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Class ?

Main Category: Mood Music
Also applicable: Electronica
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day



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Year Of Release: 1970

All of Vangelis' earliest, pre-1973 records have never been officially released on CD and are extremely hard to find... anywhere but in Russia, where an almost de luxe MP3 collection of the man's entire work has recently been issued. Thus I'm not sure if this review will ever find a grateful reader, but who cares? Let's pretend I'm just penning a short blurb to the Almighty God of the Internet, whoever he might be. Or she?

Speaking of 'he' and 'she', Vangelis' first solo album was the soundtrack to a porno film. You could guess that by the name, I suppose. I also suppose he took the offer of Henri Chapier simply because he was out of money and it was a way to make a few quick bucks. Either that, or Vangelis was really into porn at the time. Who am I to blame him, anyway? I've never seen the movie, and it's said to be almost as impossible to find as the record itself, but from what I've read, it had a real cool plot and was somewhat similar to the, ahem, to that great psychedelic showcase of all time, Zabriskie Point. So perhaps it wasn't really porn, you know. Or at least it was SoftPorn!

But anyway, soft or hard, the music here ain't half bad - definitely not the kind of music I'd expect from a porn flick. I guess in a real porn flick, you'd have to have really lengthy and really monotonous simplistic sound combinations that wouldn't allow you to be really detracted from, you know, that other thing (boy, I gotta have had Mark Prindle write this review for me). Not so with Vangelis' themes - the ten tracks on the album (none of which have names; they're siimply labelled from 1 to 10) are mostly short, in the one to three minutes range. The only big exception is track 7; when I saw the eight-minute running time, I thought 'Hey! This is finally it! That's the main fucking theme!' Picture my horror when the track turned out to be a proto-industrial sound collage. For most of its duration, the only sounds you hear are various kinds of percussion. Percussion here, percussion there, a big bass drum punches here, a big gong strikes there, a few dissonant chords of the glockenspiel pass here, a few echoes of yesterday's gong flurry by there. A few Gregorian chantings and a tiny bit of organ pattern are the only thing to distract you from time to time. It's all completely novel and dated sonic boredom, of course, but it DOES pave the way to the nightmarish panoramas of Hell as pictured by Vangelis in his masterwork five years later.

Yeah, and that's the only lengthy track. And maybe you might have understood already that one striking thing about Sex Power is its diversity. It's like Vangelis, fresh from his work with Aphrodite's Child (not yet completed at the moment, either), was simply using the movie as a pretext to tread water in all directions that were possible. If so, the decision to participate in such a little-known, unambitious and, ahem, plain seedy project becomes understandable: for Mr Papathanassiou, it was nothing more than just a well-prepared training ground.

See for yourself: Track 1, based on a joyful organ/drums interplay, is "artsy-poppy" and entirely follows the basic patterns of Aphrodite's Child. Track 2 is a short folksy musing on an acoustic guitar, accompanied by really annoying motorcycle noises in the background. Track 3 is pure percussion again - ethnic beats all over the place, performed pretty sharply. Track 4 is "folksy-poppy", here it's based on an acoustic/harpsichord interplay. Very much listenable, too. Track 5 is classical in nature, entirely done on the piano. Pretty and charming. Track 6 reminds of Track 3, but the percussion is faster and more ominous-sounding; and the recorder (or whatever is playing) reminds of traditional Greek motives. Track 7, as I said, is proto-industrial. Track 8 reminds of track 4, but introduces a real synthesizer (note that there are very few synthesizers on the album, as on most of the earliest Vangelis records). Track 9 is pure industrial - bring on comparisons with the factory noise style of early Kraftwerk and Faust. But what's with the operatic vocal in the background? Track 10 is a reprise of track 5 so we end the album on a really soothing and relaxing note.

I mean, heck, it's training ground and all that, and it's a soundtrack to a porn flick, and it's impossible to find on CD and all, and it's pretty goofy as an independent album release, but I easily give it a solid rating for the diversity factor alone. And yeah, every Vangelis fan should track it down as an important historical link at least. And hey, as far as porn flick soundtracks go... this definitely ain't bad.



Year Of Release: 1971

Impossible to find on CD as well, but maybe so much for the better. Not rated because this is not a musical album. That said, it has a clear purpose: within the limits of the two sides of this LP, Vangelis created what he called a 'poeme symphonique' dedicated to the student riots of Paris 1968. Vangelis himself, living in France, had obviously witnessed the whole tumult and the only thing that makes me wonder is why he didn't actually record this piece earlier. Well, I guess Demis Roussos would have had a fit or something...

Albums like these have nothing to do with music - rather it's just a piece of art that 'conserves' a little bit of the revolutionary culture of 1968, adds a tiny bit of Vangelis' perception of the whole epoch and makes the listener sit down and muse a bit on the reasons, essence, and consequences of the Paris events. Vangelis' own creativity here is essentially limited to selected bits of synthesizer peddling or piano piddling which are nice but definitely not climactic or cathartic in any way. It should be noted, though, that Vangelis uses the synthesizer a bit more prominently on this album than on, say, Sex Power, so historically it's about half a step forward or something like that.

Apart from that, the album includes the following: 1) Noise - a lot of it. Street riots, crowd clamour, guns and tanks, general tumult, etc.; 2) Dialogue - plenty of it, mostly male and female students busily chatting discussing actual problems (I can't make head or tail of the dialogue apart from selected words or phrases, though - too many people talking at the same time kinda stands in my way of understanding, you know); 3) Chants and folk songs, French folk songs, mostly. Depending on the way you feel about French songs, this either brings in a serious musical note or renders the album completely unlistenable.

The final purpose of the album is not quite clear; however, seeing as how the 1968 riots never really ended in any serious social changes, much like the hippie movement (not that I'm ready to discuss politics here), the general atmosphere of the album seems pretty morose and gloomy. Vangelis never strikes you as a particularly fun-loving guy, anyway, but I'd say that at least on the Sex Power tracks he managed to combine gloomy notes with a lightweight, occasionally frivolous tone; not so with Fais Que Ton Reve..., a very heavy album if you decide to get into it with all of your soul. Essentially, it's one of those 'end of the epoch' albums of despair and disillusionment, and if I'm allowed to philosophize a bit, it actually marks the end of an epoch for Vangelis personally.

See, Aphrodite's Child, as a band, was very much 'socially-engaged', from the earlier poppy days when they almost performed the function of the Moody Blues for French youngsters (= unintentional spiritual gurus) to the later pretentious days; 666, an album devoted to Vangelis' interpretation of the Apocalypse, was obviously intended to represent current historical changes (in fact, one of the songs on there defiantly sported the title 'Altamont'!). Fais Que Ton Reve is more or less the last album Vangelis would make that would deal with political and social issues in any form. From now on, Mr Papathanassiou would be locking himseld in his ivory tower, surround himself with synthesizers and treat only the questions that had something to do with eternity, spirituality, metaphysics and humanity's past achievements. I don't know what Vangelis actually thought about this album throughout the thirty years that passed since its release - I have a feeling that he doesn't hold it in particularly high esteem seeing as it is still unavailable on CD - but once again, this is a very important release for anybody interested in the man's creative development. That said, I really don't think anybody in his right mind would ever want to listen to this stuff more than once. Unless you actually WERE a French student in 1968 and your voice accidentally got caught on this record. My, would I really be glad to get my voice captured on a Vangelis record! I'd give my right hand, easily.

Okay, my left hand.

Hmm... how 'bout the appendix?



Year Of Release: 1971

One of the worst things about all those early Vangelis albums being unreleased on CD is that in this way fans of the gentleman are entirely deprived of the possibility to see Vangelis in his various early emplois. There was Vangelis the Electronica God, right, and there was Aphrodite's Child, too, but in between there was Vangelis the experimentator fiddling around with all kinds of musical styles and usually coming out with interesting, if not always tremendously innovative, ideas. And discovering all these extra sides in the guy sure helps to understand his 'classic' works better, too.

Like this here extra side, for instance. The first side of this album, to be sure. The first side is fabulous! The title track, created by Vangelis in the company of friends like Brian Auger and none other than ex-Jeff Beck group hacker Mick Waller on drums, is structured like little else but a lengthy repetitive jam, but it's thoroughly entrancing. Years before Vangelis explored Chinese musical themes in China, he made this track, obviously representing his own version of the fabulous 'Dragon Dance'. And I can easily say that out of everything I've heard, this is by far the best marriage of traditional Chinese rhythms with a rock background. It's almost as if Vangelis took the basic Chinese structure, replaced the qin and the se with guitars and bass, and bade everybody to weave heavy-rockin' solos around it. In the meantime, the drums sound pretty authentic, preserving some of the stern martial atmosphere of the ceremony.

The 'ceremonial' composition itself is based on an enthralling cello rhythm that keeps cropping up all the time and is so dang catchy and majestic I hardly notice the running time... and the guitars, whoever it is that plays them, just SMOKE! Tremendous solos that really pull no punches. Dirty, feedbacky, really mean and nasty, just the way you like it if you despise "sissy muzak". Towards the end, of course, the track starts to really sound a bit samey - after the pompous intro and the blistering solo, it's just that cello riff drenched in guitar feedback that bashes you over and over, but that's all right by me. Chinese ceremonial music is supposed to be repetitive, you can't get away from it. In this way, it just gets more solemn, you know. Hey, that's the problem with Eastern musical ethics - it's grounded in cyclic groove, while we the Western suckers prefer development and growth. So put yourself into the place of an Easterner and everything will be all right. (Unless you already are an Easterner, in which case you're probably ripping your belly with laughter right now at how ineptly I've presented the crucial differences between various sociocultural axiomatic patterns here).

Unfortunately, the second side just doesn't cut the mustard for me that fine. 'Stuffed Aubergine' mounts the boat from a totally different angle, that of requiescence and meditation, as Vangelis just entertains, or anti-entertains you, with lengthy quiet unmemorable organ/Synclavier variations. It picks up some steam later on, though, as guitars, recorders, drums and other instruments join the boat as well, and in the long run I'm ready to admit that the track does put me into a nice mood, but it's still an uneasy contrast - the first side is some of the most unique music I've ever had the pleasure to assess, the second side is just okay. Definitely not exceptional. And then there's the two-part 'Stuffed Tomato', which is more upbeat and jazzy in nature, in addition to featuring some medieval folkish motives; the second part even features rapid-fire jazzy guitar solos (pushed deep into the mix; 'tain't none of your John McLaughlin stuff!). It all qualifies as well-performed music, but hardly well-purposed music - not enough aggression to arouse me, not enough calm to relax me. And it's not like I'm a guy who's that hard to please. It's just that if I wanna have this kind of complex music I'd take, er, hm, Gryphon, for instance. A band that really had it going with complexly arranged medieval music and stuff like that.

And while we're out there making comparisons, I suddenly realized what the violin/guitar interplay on 'The Dragon' actually reminds me of. Hot Rats! Yeah, that's right. Imagine something like 'Willy The Pimp' set to a mighty solemn Chinese rhythm. Now do you get why all those early Vangelis albums are such an essential purchase to the eclectic Vangelis fan? Hey, the guy has depth to him all you Albedo fans might never have suspected about!



Year Of Release: 1971

Hypothesis indeed, and not a very fruitful one. Well, after all, Vangelis isn't God (which isn't such a trivial assessment - the man sure inspires God-like reactions from fans, and for a reason), and not every experiment of his is supposed to end in a glorious masterpiece for the ages. This one, in particular, just kinda passes me by, mainly because I don't seem to grasp the main idea of the album if there is one.

Again, this is a lengthy (but innerly disjointed) suite consisting of just two tracks - part 1 and part 2 (so much for Thick As A Brick setting a precedent) which Vangelis performed with some colleagues and which so far has eluded CD release. The actual music on here is pretty much undescribable, but not because I can't find any words to describe it; rather it just has to do with the fact that no sooner have you found a bunch of words than the next musical tidbit you hear makes you throw them away. It's total murder - Vangelis and friends switch from groove to groove at lightning speed, never really bothering to ensure a smooth flow of said grooves. Moreover, most of said grooves fall into 'jazz/avantgarde' category, sometimes accessible, at other times totally non-followable, but never seeming to lead anywhere.

The actual musicianship might be impressive, but it's obvious that Hypothesis isn't designed as a 'chops-showing' album. Like I said, the main idea could be expressed as follows: "let's record as many 'experimental' fifteen-second musical fragments and glue them together in random order'. It's all the more painful seeing as not all of those fragments suck. The second part of the record, in particular, has got a lot going for it - there are some really nifty jazz passages that even I, as much as I'm not a jazz fan, find pleasure in. It's also amazingly well produced, as the instruments never really fall together - whoever plays those amazing basslines, for instance, should have been proud at the way that bass had been captured on record.

Occasionally, the fragments do border on unlistenable. There are several evil attempts at dissonant drum solos; several violin passages that really grate on you; and a large part of the record deals with avantgarde musings, you know, that nasty kind when the piano player bangs on his instrument ripping out a dissonant phrase, then the bass player answers him with an equally dissonant phrase and the drummer lays on an aggressive bashing pattern that's supposedly 'inspired', but in the end it all sounds like a bunch of idiots in a madhouse (to people who don't take pleasure in avantgarde excesses, that is). But overall, there's just as many welcome-sounding parts on here; Vangelis' organ playing, in particular, is simply terrific, and maybe it's the only reason there is to acquaint yourself with the album. It's just that some people could actually doubt Vangelis' technical abilities - on most of his classic albums, he doesn't really engage in technically complex solo passages, more or less like Brian Eno. But here, some of the organ playing is really nutty, in the good sense of the word, and can easily explain why Yes were so keen on having Vangelis replace Rick Wakeman in 1974, an idea that was, unfortunately, never carried out.

All said, it's still just an experiment that doesn't have any lasting value - not for me, at least. A collection of memorable tunes this ain't, and neither is this a mood piece. It falls somewhere in between, see, in the "neither fish nor meat" category. And hey, were I to produce this album, I'd sure at least glue the pieces together in a more reasonable way. The GLUE is what matters, baby, it's all the GLUE! Remember what the Ramones had to say about it - 'now I wanna have something to do...'.

Hmm, do you think having Vangelis and the Ramones play together would be a solid idea? Now that's a musical combination my imagination is simply too feeble to represent.



Year Of Release: 1973

One of the few Vangelis solo albums to feature track titles in French (and, of course, track titles are the only words you'll find on a Vangelis solo album), it was not intended originally for a huge international market - being just a soundtrack to some obscure French documentary about, well, animals. Yet that doesn't prevent it from being also one of the most ambitious and pretentious projects ever carried out by the composer. The documentary may go to hell; basically, what he was planning to do was to create - over a miserable thirty-five minutes - a vast sonic panorama of strong metaphysical importance, culminating in the ten-minute long 'Creation Du Monde' ('Creation Of The World'). It is not entirely obvious, though, how does the theme relate to all the multiple 'animal themes' on the album and to the concept in general, not to mention the movie (I suppose the title doesn't really need translation - all the words contained therein have been conveniently borrowed into English from French itself).

This is definitely not the best ambient album I've ever heard - and I've heard better from Vangelis himself - but given its revolutionary nature, it's hard not to feel at least some respect for the music. My main problem with it is that even for an ambient album, it is way too primitive. Vangelis relies heavily on Mellotrons (or on synths imitating the former Mellotron sound, whatever), and at times he just leaves the Mellotron background with nothing else, while I prefer my ambient music having at least two layers of sound - one in the background, and another, a little more inventive and a little less predictable, at the forefront. For an album with such vast pretentions, this minimalism strikes me as being somewhat inadequate, and it certainly does not allow the listener to concentrate on listening. Yet if you forget all about the concept (and you probably should - after all, this is the man's first try), L'Apocalypse Des Animaux still serves as perfect 'wallpaper music', and it's fully competent and quite soothing as such, fit for a great evening of romantics and introspection.

The only 'bouncy' passage on the album is the introduction - the brief title track, based on tribal rhythmics; but it is an introduction, nothing more and nothing less. The other tracks fall into two categories: the more 'vivacious' ones (that's not to say they rock or anything, of course), dedicated to animals, and the more ethereal ones, dedicated to the world creation process. The first group is also the most diverse: here we have the playful 'Singe Bleu' ('Blue Ape') with a light, thoughtful touch of brass, the dirgey, mournful 'La Mort Du Loup' ('The Death Of The Wolf'), and the slightly cacophonic 'L'Ours Musicien' ('The Bear Musician' - a rather appropriate title, as the track indeed sounds like a bear playing). All of these, including also 'La Petite Fille De La Mer' ('The Little Daughter Of The Sea'), are based on Vangelis' minimalistic, but tasteful glockenspiel playing, sometimes with addition of acoustic guitar and usually with addition of Mellotron; but they all set different moods, and never last way too long for an ambient track, that is, never go over eight minutes.

The second part of the suite, though, is where I'm not entirely satisfied. I mean, the process of the world's creation certainly took a long time - well, six days at the least - but that doesn't mean it happened exactly in the way that Vangelis proposes on here: ten minutes of Mellotron (synth) noodling with hardly a note played in between. It is still better than Brian Eno's Thursday Afternoon, of course, where nothing happened over nothing during sixty minutes, but I would appreciate just a little bit more variety. Then again, perhaps the lengthy "zero-tone" passages only serve to emphasize the suddenness, brilliancy and joy of the cute little synth-piano outbursts that are inserted into the track at seemingly random places. And we close with 'La Mer Recommencee' ('The Newly Begun Sea'), which is stately enough to serve as the album closer.

One thing must be said here: there is definitely a lot of French influence on the album (quite naturally), which means that, although the most innovative electronic scene at the time was located in Germany, Apocalypse sounds nothing like any of Vangelis' Krautrock contemporaries (at least, unlike any of them that I had the fortune, or misfortune, to hear). It is not at all dark, depressing, gloomy, menacing, or schizophrenic; on the contrary, all the themes are light, accessible, and uplifting. Even the 'dirgey' moments sound more like "heartfelt weeping" rather than "deep suicidal despair". In this respect, Vangelis can probably be called a better prototype for Brian Eno than all the dudes from Deutschland.


EARTH ***1/2

Year Of Release: 1973

Another in that endless row of "non-typical Vangelis albums that don't come out on CD until, you know...". Actually, Earth is the best-known of all of these, maybe because, when set next to stuff like Sex Power and Hypothesis (and I don't even mention Fais Que Ton Reve...), it's the project that sounds the closest of all to a completed, rounded-out, all-out satisfactory album. It almost has an acceptable (if kinda mysterious and pretentious, but that's predictable) concept, an almost 'regular' band, and a set of 'songs' rather than sonic experiments. And a very wild-looking Mr Papathanassiou on the front cover... well, that was a period where he was still young and preferred to look more like a Greek desperado rather than your self-righteous, self-assured elderly math teacher.

Earth is a good record, and very much in the Aphrodite's Child vein, only more complex than before. A bit more meandering, too, and I'm not all that sure of its purpose altogether, but many of these tracks really grab me. One good thing about Vangelis making a rock album is that he seems so concerned about diversity, stuffing it with every idea in every style he can lay his hands on; you may be sure you'll find some soft rock parts, some hard rock parts, some folk motives, some gospel stuff, some Greek Orthodox influences, some deeply pretentious half-ambient musing, and a couple of surprises you couldn't predict at all as a bonus. So, Earth is a mess of all that stuff; it doesn't really function all that well as a coherent album as a result, but it don't matter much because the individual tracks are all so swell. For the record, Vangelis himself sings some of the background vocals, a thing that happened only very rarely; most of the other vocals were provided by Robert Fitoussi, plus Warren Shapovitch adds corny poetry readings very much a la Graeme Edge in the beginning and in the end (the worst thing about the album, although, granted, the lyrics reveal just a bit more originality and vividness than the Moodies' drummer's tripe).

The intro to the album sounds a bit similar to the great celebration of the Eastern Power in 'The Dragon', although the endless chanting of 'come on come on come on come on' looks a bit ridiculous when there's nothing following it. Well, okay, so the song's name is 'Come On', but if we all started limiting ourselves to the lyrics contained in the song title, the world would be almost disgustingly Laconic in nature, wouldn't it? Never mind, I love those wild rhythms that really get the blood flowing. Turn 'em up loud and you won't need no Iron Maiden to scare your neighbours. Vangelis is a real master when it comes to POWER. Heck, he just might be the most POWERful composer of the XXth century. At least when under 'power' you actually mean 'pompous bombast that doesn't sound like Styx are doing it'. Or something like that.

Elsewhere, the vocal numbers are all pretty different. 'Hey-O', I guess, is the most Greek-related vocal number, too bad I'm not an expert in Greek folk music. But I'm a-guessin' that if the Eastern flavour of Vangelis' music can't be identified as Chinese, it has to be identified as Greek... Well, Eastern music all sounds the same in the end, right? (And don't take it as a pedestrian joke - there are actually great similarities between most Eastern music schools. I'd say that the Far Eastern school is seriously different from the others, but as far as Turkish, Arabic, and Indian music go, they are - quite naturally - interrelated. There, you just had your amateurish quasi-lecture on music. Are you still following me?). 'Let It Happen' is more of a mild psychedelic rocker, I'd say, while 'My Face In The Rain' is an even milder arhythmic ballad where the relaxed vocals, relaxed synths, relaxed organs and relaxed everything else that I can't identify because I wasn't there when it was recorded will put you in a, ahem, relaxed mood. And do it in a classy way, too.

Then there are all those instrumental passages that sound nowhere near the muddle of Hypothesis - they're all infused with a vague feel of spirituality that will either get to the essence of your soul or make you bored for life. What helps me not to get bored is how diverse this all sounds: every now and then Vangelis comes up with an unpredictable chord sequence or unpredictable twist of melody/arrangement, like, for instance, inserting a gritty deadly Synclavier pattern right smack in the middle of a mild gentle organ melody and stuff like that. Granted, some of the passages don't change much - the quiet shuffle that follows Shapovitch's poetic excerpt on 'We Were All Uprooted' is a bit too much for me to become frantic about. But what is this, a search for perfection?

Oh, wait, maybe it is. Well then, let me rephrase that: is this the finding of perfection? Perfection is almost as hard to find as a CD copy of this album, only issued in Greece a few years ago as a limited edition. So all you vinyl collectors, rejoice: as long as Mr Papathanassiou is alive, you'll always have something to flaunt CD owners with. Not MP3 CD owners, though! Like me!



Year Of Release: 1975

This one is a little less relaxative and a bit more 'aggressive' than what we usually associate with Vangelis, and well, it's no big surprise concerning the pretentious title of your famous Greek composer's masterwork. What? Not your favourite Greek composer? Errr... sorry, wrong company. What? Not a masterwork? Would you rather go listen to Aphrodite's Child, then?

Okay, that was me being silly for a couple of moments. This is an album-long suite divided in 'Part 1' and 'Part 2'; I'm a-guessin' that the first side gotsta be 'Heaven' and the second side gotsta be 'Hell', with a short little vocal intermission specially featuring guest star Jon Anderson. The old geezer always knew where to poke his finger in, actually: with Yes temporarily on hold, he was always on the lookout for something particularly heavenly, so I guess he was the best candidate, and thus initiated the long period of Jon's collaboration with Vangelis. I gotta say, though, that Jon's singing doesn't particularly annoy me on here: with such an atmospheric composer as Vangelis, his voice suddenly acquires a whole new meaning, and that 'heavenly interlude' between the sections is absolutely beautiful. The big question is - why did Yes have so fewer moments of beauty? This stuff is just as gorgeous as 'I Get Up I Get Down', and maybe even better...

But then again, this is just a short interlude. For the main part, the compositions consist of Vangelis laying on his pseudo-classical musical textures, thick wads of atmospheric synthesizers, medieval chorales, and pompous percussion. He hasn't been called one of the most ambitious composers to ever have existed for nothing: those who can't tolerate 'overblown' music will have to lock themselves up in their bathrooms. But me, I just lower the volume, and it feels kinda nice to have the entire universe so neatly captured within your stereo. Eh? The heaven goes in one speaker, and hell goes in the other. Nah, just kiddin' you.

The compositions are quite smooth - nothing particularly memorable, but the good news is that everything is based on real musical rhythms: the 'Heaven' part, for instance, starts around a sneaky, almost dance-style neat little synth pattern that Rick Wakeman would have been proud of. From there, it goes into all directions, becoming pseudo-Beethoven at one moment and pseudo-Bach at another. The parts themselves aren't very smoothly integrated (much too often, the music just comes to a dead stop and then the next section begins), but perhaps the work was imagined as a series of non-interrelated musical pictures, so we'll pass on that. It sure would have been better to give the separate parts their names, though.

Still, from a purely psychologic point of view, it's the second part that's preferrable over the first - especially neat is (now that the CD version has replaced vinyl) the sudden 'excruciating' segue from Jon Anderson's [v]angelic section to the dreary 'chain grating' of the hell section. That intro gives me the creeps that only pass away when the main rhythm starts and you realize that Hell isn't actually such a frightening place after all. This is not Hell portrayed as a place of horror and desperation; this is just, you know, a standard working day in Hell. Sinners trudge along the roads to find their frying-pans, you know the rest. Ten minutes of this intriguing labour, and you get to hear some beautiful female harmonizing for about five minutes more. (No, this does not sound like Clare Tory, if you're interested). And the ending is a really calm and soothing piece of proto-ambient muzak, just so that you could actually recognize this is Vangelis and not Yes. If Jon Anderson had you derailed that much.

So... yeah, this is indeed one of Vangelis' best albums. Remember, pretentions are okay when they're justified, and Vangelis really justifies them: he doesn't just noodle around with one finger on the keyboards, he is writing solid 'mini-melodies', inventing all kinds of exciting rhythms and riffs, and heck, he's found himself some great singing support as well. (Whoever would have thought I'd get around to praising Jon Anderson on a Vangelis record?). Some will undoubtedly find this boring, but if you ask me, the music has a theme and a sense of purpose and a distinct meaning, and that's the main thing.



Year Of Release: 1975

Soundtracky... Another soundtrack for another "wild nature" movie from that French guy whose name I've forgotten (Jacques quiconque, n'est-ce pas?). Pretty hard to find as well, much harder than L'Apocalypse Des Animaux, or so I've heard. I got a 'vinyl transcript' in MP3 format, so whadda I know? Not that it's really that worth the bother, actually. There's not much of worth on the album. The opening tune is GREAT - that dancey groove really gets me going, and the synth melodies that are set to that ethnic beat are, like, totally flying on the wings on inspiration.

Then it gets dull. You know, somewhere (don't ask me where, I'm too embarrassed to tell!) I've learned that some Vangelis fans consider Apocalypse to have been the first New Age album or something like that. Now before all of us Krautrock connoisseurs start sneering and jeering, let's assume that the problem here, and the problem with such definitions in general, is not with lack of knowledge - it's with lack of a firmly established terminology. What the hell IS New Age? Are Tubular Bells New Age, for instance? And if yes, how come Music For Airports is also New Age? Or maybe it isn't? Are early Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream 'New Age'? What's the main definition of New Age? And so on. So maybe for somebody that soundtrack of Vangelis' is the beginning of New Age, and rightly so. One thing's for certain: that album was pioneering in a certain sense.

Same with La Fete Sauvage. Fans could easily claim that it starts the 'ethno-rock' craze, with tribal beats and aboriginal music incorporated all over the place. In this particular case, though, I won't even argue because I cannot, for the life of me, remember any earlier use of ethnic motives in rock taken to such an extremity. All I can dig from the remainders of my lumpy head is that stupid tribal chant at the end of Pink Floyd's Obscured By Clouds, but it was more like a gimmicky quotation than an intentional use of an alien musical scale... hmm, guess I just described the man vibe of Pink Floyd's career. Tee hee, I do like how this Web reviewing thing can touch so many different tangents at the same time. Would a stupid paperback edition do the same thing? Hardly.

In any case: there's lots of tribal stuff on here, in many different ways, too. Oh, I forgot to mention there's a problem - my version of the album has ONE track on it, it just says 'La Fete Sauvage: Original Soundtrack'. Maybe the vinyl is divided into numerous tracks, but both my version and the All-Music Guide suggest against it. So you can't even skip forward to your favourite bit of ethnic beat, which sucks badly. Who does that guy think he is? Jon Anderson? Yeah, Jon Anderson's just the right pal for you, Mr Papathanassiou!

Okay, seriously now, as we were just discussing the Lord God Vangelis' latest offering on the life and eating habits of our furry friends. So, the Lord God offers us some original tribal beats accompanied by real tribal chanting - I suppose you're all jumping out of your chair by now - and sometimes he offers us tiny bits of self-penned melodies with ethnic-sounding flute or ethnic-sounding synths. (Doesn't that sound kinda silly? 'Ethnic-sounding synths'? By the way, have you ever considered the hideous mocking potential of pretentious bearded people exploiting the hard-earned sounds of Third World people on their expensive high grade electronic equipment while said people themselves are dying of starvation and AIDS? Now here's a nice topic for discussion on the message board!). Near the second half of the album, though, Vangelis just drifts off into moody ambient pastoral landscapes that aren't nasty but aren't really enlightening either. I guess it's nice to see a lion massacre and dissect an ailing zebra accompanied by some nice soothing relaxing music, or anything like that, but I haven't seen the movie and probably never will, and neither will any of you, so you gotta use your own imagination.

In short, it's a perfectly fine album that no one really has any reason to start tracking down - the opening theme is cool and the aborigenes have well-placed singing capacities, but if you wanna dedicate the rest of your life to hunting down obscure Vangelis record, you'd be MUCH better off with The Dragon or Earth, so start on that right now. Or you could dedicate the rest of your life to something more entertaining. Like joining the Jesuit order, for instance.


ALBEDO 0.39 **

Year Of Release: 1976

Now this one's, er, excuse me, what the hell, it's just boring. I know how it goes with all you electronica-consuming people - you either think electronica sucks as a genre, or you think that great electronica composers can do no wrong. But my criterion for rating all of these electronica, New Age, ambient, muzak, you-name-it records is rather simple: if a record is imagery-triggering, it's good, but if it just kinda sticks there and does that wank-wank thingie for ages, it's trash. Okay, so maybe it's not trash, but it's hardly a classic along the lines of yer average Oops! I Did It Again, right you there?

This time our favourite Greek dude turns to discussing all kinds of astronomic problems; all of this stuff is supposedly dedicated to describing planets, astral bodies, comet movements and even nucleogenesis. The sound is rather minimalistic: for the most part, it's just Vangelis dicking around with the synths and a bit of electronic percussion for company. And nothing on here sounds particularly impressing. Oh, sure, there's that majestic vibe strewn all around, but when we deal with Vangelis, the epithet 'majestic' kinda loses all of its importance, see? It's something that we have to take for granted. It also means that hardcore Vangelis fans will definitely like this record, because, well, it does sound like Vangelis. But it doesn't sound as if he was inspired writing this stuff.

Mmm... I don't even really know how to voice my exact complaints. Okay, let's choose the 'logical negation' approach. There are no interesting or memorable musical themes on here; this is primarily atmosphere, and it sorely lacks all kinds of rhythmic textures that made Heaven And Hell so exciting. Just 'solemn' atmospheric synth landscapes, shrill bleeps and beeps, occasional goofy vocals that fall from the sky, and from time to time we get some chaotic sonic paintings that aren't really all that different from the stuff that bands like Can or Soft Machine did much better in their prime.

Moreover, the atmospheric textures aren't really all that atmospheric themselves. I can't name even a single true climax or crescendo; I can't seem to recall any diversity in the sounds; and what's worse, this is just the kind of album that's 'neither fish nor meat', as I call it. You know how it goes? When we're dealing with these kinds of textures, we either need them super-slow, relaxating and meditative, so you know you just have to let go and let yourself float on a you-know-what without actually inhaling anything. Or we need them hyper-dynamic, abrasive and mind-blowing, you know, like all those powerful and menacing passages on the second side of Heaven And Hell. But if we can't have that, at least give us some unpredictable and intriguing 'texture twists' a la Mike Oldfield! Nope - almost all of the record is fully predictable.

I don't want to say that this huge astronomic canvas is a dreadful listen, of course. I have to yet find a thoroughly offensive Vangelis composition; I can easily sit through Albedo, it's just that the actual impressions are very few. A couple shorter tracks are, indeed, very graceful and moving ('Mare Tranquilitatis'; 'Sword Of Orion'). A couple lengthier tracks actually feature some real ideas - 'Alpha', in particular, almost sounds like a minor progressive epic, something that a band like Kansas could kill for (funny that the pompous style of the track reminds me of Kansas, even if Kansas actually never wrote even a single track in their lives that would equal this one's actual quality). But generally I'm just underwhelmed, and all the phoney 'fury' of 'Nucleogenesis' and other numbers just leaves me cold. Oh well, perhaps listening to too much New Age music has left me desensitized, but... heck, you just try and name me some particularly interesting musical idea on this album that wasn't copped from Heaven And Hell and maybe I'll reconsider.

Probably not, though.


IGNACIO ***1/2

Year Of Release: 1977

Another soundtrack. At least, this is how this one began its life: a soundtrack to an obscure Spanish (or Mexican, I don't remember which) movie called 'Do You Hear The Dogs Barking', released in 1975. The movie supposedly portrayed different stories that happened during the life of an old farmer that he was telling his ailing son while carrying him to the doctor, some crap like that - I wouldn't know, as I've never seen the movie. Perhaps it's a masterpiece. Who can tell.

However, two years later Vangelis reworked that soundtrack into a forty-minute long suite, called the suite 'Ignacio' and released it as a separate album. It didn't impress the critics all that much, and for understandable reasons: the piece is drastically minimalistic, more ambient, in fact, than any of Vangelis' preceding works. As a soundtrack, it probably works fine. As a separate musical piece? Hmm... Well, I'm not the kind of person who would like to condemn ambient music in any case where it's not Brian Eno who makes it, so consider me tolerant.

Because I actually like some parts of the suite. In fact, I like most of its parts, because, quiet and static as they are, they definitely have more atmosphere than, say, Albedo 0.39. The suite does have some kind of development, and it's very interesting that just as you think that this kind of 'established mood' goes on for far too long, it is being replaced by another part, completely different in tone and style.

The first part is the introduction. It is slightly baroque-tinged and optimistic, as every good introduction should be - almost like some electronically encoded and drastically slowed down Procol Harum composition. Then it fades away and is replaced, quite unexpectedly, with a gloomy, medievalistic part including the obligatory Gregorian chorales, tubular bells and spooky bass drums from time to time. Boring, mayhaps (it's one of the lengthiest parts on here), but certainly not all that static to be considered a pure mood piece - it has its own subtle dynamics and even its own minor crescendos. Besides that, one might notice that it actually begins and ends, if not in a different key, but with a total change of atmosphere; the beginning was more like a medieval anti-plague hymn, while the end sounds closer to the pseudo-mystical dungeons & dragons mood without the lyrics.

But if you don't like that, the third part moves you away from the dungeons & dragons to a pure 'spiritual' experience with organ-imitating synths, more chorales and a melody ripped off of Bach, rather straightforwardly, I'd say (but don't quote me on that, oh ye Bach purists! I'm just an illiterate, ignorant wimp!). And then comes the most interesting part: Vangelis gets 'hard-rocking'! That's really cool, because I haven't heard him do that as of yet. He plays a fast, break-neck tempo pattern on one synth and imitates a wild, speedy, finger-flashing guitar solo on another. 'Cheesy', you might say, but I say 'swell. Whoever heard of an attempt at wild headbanging on an ambient album? That part really drives me wild, and, frankly speaking, so far I haven't heard anything even remotely close. If that's really Vangelis himself playing his synths, and not a sped-up tape or something, I have to concede that the guy is really not any less technically gifted than Mr Rick Wakeman when it comes to finger-flashing.

Then, after a reasonable time, this awesome synth solo goes away and it's time for noisemaking. The noisemaking certainly doesn't impress me that much, although I've heard worse noisemaking in my life, for sure. But seven or eight minutes of noisemaking... blah. What an anti-climax. Fortunately, then the noisemaking goes away and is replaced by a nice, gentle folkish melody of the kind you can encounter on L'Apocalypse Des Animaux. The only thing I don't understand is why the hell did Vangelis feel the need to use these stupid 'pshh-pshh' going synthesized drums. I HATE that crap, as if it were produced by pistons or valves going up and down. Leave that stuff to the Residents, who need it in order to complete the goofiness.

Despite all the minor complaints, though, Ignacio fully succeeds in the way of atmosphere - I still don't know how all that relates to the actual movie, but who really gives a damn? - and has a great achievement of its own in that fast section, so count me happy.


SPIRAL ***1/2

Year Of Release: 1977

Isn't it hard to go ahead and try telling which Vangelis album is better than which? They all sound the friggin' same! How'm I spozed to know?

Indeed, it all depends on your subjective feelings towards the matter. Unless you just select one Vangelis album and say 'the rest sucks because it repeats the same basic formula', you have to choose not so much according to the 'innovative' quality of the guy's work (which is relatively high everywhere) or to the 'melodic' quality (sometimes there are melodies, sometimes there are no melodies, but in any case it's not the main thing for him), but rather according to the level of atmosphere and the level of 'emotional penetration' of his music. And this 'emotional penetration' is so dang slithery! How can you catch it and pigeonhole it?

For instance, on first listen to this record I was rather underwhelmed. Solidly performed and all, but what's the point, I thought, thought I? Doesn't have as much surprises as Ignacio, and is nowhere near as mood-shifting and all. And I was already going to give it the same two stars I gave Albedo, when I read a review on (yup, sometimes this can be helpful) which was describing how all the tracks on the record are really 'spiralling' in order to serve as illustrations for the, well, theory of the world's being based on multiple 'spirals' - all that stuff, you know, the development of history according to a 'spiral', etc. So I was intrigued and I gave the album an extra listen and it all kinda came down to me.

It's not a masterpiece anyway, but it's damn good. What Vangelis does here is make compositions out of all kinds of loops - both literally (i.e. synth loops) and in the figurative sense, i.e. loops as crescendos. And the most interesting thing is that there are so many loops and they're actually all different. And they all sound good. The title track, for instance, is built on these wonderful swirling synth patterns that seem to be 'laid' on each other so that each one starts when the other one hasn't yet completely ended, and in a slightly different key at that - a technique that was quite new at the time, like a wave crashing on its predecessor before that one had the actual time to retreat back to the sea.

The lengthy 'Ballad', that comes next, is perhaps the weakest of the tracks because it isn't so distinguishably electronic; but it does have all those crescendos, after all, that place it within the context of the album. I, however, far prefer the wonderful 'Dervish D', which is currently on the brink of becoming my favourite Vangelis composition ever. It sounds like a transitional stage between a generic rock'n'roll boogie and a robotic synthpop dance number, and it really cooks... isn't it amazing that this kind of stuff was done as early as 1977? It sounds tons better than all the generic synth-pop of the Eighties. Good melody, great instrumentation (more crescendos here, although they're rather subtle) and all kinds of neat sonic effects that sit there in the background and actually add a lot to the experience even if you're not paying them particular attention. Only two people were capable of this stuff (the effects, I mean) - Vangelis and Brian Eno, of course.

The album then ends with two lengthy, nine-minute compositions that might not be as rabble-rousing as 'Dervish D', but are nevertheless worthy. 'To The Unknown Man' has an excellent, bolero-like melody and another brilliant crescendo (incorporating REAL, REAL drums, predictably bashing out a trusty martial rhythm!). And '3+3', while not as memorable, mayhaps, still ends the album on a wonderful, optimistic note.

So just a wee bit of patience and tolerance, friends, and you'll get to love the record. And aren't patience and tolerance the two main muses of every half-decent web reviewer? Eh? Eh? I have been MORE than tolerant. I have been tolerant towards EVERYBODY on this site. Well, bar Kansas and Kiss, but what can I do if a band produces nothing but grotesque shit music? Ahem... Anyway, I like Spiral, although I do complain about the lengthiness of some of those pieces. If only he'd bothered to cut some of them in half and add something else, this would be a four stars for sure. Damn those Greeks and their Olympic games.



Year Of Release: 1978

Now this is just a bunch of pretentious stinking garbage. The closest analogy for this album I can think of is George Harrison's Electronic Sound; I don't even think that any decent Vangelis fan would dare to flame me on this issue... then again, I have already received a message from somebody who loves Electronic Sound, so supposedly I should prepare to get flamed anyway. But before the flames, let me at least justify this position.

Beaubourg refers, of course, to the Beaubourg Museum in Paris, alias the "Centre Pompidou", one of Europe's biggest and most renown collections of modern art. Allegedly, the 'music' on this album is inspired by Vangelis' visit to the museum and his wishing to record something decidedly 'anti-commercial', provocative, shocking, untraditional, to match the modernistic spirit of the Beaubourg ensemble. And all qualms and quibbles aside, I can't but admit that this particular aim is achieved. Yes, this collection of "musical" fragments is definitely suitable for the Pompidou atmosphere - as somebody who's actually had a chance to visit this museum (about ten years ago), I can state that with the utmost sincerity. I wouldn't be surprised to see this album accompanying some of Beaubourg's exhibits, just as some of Brian Eno's ambient musical landscapes were painted in order to match similar exhibits.

The problem is, I hate Beaubourg, and I hate this album. I don't have anything against modern art or avantgarde music-making as long as it doesn't violate what I hold to be the main principle of art - it's gotta, er, you know, have feeling. Well I guess you knew I was gonna say that. And what does this album offer us? Thirty five minutes of excruciating synth noises, some of which are spliced together in horrible melody-imitating sequences, but most of which are not. Dissonance, atonal sequencing, and incoherent electronic humdrum abounds here. True, certain segments are atmospherically impressive, and I think that some of these passages could have been extracted and used to far better effect on any of Vangelis' real albums: in particular, the last two or three minutes or so of the album - yes, I did sit through it, two times at least - are of that creepy/majestic character that made Heaven And Hell so full of flavour. But whenever you feel he's starting to really 'get it on', some extra awful discordant passage comes along and ruins the feeling.

I mean, the album can't even be used as decent background music: there's plenty of ambient albums around that don't utilize that much more musical ideas, but they are at least non-dissonant (which is very important for an ambient album) and soothing. These noises, on the contrary, just hammer on your brains until you're ready to have a genuine brain hemorrhage. Letting this music play in the background is like inviting a couple of old rusty mobile cranes into your backyard. Eventually, you're forced to concentrate on the listening, and it only gets worse.

The only thing of consolation I can offer is that Beaubourg is at least an advance on Electronic Sound, because while the latter was just Harrison unconsciously messing around with a synthesizer to see what each particular knob is doing, the former is Vangelis consciously sitting and recording this bunch of noises already long after he'd figured out all, or most, of the possibilities of his equipment. Which doesn't necessarily means that the result holds up as a more listenable experience - who cares if a particular unlistenable mess is improvised or precalculated?

So basically, the record is just going to join my (already rather large) collection of failed pretentious experiments. It will, however, give me one more chance to embark on an embittered rant against snub-nosed elitist fanatics - I'm pretty sure there are plenty of people out there who love this kind of crap to death and are ready to cut anybody's throat for the mere suggestion of dismissing the album. We the poor mainstream jerks are accused of closemindedness, primitivism, staleness and conservative attitude, while all those gentlemen who hold King Crimson's THRaKaTTaK as their main musical ideal are progressive and apparently closer to the Lord in their open-mind policies. Well, see here, youse slobs. Gimme a couple of synths and a few weeks' training course and I'll make a record that'll be ten times as atmospheric and meaningful as this ridiculous attempt at sounding 'modern'. Get real, get simple, get down-to-earth. Or beware! When you die and go join the seven circles, your eternal punishment will be sitting and listening to the same HERMAN'S HERMITS RECORD OVER AND OVER AGAIN!


CHINA ***1/2

Year Of Release: 1979

A pleasant and unpredictable record this time. I mean, it's not like I'm calling Vangelis predictable: even after the man got entirely bogged down in the world of synthesizers, his restless experimentalism kept driving him into just about any kind of sphere imaginable. It's just that when I saw an album called China, with most of the track names referring to certain cultural, artistic, and political Chinese phenomena, I thought, well, now the old dude is into Chinese music and he'll force feed me some atmospheric quasi-Far Eastern musical elements. Not that I mind - I have the deepest respect for Chinese music and love the basic sound texture of it a lot, even if I hardly ever listen to it because I don't like music to serve as pure background.

However, turns out I was somewhat wrong. Okay, so there are lots of Eastern elements on here, but it's not like the entire record is dominated by Chinese music. Take away the titles and you'll be left with a pleasant and actually adventurous and diverse musical voyage that, in fact, juxtaposes Chinese elements next to classical piano solos, violin excerpts, avantgarde "synth battles" and pure ambient pieces that can't directly be traced to Eastern sources. A thoroughly mixed hodge-podge, in other words, never really defying good taste and perhaps I'd rate this even higher if I were to understand the album's purpose a little better. The chaotic mix of atmospheres is really confusing, and I'd really prefer this to be a solid and monolithic mood piece instead because what works fine and dandy for your basic pop album (diversity, that is) doesn't really work all that superb on a presumably mood-setting New Age record.

But never mind, that's just me philosophizing a bit, and the record is well worth your praises. If you don't mind, I'll take the "sonic journey" approach once again - it is, as far as I can see, indeed the best, if not only possible, way to assess the value of New Age albums, so off we go: 'Chung Kuo" ('China') opens the album with a bit of a synthesized percussion mess and then quickly settles down into a slow rhythmic synth groove with a main Chinese-influenced minimalistic majestic theme running throughout to help you get the initial picture. Then we surreptitiously descend into 'The Long March' which has little to do with the famous march of the Communist forces to the Western areas of China but a lot to do with your basic classical piano sonata of the Chopin kind - not really my style, but I can digest it if you beg me. 'The Dragon', then, introduces the battle theme, a solid ravaging synth loop that again borrows something from Chinese battle anthems but transforms it into prime Vangelis so that you might not even notice.

On the other hand, as we calm down, we are taken to 'The Plum Blossom' - as you might now, the plum blossom is the basic symbol of beauty and perfection in Chinese culture, and so Vangelis tried to match it with a 'gorgeous' violin solo from some guy whose name I've forgotten. It doesn't really seem to work as far as I can see, but then again, keep in mind that th symbol of the plum blossom is so much of a stagnant cliche in Chinese poetry actually that creating a track of truly unprecedented beauty and gorgeousness and naming it 'Plum Blossom' would be akin to building the finest palace in the world and naming it 'St Mary's Hospital' or something like that. Don't suppose Vangelis ever had that in mind, though, but just follow MY totalitarian-minded interpretation and you'll be all right and all set up for 'The Tao Of Love' where for the first time Vangelis actually gives a hint at Chinese instruments - I don't know if he's imitating the sound of a qin or he's really using it, but sounds pretty authentic anyway. Then, 'The Little Fete' gives us some more refreshment with gentle flutes (recorders? synths? who cares?) and a pretty dumb voiceover from a guy reading something metaphysical.

'Yin & Yang' should be more of a battle track, and it is - love the synthesizer clashes towards the middle of the track, and the way the gentle qin-like sound is contrasted by the unmistakable electronica onslaught... not just the light and the dark, but almost like the 'ancient' and 'modern' musical elements clashing with each other. After the battle comes the moment of solemnity, the ten-minute long stern voyage of 'Himalaya' which actually has a crescendo going inside (not that I'd notice - by this time I'm too limp to pay much attention to the actual sonic trickeries), and the breezy lightweight 'Summit' closes the album on a not that satisfactory note... I'd expect something more pompous, I think.

All in all, despite the confusing mix of styles, this is really one inventive thingie, and perhaps one of the most obvious places to start if you really want to find out the role of Vangelis as 'mediator' between the traditional styles of world music, on one hand, and the avantgarde progressive forms of hi-tech electronica, on the other one. It may be less immediately exciting as some of Vangelis' earlier ventures into Eastern music ('The Dragon', for instance!), but it is definitely more mature, so just take your choice, stranger.


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