Arista 1980 / Esoteric 2014
Popular classics give strength in numbers: number two album that reached number one spot.
If any serious calculation shared space with creativity in the making of SKY’s debut, its commercial success still was somewhat unexpected. That’s why, perhaps, “Sky 2” exudes a desire to get away from the first album’s clean immediacy in favor of compositional exploration: hence the two platters, with a suite taking an entire side of the vinyl. But then, as if to compromise the intent, here’s a full-on final accessibility of the single which trumpeted the record’s advent. Bach’s “Toccata” is one of the most recognizable pieces of music, and it takes a lot of effort to make it original – yet this quintet rendered it effortless and even catchy, while a version of CURVED AIR‘s “Vivaldi” could have signaled the lack of material for such a span if it wasn’t reimagined with such gusto to put heavy guitars to the fore.
More so, it links logically to the two-mandolin vignette of Vivaldi’s “Andante” at the same time amplifying the delicate, double-acoustic mood of Praetorius’ “Ballet-Volta” before the harpsichord carries it over from the 17th to 18th century with Rameau’s “Gavotte” and vibrantly modern variations on the theme. Adding to the contrast, Herbie Flowers’ humorous “Tuba Smarties” – the bassist played brass in the RAF band – and percussion fest of “Tristan’s Magic Garden” blow up the grandiosity of Francis Monkman’s aforementioned four-part opus “FIFO,” where the organist also shows his axe-wielding skills amidst the exquisite synthesizers’ throb, but this emotional opulence reveals its pleasures slowly. The electric reserve of opener “Hotta” doesn’t discharge its glimmer beyond Keen Peek’s twangy flourishes and Tristan Fry’s drum solo, albeit “Sahara,” whose piano chords flower into anxious six-string splashes and flamenco-like flashes from John Williams, is all but dry despite its mellifluous elegiac resolution in the middle.
And just like with the meeting opposites on the first album, “Scipio” marries pop-rocking with classicism by superimposing the piece’s first part onto the second one and deploying all the ensemble’s means to give it as much impetus as possible. As far as musical jokes go, this album smokes and, although it takes more than one spin to get the gist of what turned it into a chart-topper, the ride is great. It’s even great with this reissue’s bonus DVD holding a whole of the concert recorded at “Hammersmith Odeon” in 1980 for BBC and remaining the only full live document of the quintet’s original line-up.