Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter vacation. I didn't think I had one, but then the magazine I thought I was working for in Easter tells me no-one's gonna be at the office until Monday. So there I am - with Easter off. I dunno when I last had a vacation. And with nothing else to do either. So I've gone for walks, sat in the sun, listened to neglected records, eaten too much food and enjoyed the company of my family.
I've also made a cover of "Like a rolling stone" that I'm pretty sure Dylan would hate if he ever heard it. It's sort of a mash-up of Dylan's tune and "More than a feeling". Very catchy and very tasteless. Those are the kinds of useless and entertaining exercises one gets into when one has too much time on one's hands...
I downloaded some BBC live album with Renaissance. Ever since we started with White Willow people have compared us to Renaissance, and eventually I had to get one of their albums and check it out - the first one I got was "Ashes are burning", I think. It's been sort of an ongoing process, I keep buying Renaissance albums trying to like them and to understand why we supposedly sound like them. So this is what I've learnt from years of trying to undestand this band. OK, Annie Haslam has a great voice, no doubt. It's beautiful. But it's also baffling. She sings in a complete 60's style, very vocally conservative, very straight, very pretentious and filled with what I consider to be artificial pathos. I don't really understand how they could get so popular in the 70's with what must then have seemed like a very unhip vocal style. Then there's the music. It's pretty, it has a slight classical and folk influence and I suppose it's meant to infuse some vague sense of nostalgia and melancholy in the listener. Those are the superficial similarities with my own band, apart from the chick singer thing. But it is SO bland. Considering that these were well-trained musicians with a respectable amount of theoretical understanding, I find their music to be almost shockingly un-exciting, harmonically and melodically. There's NO harmonic tension, and even when they at very rare occasions stray from tried and true sunshiny major-chord progressions, they never manage to sound anything but slightly overcast... So I don't really get it, the band or the comparisons. Except maybe our first album, but I say that grudgingly. We are basically a minor-key band, even when we're not ACTUALLY playing in minor keys. Renaissance is the excact opposite.
That being said, I have to admit to quite liking some of their music. Bland music is no stranger to my ears - as I've mentioned before here, there are times when nothing beats a vacuous pop song. "Turn of the Cards" has some really nice moments, and I really like some of their later, synthier pop stuff. "Ashes are burning" and "Schehezerade" or whatever are supposed to be their masterpieces, but they don't do much for me. But at their best they do manage to invoke some of that wintry, British pastorality that, say, Anthony Phillips is so good at. And the keyboard playing is always impressive, although I preferred John Hawken with the Strawbs.
One thng I will never understand, though, is why Renaissance is considered prog. They're classic symphonic pop, not as good as Supertramp but possibly better than early ELO. Curved Air in their Francis Monkman days, that was chick-fronted prog, but only briefly. Dagmar Krause with Henry Cow, now THAT was prog all the way.
Anyway, I never understood why we are considered prog, either. Oh, and the BBC download? Pretty cool if you're into that Joan Baez with string synths thing.


Blogger Stephen said...

I've always felt the same way about Renaissance. You're right, aside from a comforting Englishness and Annie's voice, I've never really got them. I think it's the fey romanticism of the orchestral arrangements and the lack of a lead guitarist. I DO like that Englishness, though, in the same way that I like it on early Genesis and post 1980 XTC albums. Apple Venus vol 1 by XTC is the greatest British album of the 1990s, by the way, and one of the reasons I love it is for it's Englishness....

4:56 PM  
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