October 22, 2023

Organs swirl, drums and bass lock sharply into hypnotic riffs, guitars crunch, squeal, and drift into wobbly, smoky dimensions. Paradise!

Nektar are more likely to be found in record collections of the snowier-haired among us than thumping through the ear buds of the rising generation, but the string of psychedelic-tinged prog albums they recorded in the 1970s remain timeless essentials today, having influenced many a band in their long, foamy wake. Fortunately the band’s legacy is kept alive by Derek ‘Mo’ Moore, still making albums and playing shows here in the 2020s. But looking ahead, I’d like to think those dewy babes in the decades to come might discover gems like Remember the Future, the artful concept piece Nektar recorded in the latter half of 1973. And that’s about to become more of a possibility.

Live shot taken from the Remember the Future deluxe booklet

A mere twelve days after the sad death of drummer and co-founder Ron Howden, I sat down to listen to the comprehensive new Esoteric boxed set celebrating 50 years of this key album for Nektar, and I was instantly transported to their cosmic and colourful world (Mick Brockett’s legendary liquid light show beaming around my imagination all the while). Esoteric have tackled Nektar reissues previously, but as far as I’m aware this is the first of the back catalogue to receive this level of deluxe and expanded treatment. Brimming with goodies, this 5-disc edition has plenty to wow fans, collectors, and newcomers in equal measure.

Nektar never made the same album back-to-back, certainly not among that sterling run of 70s classics, anyway. When they emerged from Chipping Norton Studios into the August Oxfordshire air, they had recorded an album that would stand several strides apart from the siblings flanking it. With decidedly more polished compositions than its rawer, jammy predecessor …Sounds Like This, and much more epic in scale than its song-based follow-up Down to Earth, this new platter consisted of two multi-section suites simply titled Remember the Future parts one and two. And while the music is not of the overtly complex variety that some of their contemporaries were producing (often to showcase their virtuosity), a dozen or more styles were crammed into the 35 minutes of its grooves, each movement flowing seamlessly into the next. Add a dash of lyrics which matched a kind of extraterrestrial concept, an alluring cover sleeve, and wham! Their most successful album to date – and their North American breakthrough – had landed.

One can only imagine the creative process between four guys knitting such diverse ideas together and coming out the other end with an album so cohesive and listenable (it could easily have gone the other way, as it sometimes famously did for their aforementioned peers). The lush vocal harmonies, psychedelic space-rock, catchy hooks, dreamy reflections, funk motifs, and adventurous arrangements all add up to a thrilling journey. And that’s all without taking a deep dive into the fabulous guitar playing of Roye Albrighton, one of the genre’s most underrated to ever strap on an axe.

Some previous CD issues of the album were poorly handled (particularly the one that improperly used the quad mix, omitting much of the guitar!) and the few decent editions out there – like the 2004 SACD – now command greedy sums on the secondhand market, but it’s safe to say that has all been rectified here. The first two discs in the set consist of a brand new remaster of the original mix as well as a new stereo remix of the album, all handled admirably by Ben Wiseman and rounded out with a handful of bonus tracks, including an 18 minute Let it Grow recorded live in Germany in 1973. The improvement in sound quality is the main draw of this set for me, with crisp drums and clear guitar, bass, and vocals. As a longtime lover of many a dusty old record or flat-sounding CD, I’ve never been one to allow poor sound to ruin a listening experience, but that’s not to say it isn’t a massively welcome improvement to hear this one the way it should be enjoyed.

The Blu-ray disc spoils us for choice. What’s your pleasure… 5.1 Surround Sound? Hi-res stereo remix? Original mix? 1973 Quad mix? They all sound spacious and spectacular; there’s no immoderate compression or harshness here, and it’s all tastefully balanced. A sloppy surround mixing job can be incredibly disappointing, but a competent one can bring already excellent music even further to life, and it’s wonderful to hear newfound detail in this music and allow these sounds to wash over you. Organs swirl, drums and bass lock sharply into hypnotic riffs, guitars crunch, squeal, and drift into wobbly, smoky dimensions. Paradise! The disc is rounded out with vintage video footage from BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test and a promo film of the band performing chunks of Remember the Future (this time, you won’t need your imagination for those groovy light shows).

Another major draw is the previously unreleased live concert from Germany in January of 1974, sprawled across discs 3&4 and treating us to nearly two hours of music from a catalogue that was then a mere four albums old. Obviously material from Remember the Future is a heavy feature of the set list, but renditions of older gems like King of Twilight and Desolation Valley, and several tracks from the forthcoming Down to Earth are further highlights. This unearthed concert made for perfect accompaniment while I pored over the 64-page booklet which is packed with photos, lyrics, a new essay on the band’s history and Moore’s own recollections of the period.

This long overdue revisiting tops my list of 2023 rediscoveries, and elicits a twinge of guilt for having let Remember the Future – and even Nektar themselves – drift down the ranks while my focus shifted elsewhere. But that ends now, thanks to this spiffy new box which has proven difficult to stop listening to. I have been reminded in no uncertain terms that this was not only an innovative band, but one who could really play. And to the dearly departed Roye Albrighton, Allan ‘Taff’ Freeman, and Ron Howden, we salute your fantastic contributions to this album, and to the world of music… and we remember you, here in the future.

Remember the Future 50th anniversary edition is Released 24 November.