Gull 1975 / Esoteric 2018
From medieval fantasy to cerebral celebration, English ensemble unravel psychodrama to reel in fictitious amusements.
What a difference one year can make! Perhaps, it was due to vagaries of live experience that the previously uncategorizable group arrived at their second album as a band who unmistakeably belonged to a genre born on the crossroads where a certain guitarist sold his soul. So it was soul, and mind, that the ensemble explored on “Psi-Fi” which saw them trade tentative identity for commercial sound, helped by external players, including such gloomy luminaries as Hugh Banton and Peter Lemer. Gone were the retrofuturistic fairground and transparency of "Things To Come" – replaced with rock ‘n’ roll histrionics, as deliberate theatricality took over natural entertainment. Here’s the reason why the record hasn’t aged well, although there’s a lot of light moments to revel in.
The initial glimmer of “Return To Foreverland” gets swiftly dissolved in spaceball glam whose cosmic effects can’t enliven mannerisms-laden vocal line, yet its festive refrains are quite infectious – unlike pure prog passages until they start cascading in “Camera Obscura” to form a madrigal and to mix synthesizers’ extravaganza with swirling snippets of choir into inebriating brew, a remedy for boredom. This approach may work better in “Roads To Rome” marrying middle-of-the-road allure, so riveting when Ken Elliott voice is left alone with his ivories, to baroque-like grandeur, before choruses are compromised by comic polyphony, and while the electronic expanse of “Manifestations” could make it truly spectral, the piece’s organ-grounded ghostly pop has much more stereo-swooshing gravity to it.
But if the hopeful gospel uplift of “Loved By You” is rather deep, the memorable epic “Only The Beginning” feels superficial, dabbling in feeble reggae – although one must wonder whether 10CC ever latched onto this percussive, thanks to Kieran O’Connor, single – whereas “Astral Animal” emerges packed with predatory, and funky, playfulness. Still, there are the glorious interlude “Aether Anthem” that’s given an orchestral air and the castanets-strewn Spanish dance “El Tooto” that’s trembling with a sensual detail – grandiose in their heart, albeit brief in terms of actual duration – yet it’s the hymnal “Star Palace Of The Sombre Warrior” that lays the ensemble’s sincere core on the line.
Unfortunately, it was also the end of the line. Soon after the record saw the light of day, the duo would break up to never reconvene, and leave their two albums as a legacy to treasure.