Dave Foster clearly knows full well that a good song is king, no matter what its precise genre or number of mellotrons might be, and this approach forms the fulcrum on which the whole album finds itself balanced.
If you happen to be someone with a working knowledge of the UK prog scene over the last couple of decades, it’s likely that you will know the name Dave Foster, or at least have heard his work. Having first come to prominence in the extremely underrated Mr So And So, he has forged a lengthy alliance with Steve Rothery, who he first met when Mr So And So supported Marillion on their UK tour promoting the album This Strange Engine. Since that time, Dave has gone on to be an integral and longstanding member of the Steve Rothery Band, a position which has seen his reputation blossom. After a highly successful stint with Panic Room, he has latterly gone on to join the much-vaunted Big Big Train, and it is fair to say that his star has rarely been more in the ascendancy.
What some people may not realise, however, is that Dave’s own project, The Dave Foster Band, has been working in the background for some years now, putting out several albums, of which Glimmer is the latest. The line-up of the band includes old Mr So And So bandmate Leon Parr on drums, as well as the highly regarded Neil Fairclough on bass, but the creative spine of the album is Dave’s decade-plus partnership with Dutch singer Dinet Poortman, and between them they have composed all of the tracks on Glimmer. Poortman is a notable talent without doubt, and her work with Dave has continued to be a highly fruitful meeting of musical minds.
Foster’s musical influences have been well-documented as covering all bases from – in his own words – Led Zeppelin to Massive Attack, and while this album is unashamedly positioned squarely within the accessible end of the ‘prog’ genre, it moves around like something of a musical chameleon across its eight tracks, ranging from straight prog rock to prog metal, some pop-rock leanings and one or two more experimental ideas. Dave clearly knows full well that a good song is king, no matter what its precise genre or number of mellotrons might be, and this approach forms the fulcrum on which the whole album finds itself balanced. And ‘balanced’ it happily is, as no single style is allowed to overdo itself or risk overstaying its welcome, right from the word go and the almost tribal, percussive experimentalism of Every Waking Moment. It succeeds as a very intriguing and effective opener, while simultaneously giving few clues as to the direction the rest of album is likely to take – a fact borne out by the very next song Run being a joyous, soaring melodic rocker, straight in the sweet spot of the contemporary song-driven melodic prog as purveyed by the likes of Mostly Autumn, Magenta, and indeed Panic Room. That’s two tracks at very different places on the musical spectrum, and yet complementing each other very effectively.
Things get different again with the multi-faceted Stigma, which manages to take in prog-metal riffing, spacey funk and some almost late-’60s pop-psychedelic moments along its six minute length. Building to a gloriously sweeping climax with Dave giving the first real venting to a properly shredding solo, it’s a track which threatens to be the best thing on the album. Threatens, but doesn’t quite make it – but we’ll get to that soon enough. The languorous, almost Floydian Chasing An Echo is so sumptuously luxuriant that you could practically take a bath in it, while Dive In gives us another hugely cathartic coda, with the kitchen sink threatening to, indeed, dive in, and only just being restrained. Things appropriately lighten up again after that, with the almost pop-rock of Memory Box burrowing its way into your Earworm Centre while allowing the aural palate to be cleansed awaiting another big slice of drama. And so it goes, with what is, to me, the finest piece here.
The longest track at over seven minutes, …Or You Steal Some is a quite magnificent piece. Ebbing and flowing throughout its length, and delivered beautifully by Poortman who excels herself here, once again the closing section takes it up to new heights, with guitar, vocal and some perfectly judged strings delivering what will surely become a show-stopping moment if played live. Everything comes together on this track, and it’s an unassailable highlight. For the closer, things had to veer away slightly from that song’s formula, to avoid any sense of repetition, and this is duly achieved with The Rules Have Changed – as indeed they do constantly on this album from track to track. On this occasion, it’s back to another strident rock piece, driven by a dextrously sinuous yet addictive guitar riff from Foster, snaking its way around the track, sometimes heading for cover but always coming back for more. With more strings to spice up the latter half of the track, it’s a very strong closer, with just the sort of kinetic energy to make you want to leave it running to go right round from the beginning again.
Dave, and indeed the rest of the band can be rightly proud of this album, which certainly makes a very strong case as the best Foster Band record thus far. Dreamless and Nocebo were both particularly fine efforts, but for consistent quality of songwriting, playing and arrangement, Glimmer is hard to beat. If anyone is aware of Dave Foster only from his work with Steve Rothery and thinks of him as essentially a sideman of sorts, then think again. This record shows him striding out into his own spotlight with more confidence and assurance than ever before, and having a superb foil in the shape of Dinet Poortman can only help matters. Keep an eye on things here – they might just get interesting!