The Anti-Alice In Wonderland
Janus’ music oftentimes has pre-occupied itself with dark ruminations featuring audacious fusions and musical combinations rarely heard by popular audiences ever since it’s not-so-humble beginnings in 1971. Latin plainsong and primordial aboriginal rhythms bolted together with wailing Gibsons, ballads with sweet, soft female voicings, hard rock as well as the utterly absurd are among the idiosyncracies that have characterized this brainchild that has never seen any boundaries.
This latest Janus creature, “Under The Shadow Of The Moon “, has it’s origins back in the early seventies when prog ruled FM radio waves. When bands would write unmitigated miniature free-form symphonies based on one cerebral idea in unorthodox jazz time signatures spewing out barrages of mind-numbing philisophical lyrical elucidations and, heaven forbid, cultivated learned musical faculty and versatility much to the delight of audiences who wanted to think a little bit. Meanwhile the bands unwittingly threw themselves to the mercy of unimmaginative critics who ate their work alive with horrific reviews as if they had committed appaling and unforgivable atrocities against rock ‘n’ roll music and everything it stood for.”Under the Shadow Of The Moon ” manages to commit just about all those artistic crimes associated with this classic era of progressive rock whithin it’s 21 minute running time and what is so interesting about this modern throwback to that ghastly era is that it doesn’t sound anything like the modern bands who are adopting and embracing early progrock pardigms. Rather than a relic that was miraculously unearthed in a record company vault and remastered ( think “Mahavishnu Orchestra The Lost Trident Sessions” ) it is more like a lost Mozart concerto that has never been played. Difference here is that the piece was actually composed and rehearsed back in 1973 but never made it onto the record cutting press for some dubious reasons ( think sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll ). Janus mastermind and perpetual architect Colin Orr toyed around with resurrecting Janus as a progrock endeavour back in the late ’80s but quickly abandoned it realizing how dated and burnt out progrock musical methodology sounded. Alas, it had run it’s course. One track, “How Many Times”, is nonetheless re-worked here that dates from those experiments. It has an AOR sound to it with a cool guitar lick towards the end that seems to be sadly wasted here ( sorry to say this ). The Janus entity then went on to record 7 albums in various guises and now over 40 years after it’s genesis the title epic ” Under The Shadow Of The Moon ” creeps from the womb of time. Unable to escape until…
It was retrieved from Orr’s memory by unknown forces. In 2013 ” Under The Shadow Of The Moon ” turns out to be dark & “Cimmerian”, embodying all kinds of 70s progrock hallmarks. Although it is presented as a suite, Orr chooses not to name the individual sections as if to leave it up to the listener. A neo-psychedelic passage forms the main theme but develops into a sureal maelstrom of dreamy Floydian orchestral sections with nylon string guitars, spectral female vocals and nonsensical carnival-like interludes that are reflective of the underlying theme of the protaganist being on the verge of psychosis. Whether the inclusion of transmissions of Neil Armstrong to mission control stepping out into the unknown a represent some sort of consolation or at least a resolution to all the madness that occurs during this eccentric piece of music, one does not knowfor sure. I got a weird feeling after being confronted by the work and after first listen and said to myself, “what the freak was that?” Certainly a great track to listen to blasting on the headphones staring at Edvard Munch’s ” The Scream “.
At First, I wondered why the shorter, more recently composed tracks were positioned after the first tripped out extended conflagration. They all follow mournful themes that continue to use “darkness” as a unifying metaphorical device.
Dark Dark is sort of an addendum to the main piece. It has a sepulchral ambience achieved by reversed reverberation combined with a spooky bluesy hollow body guitar outro. One of the most beautiful rock ballads I’ve heard comes in the form of the painful mostly acoustic lament ” Maybe I Was The Fool ” with lush female counter harmonies and string arrangements. Actually it’s something that could have been penned by Fish ( the ex-Marrilion Fish ) and reminds me a bit of ” Kaliegh “. Two other tracks, ” I’m Not Made of Plastic ” and ” Promised Land ” are more representative of Janus’ ecclectisisms of the 90s, the latter being a metallisque, angry freakout against government greed again using some cool studio effects and showcasing Orr’s electric guitar. By far the heaviest excursion on the album. Saving America is a short forlorn “cri de coeur”, an unanswered prayer if you like accompanied by piano and voice that addresses the plight of the United States and its role in this crazy spiral-bound planet It is followed by an upbeat bluesy ballad called ” Feeling “, the happiest expression that will be experienced here. “If I’d Listened”, a re-worked ballad that had appeared on the 1991 Janus album ” Journey ” concludes the work which in a sense could even be considered a concept album of sorts.
Even though this is Janus at +40 ( and counting ) the music still sounds remarkably fresh and youthful. Colin Orr, along with his technical studio prowess and multi-instrumental skills ( he plays most instruments and did all the production ) with help from his talented daughters and session man Dean Houston on sax and others, seems more like a stoned hippie / madman stuck in a 70s time-warp than a 21st century Derbyshire sheep farmer here. Orr has created something unique here that is not unlike waking the dead.
So, is this the Janus album that never was from 1973? Well, yes and no. Best summation would be: Contemporary progrock with enough nuances, anachronisms and adventurous excitement of the prodigious early seventies to annoy any frustrated 21st century Rolling Stone columnist.
1. Under The Shadow Of The Moon ( 21:13 )
2. Dark Dark ( 4:40 )
3. How Many Times ( 3:14 )
4. Promised Land ( 4:35 )
5. Save America ( 2:01 )
6. Feeling ( 3: 47 )
7. Maybe I Was The Fool ( 5:14 )
8. I’m Not Made Of Plastic ( 4:08 )
9. If I’d Listened ( 4:22 )
* Colin Orr – vocals, guitars, bass, drums, keyboards
* Rikki Hanson-Orr – lead vocals on ” Under The Shadow Of The Moon ”, clarinet, keyboards, backing vocals
* Thea Hanson-Orr – tenor saxophone
* Dean Houston – alto saxophone
* Ben Stafford – keyboards, backing vocals
* Rachel Luxon-Robinson – backing vocals
* Pam Hodkinson – backing vocals