Nad Sylvan’s ‘vampirate’ trilogy (that’s half vampire and half pirate, although I’m not clear which halves) was a bit of an eye-opener. We all knew he could sing well enough to cope with the vocals demands of early Genesis (you know, the good stuff) and do it with a bit of a Peter Gabriel croak. We also knew he had plenty of baggy white linen shirts and eyeliner. But those of us who were not familiar with his career were surprised to discover he was a talented songwriter too.
I reviewed the second instalment of the trilogy, The Bride Said No, a few years ago and gave it a loud and sturdy ‘Yo ho ho’ because it was absolutely brilliant – bold, theatrical and adventurous, packed to the gunwales with great melodies and featuring the best guitar duel since Dracula was a lad.
So the big question – apart from who the hell cares who becomes Tory leader – is this: Is part three, The Regal Bastard, just as good? Is it riding the crest of the wave or destined to sink without trace? Is it plain sailing on calm seas or has Nad pooped on his own deck? (That’s enough nautical metaphors – Ed)
What I can tell you is this: It’s not as theatrical or as wacky as its predecessor – in fact, apart from the title track, it’s not nearly as prog. But it IS full of great tunes and masterful songwriting. And there is an exquisite instrumental closer that you will want to play over and over again.
The album proper is surprisingly short, about 40 minutes, with two unrelated bonus tracks on the end. Opener I Am The Sea is brooding and dark, with spooky, atmospheric keyboards like the soundtrack of a horror movie and rumbling, thunderous bass that will rattle your speakers and make your family photos fall off the wall. The vampire-pirate-hybrid fellow is clearly not happy as he’s ‘trawling the waves of his passion’. Then the music explodes into one of the many catchy choruses peppered through the album as he’s “living the moment so high”. There’s an emotive and deeply impressive guitar solo from Guthrie Govan and clever use of backing vocals to create almost a dialogue with the main character. Oh, and sound effects of waves. I mean, why wouldn’t you?
When I said this album isn’t as theatrical as its predecessor, I obviously didn’t mean second track Oahu (it’s part of the Hawaiian island chain, geography fans), which could have comes from the score of a piratey rock musical. It embraces an oompah-pah, three-quarter time rhythm with the enthusiasm and gusto of Cardiacs or Lionel Bart in Oliver!, with pounding drums and slashing guitar chords. What sounds like a harpsichord is playing Bach-like figures and Nad’s voice is double-tracked an octave apart. There’s a marvellous, uplifting chorus with repeated “Oahooooo”s, plus brief moments of swiftly-strummed acoustic guitar and Genesis-like keyboard flourishes. In fact, if anything on the album is infused with the spirit of the many Genesis songs he has sung over the years, it’s this.
Whoa (Always Been Without You) is the most blatantly commercial track, a bit sparser with fewer chord changes and a chorus that’s almost stadium rock. It’s relentlessly catchy, a little repetitive and, at 7:22, too long for its own good. Even the guitar solo is underwhelming. Unfortunately, you will find yourself singing it in the shower, or whatever you use for your morning ablutions – even though the title sounds like every Kings of Leon song.
Meet Your Maker is similarly, but not quite, as commercial, with funky bass from Tony Levin, equally funky drums and guest vocals from Tania Doko. Backing vocalists chant “got to meet your maker”, Nad gets to chuckle evilly and there’s some effective, if not outstanding, lead guitar. Again, this is almost criminally catchy but performed with a sense of fun and theatrical mischief.
Now we come to the three best tracks on the album. At 12:20 the title song is the centrepiece and mentions the word “bastard” about 30 times. But this is not just mere insult – Nad is using it in its dictionary-defined sense of someone born out of wedlock. Just like William the Conqueror was previously known as William the Bastard because his mother was an unwed barmaid. Bet they didn’t teach you that at school.
A pulsing bass introduces a snippet of the melody from Oahu as strings fade in and a piano plays tinkling arpeggios. Nad’s vocal comes in over a sparse backing of piano chords. Things build up instrumentally until drums, bass, keyboard strings and piano work in unison under Nad’s impassioned voice. Then there’s a powerful, pounding instrumental section with keyboard and guitar solos before a dramatic big finish. The keyboard strings give the whole piece an epic sweep and suggest Nad has been listening to some of Big Big Train’s lengthier compositions. Like all of Nad’s long songs, it ebbs and flows in mood and tempo and is packed with memorable melodies but never sounds forced or over-stretched.
Leave Me On These Waters is wistful and reflective, with a keyboard motif sounding like the cry of a particularly melodic seagull. It builds up into a fine, medium-paced ballad, ending with a Guthrie Govan guitar solo over a chord sequence that reminds me of ELO’s The Whale from Out Of The Blue.
This segues effortlessly into Honey I’m Home, an optimistic instrumental opening with strummed acoustic guitar reminiscent of a more subdued version of Genesis’s It from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. A chorus of “ahhh”s back up keyboards and an unmistakable Steve Hackett guitar solo.
Final two tracks on the album are bonuses that don’t fit the vampirate story – although the first, Diva Time, is musically very similar, a slow, heavy, pounding minor key ballad in which Nad gets to reveal his inner bitch. The Lake Isle of Innisfree is WB Yeats’ 19th Century poem set to a traditional-sounding minor key melody performed mostly on finger-picked acoustic guitar but with keyboard strings in the second half.
Most trilogies should go like this; You start good, you get better, you end with the best. Anyone who has seen The Godfather trilogy knows things don’t always go to plan. The Regal Bastard has been praised by some reviewers for dialling down on the prog influence and embracing a more modern, accessible and commercial approach. Personally, I think that he has produced an album that’s a bit too lightweight to be the grand finale of his three-album vision.
That’s not to say it’s The Godfather Part III. Like everything Nad does, The Regal Bastard is rich and entertaining, packed full of ideas with a keen sense of melody and drama. And there’s a long list of supporting artists, including Govan, Hackett, Doko, Levin, Jonas Reingold, Nick Beggs and Nick D’Virgilio, to help bring the vision to life.
But, for me, The Bride Says No is his crowning glory – the figurehead, shall we say, on his musical galleon.
01. I Am The Sea (7:48)
02. Oahu (4:19)
03. Whoa (Always Been Without You) (7:22)
04. Meet Your Maker (6:35)
05. The Regal Bastard (12:20)
06. Leave Me On These Waters (5:48)
07. Honey I’m Home (3:01)
08. Diva Time (4:48)
09. The Lake Isle Of Innisfree (3:41)
Total Time – 55:42
Nad Sylvan – Lead Vocals, Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Keyboards, Piano
Steve Hackett – Guitar
Guthrie Govan – Guitar
Anders Wollbeck – Keyboards & Programming, Co-producer
Tony Levin – Electric Bass
Jonas Reingold – Bass
Nick D’Virgilio – Drums, Percussion
Sheona Urquhart – Lead & Backing Vocals, Choir (track 7)
Jade Ell – Lead & Backing Vocals, Choir (track 7)
Tania Doko – Lead & Backing Vocals, Choir (track 7)
Nick Beggs – Choir (track 7)
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: Sweden
Date of Release 5th July 2019