title got me confused, the linguist I am. Is it supposed to be the prince's eyes, or heaven's eyes? Avoid unnecessary possessive chains at all costs! Why not simply name this, Fruupp III. Or Fruupp Rides Again. Or What The Fruupp Is Going On, because this is very much the expected reaction.

Paul Charles in his bravado liner notes hints at this being Fruupp's best album, but that's a bold shot indeed. One thing is certain: the band again slightly changes its musical direction, but not as much as to sound thoroughly different, rather just as much as to acquire a slightly more commercial overtone in desperate hopes of getting their output past the three-digit numbers in the charts. Not that they really succeeded - and the time was long gone, anyway, because nobody neeeded a "chart-heavy" prog band by the end of 1974. But what did they do exactly? In certain ways, a crime. They almost completely dropped their atmospheric tricks which at least secured them a hardcore audience. McCusker plays a progressively smaller part in the sessions, with Houston's newly acquired battery of synths and gadgets in his place. And oh horror! Don't be too hopeful when you read how Paul Charles boasts about the band sharing their admiration for Genesis and being influenced by that band, as the main influence seems to have been the evil poisonous Banksynth tone. Granted, Houston does NOT go as overboard with his instruments as Banks would three years later on a certain gray lifeless record, but at times he comes close. Murky, murky style.

The good news is that some of the songs are, uh, nicely written ('nicely written' as opposed to 'well written' is supposed to mean 'sucks real hard on the emotional and the hook level, but at least is written by some well-meaning and intelligent dude which prevents me from bashing it to the ground'). There are no high points near to the three best Fruupp songs I already described, but the record is consistently listenable. The BAD news is that Fruupp somewhat lose their meaning with it as well. The atmosphere created by the instrumental sections and vocal melodies on their first two albums was THE treasure that made the band somewhat valid. Me, I personally don't need Fruupp doing non-atmospheric music, nor do I need to have Fruupp spoiling their supposedly atmospheric music with weather channel guitar flourishes and boring computerish "heavenly" synth tones.

There are a couple relatively catchy songs here, for sure - 'Prince Of Darkness' and 'Annie Austere' above all, the former of which again shows music-hall influence and actually is truly imitative of some of Genesis' more theatrical/glammy tunes, what with the lead singer's overdone theater pronunciation, too. 'Annie Austere', I guess, is even better, with Martin Foye really shining behind his drumkit (really weird time signature, too) and the vocal melody at least as catchy as your average Steely Dan exercise. Too bad I can't get rid of Styx associations - a 'supposedly prog' band does 'serious-sounding' pop, embarrasses itself. Ah well, at least the vocals are nowhere near the bathos of Tommy Shaw.

Unpretentiousness comes to the forefront in a couple other places, like, for instance, the mild and thoroughly pleasant instrumental 'Jaunting Car', which shows signs of traditional dance music in it and where even the synths that plop out from time to time don't spoil the impression. There's also the ballad 'Knowing You', which is no 'Three Spires', I'm afraid, but it's still better than, uh, your average crap like 'Yesterday', you know. Oh look now, I'm an elitist... I condemned 'Yesterday' in favour of a song that only the twelve or thirteen or so existing fans of Fruupp are aware of. There. Now if we're serious, 'Knowing You' eludes catchiness better than Osama bin Laden eludes American special forces, and mainly serves as an intro to the two lengthy songs on the second side.

Speaking of lengthy songs, there are three on here, and they're all mostly the same. Spoiled by crappy synths, marred by a very similar and very 'normal' guitar playing style, and I really really miss the string quartet that made 'Elizabeth' such a wonderful experience. That said, I still think 'The Perfect Wish' is perhaps the best representative of that style, and while hundreds of bands have managed to capture that same atmosphere better or equally well, that's no reason to knock the tune. The introductory guitar line is moody, nostalgic and kinda dirgey, and the baroccish piano outbursts are almost scarily ABBA-like, which is not an insult to either ABBA or Fruupp. Truthfully, now, it sounds really close to mid-Seventies Camel, so close I could even guess Camel took certain elements of their style from Fruupp, but there's just too much compromise in this music to be truly epochal. It's not particularly powerful, not particularly atmospheric, not particularly beautiful, and not particularly innovative - it has a tiny bit of each of these qualities, though. So it's up to you, as usual.

And excuse me please if this review came out even more boring than its predecessor. Fruupp have been trying to put me to sleep for the past three hours, and instead of following their recommendation, I chose upon writing the reviews. This last sentence is being punched down with me using about 1/56 of my brain, and time's running out... zzzzzzzzzzzz....



Year Of Release: 1975

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 8

There's simply no reason to own this - I can't think of a single improvement over anything they did better before.


Track listing: 1) Misty Morning Way; 2) Masquerading With Dawn; 3) Mystery Might; 4) Why; 5) Janet Planet; 6) Sheba's Song.

Okay, MAYBE this doesn't really deserve an 8. I'll leave it at an 8 nevertheless, because when I listen to a record, I want new sensations, and this record offers me none. I'm sure even a diehard Fruupp fan would agree with that. Stephen Houston left before the album was recorded, replaced by some other guy my liner notes do not even mention, and even Paul Charles has no soft spot for it in his heart, saying that it 'didn't deliver what had been promised by The Prince Of Heaven's Eyes', even despite being produced by ex-King Crimsonian Ian McDonald.

Perhaps Houston was the leading musical force for the band at the time, because I feel a significant musical decline here. Perhaps the only 'innovation' is an open use of jazz melodics on the album opener, 'Misty Morning Way', but that's simply the first time they pushed the jazz rhythmics to the forefront of the song, because they'd actually used jazz signatures as early as Future Legends. Otherwise, it's just the same: upon leaving, Houston apparently forgot his synths, which are still poisoning the air around, and the music is as draggy, lifeless and, uh, shabby as last time around. It just kinda dinkles there in the background and is so TOTALLY devoid of energy, even if I turn the volume up real loud, I feel like something is just pulling me onto the ground to splatter on the floor with all the life force sucked out into a black hole. And as for what concerns 'beauty' and 'gorgeousness', all I can say is I've already sat through three Fruupp albums and I'm pretty sick of beauty and gorgeousness for beauty and gorgeousness' sake.

When I come to think of it, all of the songs are really well-written. No, really, I mean it. I do swear to you that these piano lines, these guitar riffs, these folksy melodies, they have been well thought out, it's not as if the guys just went into the studio a la Kansas and said 'fuck, who needs wankers like Steely Dan making their Aja album for a whole year? Us, we gonna bake you a brand new album in one week!'; no, there was really some thought behind the songs. So in all sincerity, you may actually raise that overall rating to a nine, but I'll leave it anyway just because I finally really feel offended - as if these guys were trying my patience for all it's worth. The guitar riffs may be moderately catchy, and the piano lines may be moderately pretty, and the vocals may be moderately enjoyable, but moderately is the word - it's like having sex without ever having the hope to get to an orgasm, and having it for ever and ever and ever and ever... uh, imagine having a little rude fun with the most beautiful girl on Earth for two and a half hours (the duration of the entire Fruupp catalog) without ever culminating. You now know what it feels to be a diehard Fruupp fan, now don't you?

Seriously now, the couple short songs that are present on here are all right, I guess. The piano ballad 'Why', for instance, whose vocal melody is magnificently built. But on the other hand, you might call it sappy and over-sugared, and I wouldn't even equate it with second-rate Elton John... more like third-rate Barclay James Harvest, even if BJH were quite a mighty poppy outfit at their peak. And the three-minute pop-rocker 'Janet Planet', upon hearing which I exclaimed: 'Lightning strike me if they didn't try and release it as a single!', and of course they did, but I guess it bombed badly, even if it didn't really deserve to - a solid pop-rocker it is, with Beatles/ELO-ish vocal harmonies in the most classic Britpop manner imaginable.

The longer tracks do depress me, though. Again, bits and pieces that can be dragged out of the numbers can be salvageable, but every time they establish a hook or get a good groove going, they let go of it before you can say Vincent McCusker - for instance, I really like the way 'Sheba's Song' appears out of nowhere and leads us into the 'on the first and final day...' verse, but then the verses get tangled and hookless, and the guitar lines that are supposed to be gentle, loving, and slightly melancholic, once again remind me of weather channels. I mean, whatever, if McCusker at least bothered to change his tone from time to time... but it's basically the same effect as on 'The Perfect Wish', and it's on EVERY damn lengthy composition on here! Then, of course, 'Sheba's Song' transforms into sapless lounge jazz without an ounce of life to it, only to be interrupted by a bunch of pseudo-heavy guitar riffs so the guys seem to point out, 'hey, see, we haven't really sold out, we're, like, changing time signatures! Admit it's cool!'. Well, DUH. Whatever.

I'm really offended, too, at how one track is called 'Mystery Might', when there's less 'mystery' on it than in one tact of 'Supper's Ready', and the 'might' is limited to a bunch of heavy power chords that crop up from time to time, while the vocal melody is among the least memorable ever written by any Irish progressive act ever. Oh, it's not that I'm familiar with a lot of Irish progressive acts, but somehow my nationalist conscience whispers all these nasty things in my ear... In any case, a disappointment is a disappointment, and at least I'm glad they had the good sense to disband after this album. Good riddance, guys. I'm not sure of what befell the members upon the dismemberment, but I do really hope McCusker found the will to actually diversify his style afterwards. Either that, or hopefully he might have gone on to become an insurance salesman.


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