March 29, 2024

Flies by in the blink of an eye… not a skipper track to be found, and sounds spectacular…

The Nektar reissue campaign from Esoteric continues with an expanded box set release of one of their most beloved albums. 1975’s ambitious Recycled was a flowing concept piece warning of – and foreshadowing – environmental damage to the earth, and their last to be composed by all five original studio members. With the addition of guest musician Larry Fast’s Moog playing, the band presented another engaging symphonic space-rock journey that shifted through a variety of moods and sounds, with some of their fiercest and most urgent playing to date.

As with their Remember the Future record two years prior, Recycled is comprised of two side-long pieces divided into named subsections with recurring musical motifs and themes. The rhythm section of Derek ‘Mo’ Moore and Ron Howden propels the music with inventive interlocking parts while guitarist and frontman Roye Albrighton delivers a difficult ecological message, set first in a future world and then in a polluted, present-day tropical setting. As Moore recalls, the idea for such a topic came about following the band’s first American tour: ‘On that tour we noticed an abundance of disposable plastic cups, soda cans and paper cups which we had not seen before in Europe. We wondered what happened to all of this stuff when it was thrown away. We were all aware that the abuse of the planet couldn’t go on.’

The album is often considered the last of the band’s ‘classic’ period, with follow-up album Magic is a Child – a less edgy and more varied collection of unrelated songs – signaling a shift into slightly more commercially palatable waters. Recorded mainly at the famous French studio Chateau D’Herouville (dubbed ‘Chateau Horrorville’ by the band, who were not the first to experience difficulties there), the album was finished off at London’s AIR studios, where former Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick became involved and mixed the album, a mix the band weren’t entirely happy with. Further work was undertaken, with overdubs including the English Chorale Choir added, and the album with its new, second mix was finished and ready for the world to hear. Both of these mixes have been newly remastered from the original master tapes by Ben Wiseman and are presented here in this set on discs 1 and 2, making for an interesting comparison. Ultimately each listener will have their own taste and opinion on which they prefer, but I can say that being so used to the second mix of the album, I found it a challenge to accept the Emerick mix. Which is not a criticism of the job he did; simply that there is less going on during some crucial points of the album and it’s tough to overcome the feeling of something missing – with Sao Paulo Sunrise’s choir being one of the more obvious examples. Another thought of course is that a hybrid version of the two could be made, if anyone prefers a dash of one and a dash of the other.

The sound of these discs is crisp and sparkling, and I must say that turned up loud, some of the more vibrant pieces like Cybernetic Consumption, Automaton Horrorscope, and the outstanding Marvellous Moses sound spectacular on my stereo system, and in fact quite modern considering their vintage. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea that just because something has been touched up, it’s worth shelling out more hard-earned dollars for, particularly in cases where you are getting very little difference (or worse yet, a downgrade in quality, all too common nowadays). But this new Esoteric edition is more than a simple repackaging. Not only does the album – in both its mixes – sound terrific, there are a further three discs of live material drawn from two dates on the band’s 1976 tour: the legendary Massey Hall in Toronto, and Long Island’s Calderone Concert Hall.

Out of interest, I researched old Toronto newspaper archives and managed to locate a review of the Massey Hall show found on disc 3. From the Globe and Mail, 27 May 1976:

‘The music and lights pulsed with an improvisational feel, a welcome contrast from the usual rock and roll. Nektar’s music does not fit within the well-worn rock context. The band has recently added Larry Fast (of Synergy fame), whose keyboard and synthesizer talents are exceptional. Alan ‘Taff’ Freeman, also on keyboards, is complemented well by Fast’s ability to speed up or slow down the tempos. Roye Albrighton’s guitar playing was excellent and he played some good licks during his solos. They did many songs from their latest album Nektar Recycled… the opening act Pavlov’s Dog was boring. The gentleman sitting next to me fell asleep during its performance.’

Whether or not it was necessary to include that last line is up in the air, but it was worth a chuckle, at least. These live concerts are a nice treat and contain plenty of material from the Recycled album, as well as choice cuts from previous albums including excellent renditions of epic pieces like A Tab in the Ocean and Remember the Future. Certainly a nice addition to this set as well as any Nektar fan’s collection. And with the inclusion of an illustrated 40 page full colour booklet featuring an essay from Mark Powell, recollections from Moore and Mick Brockett, and packed with photos and lyrics, this one is pretty much a must-have.

Recycled is one of those albums that flies by in the blink of an eye. And it is short (by today’s standards) to be sure, clocking in at a mere 37 minutes, but even still, it’s a sure sign of a good album that you don’t even notice it passing by, and there’s not a skipper track to be found. Kudos to Esoteric for bringing this one back and giving it a nice facelift and expansion; albums of this calibre should not be forgotten, and for anyone – newcomer or devotee – who picks up these lovely sets… they won’t be. Recommended.