With David St Hubbin’s “hope you like our new direction” ringing in the ears, established progger Geoff Downes’ latest release alongside vocalist Anne Marie Helder, held some ring of familiarity. Not exactly Spinal Tap’s ‘Jazz Odyssey’, but certainly something somewhat removed from the comfort zone of their involvements with the likes of established prog and rock stalwarts Yes, Asia, Mostly Autumn and Panic Room.
Electronica is the latest in his New Dance Orchestra series (after 1999’s World Service, 2003’s Collection and 2006’s The Bridge) and as the orchestrator (if you’ll pardon the pun) behind the project , Downes has said that the aim was “to create entirely virtual orchestrations using instruments made up from computer technology and other various audio resources.”
Previously available only on a ‘direct to consumer’ basis, the album now has a first distribution and digital release. With all instruments programmed and performed by Downes plus production duties as well as taking all songwriting credits alongside Glenn Woolfenden, it is very much Downes’ baby. Adding Anne Marie Helder, twice winner of Prog magazine’s female vocalist of the year award was quite an inspired choice who’s found herself engaged in a slight diversion from her more acoustic based Luna Rosa offshoot with Panic Room pal Jonathan Edwards.
If ever there was a case of doing what it says on the tin, this is it. There’s no doubting the direction that the NDO are going to take from the opening Shine On which makes it clear from the off that you’re in for a full on ride with its heady electro dance beats pulsing throughout . There are few respites from the pulsing rhythms Downes sets up in each track – the opening half minute of Forgiven sees Helder’s voice taking on that gorgeous breathy quality which caught the eye (or ear) in her early days in Karnataka as she sings over a swathe of keyboard before the song moves into the type of soundtrack you could envisage accompanying the Premier League goals round up on Match Of The Day.
For want of some variation, Rainbow’s End is more ballad based (if there is such a thing in the dance genre) with the electronic beats slightly dominant on the track over the sweeping keyboard passages. There’s also an obvious retro feel to some of the sounds. Midway through Remember The Day, it almost felt like being transported to the bad old Stock Aitken Waterman days of the eighties with Jason and Kylie about to pop out of the screen. – the song invoked that kind of school disco feeling and prompted the thought of wondering what the album would have sounded like with some of the dance rhythms mixed down or out.
Electronica might be a bit overkill for some by the end of the album, especially for those prog fans who’ve latched onto the Downes/Helder branding (it was on sale on the 2012/2013 Yes tours) and who might be more averse to most than dance orientated beats and may reach Golden Days feeling slightly brow beaten perhaps in the same way that death metal beats some listeners into submission. As they say though, a change is as good as a rest, and there’s no doubting that Electronica adds, if not a breath of fresh air to the Downes canon, certainly what the Monty Pythons would call ‘something completely different’.
1. Shine On
3. Movin’ On
4. Rainbow’s End
5. Breaking The Spell
6. Love Is Not Enough
8. Hanging By A Thread
9. Remember The Day
10. Dance To The Music Of Time
11. Walking Through The Fire
12. Golden Days