In And Out Of Focus / Cherry Red 2018
Going up to eleven, Dutch legends deliver a record straight out of house of the king.
Even though experimentation has never left this band’s building, it seemed rather subtle since their reformation in the millennium, yet succumbing to sunset years isn’t part of the veterans’ agenda. There’s been a few new-aspects-revealing records after "X" was out – including "The Family Album" from FOCUS and SWUNG’s "Vol.1 & 2" – and such a stock-taking endeavor resulted in a work that’s on par with the Hollanders’ ’70s output which served as a template for “11” – or as an exquisite excuse to expand the patinated palette.
The energy levels of riff-driven opener “Who’s Calling?” are so high that it takes some time for the listener to recognize the ensemble’s style and savor the hard-rock implementation of the piece’s question, and this is only the gambit for mind games that will follow – like “Palindrome”: a funky exercise in structural symmetry and a reined-in grandiosity. As fusion frills are formed on Menno Gootjes’ fretboard, and Pierre Van Der Linden’s drums and Udo Pannekeet’s bass engage in either finely textured groove or – as proved by “Theodora Na Na Na” – lucid daydream, Thijs van Leer steers the ship into fresh waters, adding boogie piano and baroque organ to “Heaven” whose bossa nova fringe springs from the group’s "Beyond The Horizon" adventure before Renaissance folk motifs become simultaneously solemn and playful – up to a “Sylvia” quote thrown in.
Vocals are tentative here, often reduced to brief scat, and the only song per se on offer is “How Many Miles?” – another melodic question, where the signature flute would also appear – while the elastic elegy of “Winnie” has blues and pastorale rolled into one, and “Mare Nostrum” exerts a rarefied art-rock air with a whiff of orchestra. But if there’s a solid chug to “Final Analysis” to try and thicken the plot, it’s the finale, the record’s title track, that – full of country-tinged nostalgia – might be the most elegant number on display, which, running the entire gamut of the ensemble’s abilities, must show their waves still move… and, hopefully, carry on moving for years to come.