July 17, 2023

The music is intertwined with the storyline, and the two help each other along in a genuinely symbiotic relationship, as opposed to falling into the dangers of being either too ‘wordy’ or else the lyrics seeming like an afterthought. It’s perfectly judged.

Before looking at this release, a small note first to put into context who and what Imaginaerium are may well be in order. On looking at the list of musicians involved in this project, the first one which grabs the attention of the majority of prog fans will most likely be that of Clive Nolan – and for good reason, as he is credited with composition, arrangements, all lyrics, keyboards and vocals. However, looking a little further gives a clue to the real genesis of the project, with the name of Eric Bouillette also co-credited with the composition and arrangements, along with guitar, violin, mandolin and keyboards, and indeed it is Eric – former guitarist with The Room who tragically lost his life following a battle with cancer, after the recording of this album was completed – who was the man behind the original concept of what Imaginaerium were to be. This was by all accounts initially planned to be a band rather than a one-off project, producing conceptual historical works with this as only the beginning. Clive teamed up with him to assemble the talented cast present here, and this rather splendid album is the result – with all concerned keen to stress that it should be viewed as a vibrant tribute to Eric as opposed to any sort of memorial, and this absolutely shines throughout proceedings here. Taking away the undeniable emotional context which these circumstances bring, however, let’s have a look at the album as it stands for the potential listener.

Perhaps one thing to be mentioned early on in looking at this work is that it is not only the potential listener who will find this of interest, but the potential reader also, as the concept of the album is so intertwined with it that it cannot, and should not, be ignored. The album title gives away that this is a snapshot of the lives of the famous Italian Renaissance family the Medici, looking in particular at some of the events and personalities surrounding the characters of Contessina and Cosimo Medici. This pair of fabled lovers are voiced brilliantly by Italian vocalist Laura Piazzai and previous Nolan collaborator Andy Sears, this time swapping his more usual scenery-chewing ‘bad guy’ for the more heroic Cosimo character, with Clive himself this time portraying the scheming Rinaldo. Lucrezia is voiced by Elena Vladyuk in another excellent showing, and overall this is a project which could scarcely be faulted from a vocal point of view.

Musically as well this will come as a welcome gift to lovers of grandiose, classically tinged conceptual prog rock, with much of the music possessing the unmistakable ‘grand production’ flair of other Clive Nolan works such as Alchemy or King’s Ransom. It’s right in the wheelhouse of prog rock fans right down to the last crescendo and keyboard flourish, but it also possesses a universal air of gravitas and portent which would see it garner undoubted praise if this were to appear as a filmed dramatisation on The History Channel or suchlike – the music is intertwined with the storyline, and the two help each other along in a genuinely symbiotic relationship, as opposed to falling into the dangers of being either too ‘wordy’ or else the lyrics seeming like an afterthought. It’s perfectly judged.

Packaging-wise this is also a winner, with the booklet contained within the tri-fold digipak CD case being beautifully designed in an authentically ‘period’ way which allows one to become immersed in the historical time while reading the words. There is potential here too for further investigation and education should one’s imagination be fired, for – as the notes here make plain – this is a mere surface look at the intrigue and drama within this chapter in Italian history, and could easily act as the springboard towards a voyage of historical discovery. There is also a double CD deluxe edition, in a hardback ‘Earbook’ format, containing extremely worthwhile re-imaginings of some of the music here, combined with interviews with the main protagonists, and is the really sumptuous way to own this for those so inclined.

With Eric’s passing, the future of Imaginaerium as an entity going forward is less clear, with future works under the project banner possible yet unconfirmed, but there are certainly plans to stage the album as a live production which we can only hope may come to pass. As to the legacy it leaves for Eric Bouillette, that is safe and inviolable. The album dedication speaks emotionally of the album standing in his memory and representing his dream come to reality, and it is hard to imagine that dream as having been realised more immaculately. This is an album which may have a relatively niche ‘hardcore prog’ immediate audience, but it is also one which has the potential to appeal to so many more, and such indeed would be fine tribute to Eric’s legacy and the talent and sheer hard work put into this work of art. Had this sort of thing been available back in my teenage years, I might well have become far more adept in my historical education, that’s for certain!