February 24, 2020

If you were a Nektar admirer during those heady days of A Tab In The Ocean or Recycled, you can approach this without trepidation: the legacy is in fine hands and has been respectfully added to

Things are a bit complicated – and crowded – in the Nektar camp at the moment, which is a very odd state of affairs for a band who most thought had finished for good after key member Roye Albrighton’s death in 2016, and most other people thought had disappeared for good after the ’70s! Nevertheless, we now find ourselves in the surreal situation of this supposedly dead band demonstrating that their obituary was not only an exaggeration but doubly so, as two separate Nektars bestride the Atlantic like twin prog colossi – one based in Germany with no founder members and this one based in the US containing three originals and two other past members, yet having to fight legally for the name. And Wishbone Ash think they have it bad!

Anyhow, while those pesky legal wranglings are sorted out we have this album from the new/old/however you wish to term it version of the band, who are fighting for the right to tour Europe yet happily have been able to release this album. A band who were all British, yet were thought by most of the world in the 1970s to actually be German, should be used to confusion I would imagine, and the good news is that they have produced an excellent album here, which is certainly up alongside the top tier of their ’70s output. It even has cover artwork by Helmut Wenske (who IS German!), the man behind so many of their classic covers, and who sadly has had to retire from painting since this work was completed. The album is even a loose concept of sorts, based around ‘The Other Side’ being wherever we go after death. You can read more about that concept in the Velvet Thunder interview with founding member Derek ‘Mo’ Moore here. But let’s have a look at the tracks on offer, shall we?

Opening the album is a full-tilt proggy piece entitled I’m On Fire, which has its genesis in a poem Mo wrote to his wife when they first met. A nice semi-epic ten minute opener, it is full of keyboard flourishes and driven largely by a complex riff which oddly recalls Steeleye Span’s own lengthy track Long Lankin, though I am certain any resemblance is purely coincidental! A good strong album opener, which is nevertheless bettered by the following Skywriter, which is developed from a 1978 track called Skypilot which was never completed, and is one of the strongest moments on the album. The chief strength of the song is just that: it is a very strong piece of songwriting, and worked from that into its prog framework. It’s a great piece, and one which is very welcome to see appearing after the odd four decades it was kept in mothballs…

After this we get seriously epic, with the 20 minute almost-title-track Love Is/The Other Side, which will scratch that itch that Nektar fans of old may be feeling for another ‘side-long’ extravaganza like the golden days. And it doesn’t disappoint, containing some splendid instrumental sections showing off the chops of the various members to great effect. To these ears it is stretched ever so slightly toward the end, as if it fell naturally at about 16 minutes but was extended to have the magic length, but we can forgive them that. There are far worse offenders from the ’70s among the top prog outfits, naming no names but it’s most of them!

At this point we could be said to have had the perfect vinyl prog album, fitting the classic formula of the side-long epic and two songs on the other side (step forward, Close To The Edge and Relayer). However, those who may be preparing to complain about overlong albums these days should consider how good this would seem if those first three tracks had a free second disc containing the rest. And also take a moment to remember Physical Graffiti and Tales From Topographic Oceans as well. So, moving on we get the highly Floydian near-instrumental piece Drifting, its languid Gilmour-esque guitar work doing as the title suggests until a couple of vocal lines come in from nowhere near the end of its nine-minute duration. It’s a beautiful change of pace, but is bettered by the following Devil’s Door. Again, built on an old, abandoned piece, the intro features some of the original guitar work from Roye Albrighton, a very nice touch seeing as he is indeed on ‘The Other Side’. Along with Skywriter probably the best track on here, it’s a superb song which once again places the composition front and centre but backs it up with some superbly tight ensemble playing. A short keyboard interlude called The Light Beyond leads into the ballad Look Thru Me, which builds to a full band arrangement very effectively toward the end and leads us into the excellent, if oddly titled, closer Y Can’t I B More Like U, which reads like a Prince album crossed with a text message! Title aside, it’s a great closing track with heartfelt and extremely earthbound lyrics reminding us that this is an emotional concept rather than a woolly fantastical one.

If you were a Nektar admirer during those heady days of A Tab In The Ocean or Recycled, you can approach this without trepidation: the legacy is in fine hands and has been respectfully added to. If you’re a prog fan of more recent vintage – which happily there are substantial numbers these days – and you haven’t yet checked out this remarkable band, then this is as good an introduction as you could ask for. Nektar. Sweet!