MERV SPENCE – Phenomena Recovered

Initiate 1995 / Explore Rights Management 2023

On the level: new master of supernatural experience polishes souvenirs from the past.

Phenomena Recovered

For all its brilliance Tom Galley’s PHENOMENA was not only blessed but also cursed by the presence of stellar talent and various singers which made the series’ concept rather vague, especially with the initial installment fueled by Glenn Hughes‘ vocals, "Dream Runner" featuring him on some of the tracks, with the lead single delivered by to John Wetton, while "Innervision" focused on the voice of someone called O’Ryan. The enigmatic performer turned out to be Mervyn Spence whom Tom’s brother Mel had wanted to front TRAPEZE, but though the bassist would land his first prominent stint on "Raw To The Bone" by WISHBONE ASH instead, he ended up owning the rights to the entire endeavor. And despite its creator adding another three chapters to the sci-fi saga, the listeners’ interest remained aimed at the original trilogy, so when a Japanese label asked Spence to record a few old cuts in the mid-’90s, Merv rounded up the pieces from that triad to provide a common sonic denominator for the project’s early material.

And those songs are given a new shine now, Mervyn’s strong pipes painting familiar tunes in a fresh manner – the most remarkable change in melody making his blistering rendition of “Phoenix Rising” a standout performance – whereas Spence’s arrangements highlight details on and add nuances to the faithfully restored classics. Yet if opener “Still The Night” – shot through with Martin Taylor’s six-string lace which will also decorate “What About Love?” to balance this bombastic number’s bottom end and Huwie Lucas’ sharp riffs – retains the stormy potential of its prototype, the obscurer “Shape It Up” and “A Whole Lot Of Love” unfold their grandeur in a gloriously restrained way, the tracks’ gospel-like refrains elevating the ensemble’s groove to celestial heights. And if the stomping imperatives of “Stop!” and “Believe” haven’t been colored too differently, apart from receiving a more delicate vibe here – unlike “No Retreat, No Surrender” or “It Must Be Love” that seem almost identical to what was preserved for posterity in the late ’80s – “Did It All For Love” sounds very much updated in terms of aural transparency, peaking with a brief vignette on acoustic guitar.

However, to flesh it out in temporal context, the 65-year-old veteran dusted off the 1993 version of “Slave” which could fit on the abandoned fourth volume of the series, and returned to the studio in 2023 to redress, playing all instruments himself, “Rock My Soul” and “Dance With The Devil” and find timelessness in them – again. To find and to build a bridge to his next album, the next bend on the “Phenomena” route.


October 19, 2023

Category(s): Reissues
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