The Liberty Project is simply eighty minutes of superb music, during which Reekers demonstrates an unerring ability to write attractive melodies and strong hook lines.
If the name Edward Reekers rings a bell for younger rock fans, then it will most likely be for his frequent collaborations with fellow Dutchman Arjen Lucassen in the Ayreon project. Older rock fans are more likely to associate him with Dutch prog rock stalwarts Kayak, for whom he was lead singer in their hay day in the late ‘70s. He went on to release three solo albums between 1980 and 2008, none of which troubled the charts. All in all, a respectable rock career despite never being a global name. As such, the release of this fourth solo album, The Liberty Project, might not fill the masses with excitement and yet out of the blue Reekers has produced a tremendously strong album which easily eclipses anything he has done before. If in doubt about that, then the list of collaborators on this project is surely an indication of the quality of Reekers’ music. Dutch musical royalty is present in the form of Arjen Lucassen, singers Cindy Oudshoorn (Kayak) and John Jaycee Cuijpers (Praying Mantis), drummer Koen Herfst (Vandenberg), and guitarist Mark Bogert (Knight Area). And beyond his native land, there are further contributions from global stars of the calibre of Steve Hackett and Damian Wilson.
The material for The Liberty Project was written by Reekers during the lockdown period, and while the story is influenced by Covid, he tells the story of a similar event in a parallel universe. He says: ‘I wanted to create a story within a story, so I introduced the characters, Thomas and Catherine, falling in love, splitting up and finding their way back together. With a society in turmoil around them where politicians, bankers, and journalists, amongst others, comment on the situation they’re confronted with’. Reekers’ concept is on a grand scale – seventeen tracks in all, meaning the vinyl release is a double album. Musically, Reekers has not forgotten his Kayak roots, so it’s no surprise to find good doses of progressive rock/pop, heavier and symphonic rock, and a strong rock opera element. It’s a tremendously varied offering and yet it manages to avoid sounding fragmented.
Three of the seventeen tracks are instrumental, including the two that bookend the album. Out Of The Past (Prologue) opens with two powerful percussion crashes, presumably intended to represent two big bangs – our universe, and the parallel one of the story. Uneasy piano chords and vocalizing lead to a beautiful flute theme and warm strings that ease the tension. The flute theme returns in the closing piece, …..Into The Future (Epilogue), and the tune is then picked up by the electric guitar which inevitably leads to a powerful cathartic solo. The third instrumental track is Remember The Fallen, Celebrate Life – all yearning violin, soft piano and lush strings to start with, presumably remembering the fallen, and then drums mark the entry of a folk-like jig, celebrating life one assumes. Both parts are excellent and could even have been extended and split into two separate tracks.
The Present Day is the first song with vocals and after a short cinematic introduction of powerful percussion and synths, it develops around an irresistible synth hook and a galloping beat that will have you tapping your feet. It’s like a version of The Final Countdown for the 2020s – totally predictable but totally compelling listening at the same time. There are several other songs in this commercial prog pop style: Good Citizens, sung by Damian Wilson, has a similar synth earworm to The Present Day, although the chorus is a little more routine; We Live To Die that seems to plod along initially but then explodes in an impressive burst of Queen-like harmonies; and the blues-tinged The Break Up that is characterised by some fine sax work.
Of the tracks that are closer to theatre pieces, there are several piano-led ballads, of which As Good As Any Goal is the most impressive. It’s a beautiful duet (and beautifully sung), starting quietly with flute and piano and then supported as it progresses by warm orchestration. Instead, the cleverly titled Patients, Have Patience mixes power chords with chirpy choral work in a strange cocktail. There are shades of Les Misérables in brilliant The Clash Of Belief due to its polyphonic choral singing and military drums. Well, Les Misérables with a blistering guitar solo from Steve Hackett, if you can imagine that!
Anyone hoping to hear some high-energy Ayreon-sounding material will love The Disease. That it sounds like Ayreon is not surprising since Lucassen plays all the guitars and is clearly enjoying himself in one of his trademark solos. The fiery vocals are courtesy of Cuijpers, and the brilliant chorus line of rhythmically chanting ‘Fight’ and then ‘Kill’ sounds remarkably like some Manowar anthem. However, this song isn’t about raging Vikings in this parallel universe, but rather a Covid-like disease and that chorus is about the enthusiasm of the disease to kill us! That aggressive message is reinforced in a disturbing bridge section during which a children’s chorus gently sings ‘Make no mistake, we’ll be awake, even when you’re asleep. We’ll set the rules; you’ll be the fools; just like wolves and sheep’. Surely that’s one of the best Covid-inspired lyrics you’ll ever come across.
Another highlight, both musically and lyrically, is Money. No, it’s not the Pink Floyd song, although it has a similar bluesy gait to it. It’s got an unusual riff consisting of power chords on guitar that are completed by a little refrain on horns. Some of the vocal sections are remarkably close to rapping, and the lyrics are brilliant, especially some of the spoken parts – listen to how he snarls ‘I’m talking about money, Man. And lots of it‘, before later crooning that ‘it’s so sweet that I could eat it’. His vocals are so convincing that you’ll swear he recorded the song with a cigar in his mouth while sat in a bath full of dollars!
Want to hear about the poorer tracks? Sorry, there aren’t any. The Liberty Project is simply eighty minutes of superb music, during which Reekers demonstrates an unerring ability to write attractive melodies and strong hook lines. Reekers may be in the mind of rock fans for his work with Kayak and Arjen Lucassen, but from now on he should be in their minds as the author of The Liberty Project.