Review special: Abacus – Midway (1973)

AbacusMidway

I’m beginning to notice a pattern with Abacus and their work. Although each effort following the promising debut have been generally underwhelming, there’s always a handful of tracks on a given album to save it at least partially from the dregs of mediocrity. On “Midway”, the band’s fourth record, this redemption comes most visibly in the form of the ten minute title track Abacus close the album with. Weaving a mid-paced rhythm section with atmospheric leads and a smattering of vocal parts, it’s a far cry from the brand of art pop the band had veered towards. While the collection of shorter tunes on “Midway” aren’t all duds, it comes across as a dreadfully inconsistent piece of work.

Much like “Everything You Need”, Abacus open up “Midway” on its weakest not. “Let’s Face the Voices and Dance” may be one of the more memorable pieces on the album, but the unabashed cheeriness of the atmosphere, the happy-go-lucky rhythm and superficial horn arrangement do nothing for me. I get the impression that I would have probably felt better towards the song had it not been placed at the start, however. Most of the tracks follow a much more mellow path, somewhere in between a typical ballad by The Eagles and the familiar psychedelic pop that had been a part of Abacus’ sound since the very beginning. While cheesiness is one thing, it’s a lesser ill when compared to monotony. Although tunes like “Me and You” and the quirky “Herman the German” are decently penned and performed, there’s a feeling towards the middle of the album that Abacus have forgotten the rock aspect of their sound. Luckily, Abacus charge their sound with a dose of caffeine and much-needed innovation with the surprisingly complex and strange track “Be Beholding”, a song that takes the calculated dissonance of King Crimson in as an influence along with their more typical inspirations. Unfortunately, by the time “Be Beholding” rolls around, most of the album has been lost already on bland acoustic pop.

One of the things that got me excited about Abacus’ self-titled first album was the spotlight on musicianship and keyboard wizardry. While it’s conceivable that Abacus didn’t suddenly lose their skills, there’s little opportunity within the context of the songwriting for them to demonstrate it. Chris Williams’ voice has taken a far greater presence in Abacus’ sound than at first, and with a voice that’s middling at best, it’s disappointing that he seems to be the only member whose talents are given room to breathe.

Abacus’ debut had me hoping that the German proggers would have ventured deeper into their brand of initially pastoral and jazz-influenced progressive rock. By the point of “Midway”, it was clear that Abacus had all but abandoned that side of their sound. Even with their quirky brand of artsy pop, there is some decent potential to be found, but I would have hoped that Abacus would have realized some of that initial promise by the time their fourth album rolled around. As it stands, “Midway” is an album that you could probably do without hearing. The good tracks here are quite enjoyable, but the inconsistency makes it impossible to warrant a wholehearted recommendation.

Tracklist:

1. Let’s Face The Voice And Dance
2. Including Revelation
3. Me And You
4. 11 Garden
5. You Are Not The One I Love
6. For The Moment
7. Be Beholding
8. Hermann The German
9. Here We Go
10. Midway

Line-up:

* Chris Williams Рvocal
* Charlie Schade – guitar, sitar
* Chris Barutzky – keyboards
* Klaus Kohlhase – bass
* Allan Warren – drums, percussion

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