The idea of a new Nektar album in 2020 is not really something I’d have expected. After the sad death in 2016 of Roye Albrighton, founder guitarist and much-loved character, it seemed that the band would probably fade away, remaining a memory in the progressive rock history books. When it became apparent that some new music would be forthcoming, I rather assumed it would be unlikely to include any original members, and as such, I approached this release with extreme caution to say the least. The band has near-legendary status in the minds of many progressive rock fans who are ancient enough to recall their heyday in the seventies, so there would be an awful lot to live up to; an impossible task surely?
Well, when the album arrived, the first thing of note is that founder members Ron Howden (drums) and Derek ’Mo’ Moore (bass/vocals) are back in the fold. To be fair, Ron never really left, having been pretty much a permanent fixture since day one. Another character from Nektar’s past is Ryche Chlanda who was in the ranks on guitar back in 1978 during Roye Albrighton’s period of absence, and he is back in the band. Similarly, Randy Dembo (bass, bass pedals, 12-string guitar) is another former band member from 2005, with the line-up completed by Kendall Scott on keyboards. And to the delight of die-hard fans, Mick Brockett is also involved, reprising his non-playing role as lights and special effects man. So, respectability is restored to the Nektar camp, and we haven’t played it yet!
Opener I’m On Fire begins with a Hammond drone and fading-in feedback before coming to life as a fairly sprightly rocker. After a few minutes the song breaks down into a guitar-led instrumental section which is very typical of mid-Seventies Nektar, Ryche’s guitar trading licks with Kendall on organ to good effect. Lyrically, it’s based on a poem written by Mo Moore for his soon-to-be wife back in 1978, so I won’t be too critical. I’m sure she loved it!
In fact, a few of the songs here have their origins in 1978 when the band were working on an album which never got recorded before they split towards the end of that year. Second track SkyWriter is another song from those sessions (originally intended to be Sky Pilot) and is quite a catchy piece with some lovely textural tones from Kendall Scott’s keys and lead guitar from Ryche Chlanda. The overall sound is very authentic to the sonics on their seventies output, with much of that studio jam feel so evident throughout those albums. This continues on the next piece, which sounds to me like two songs welded together. Love Is……The Other Side is the song in question, and the clue is in the title. I’m rather glad they decided to play these tunes against each other, as Love Is… on its own is so laid-back it makes Fleetwood Mac sound radical. As it is, it gets rescued by …The Other Side sections as the track alternates between the two themes for the first few minutes. …The Other Side, an obvious reference to departed loved ones, a theme throughout, is instantly more interesting and adventurous in feel, with extended instrumental passages of keys and shimmering guitar, Ryche channelling his inner Albrighton to great effect, notes echoing and dripping out of the sky like rain. After its inauspicious opening bars, this track deservedly becomes the centrepiece of the album, justifying its inordinate length. The following song is my favourite though, Drifting is a superb piece of drama, with ominous chords descending and giving way to more acid-drenched lead guitar work, suitably distorted, fitting the mood wonderfully. Keyboard strings pick out the melody, and eventually vocals appear near the end, synths warbling away in a Floydian reverie, fading and drifting away.
A genuine relic of a song next, Devil’s Door which Nektar played live back in 1974, but not recorded as far as I know until now. It could very easily have slotted into Recycled or Down To Earth at the time, but for whatever reason didn’t. The guitar intro has been rescued from a live tape, and so Roye Albrighton is allowed a guest spot, and a nice tip of the hat that is too.
The pace drops a bit after these high points. The Light Beyond is basically a keyboard solo, pleasant enough but not essential, and Look Thru Me is a ballad with some pretty keyboard flourishes, but rather anonymous. The final track though is much better and rounds off the album nicely. Y Can’t I B More Like U (no idea why they opted to use Slade style mis-spelling!) is another much more typical Nektar romp, with introspective verses interspersed with some tasty improvisation.
So overall, I have to be impressed. The band have credibly reunited and found that often elusive spark which made them special in the first place. No, it isn’t the same without Roye, of course not, but they have created an album which is honest and authentic to the legacy created over the last fifty years. It won’t rank as equal in stature to the albums of the early seventies, but it’s faithful in spirit to the legend, and many of the songs will sound good in a live setting for sure alongside the classic repertoire. By all accounts, the band plan to visit the UK and Europe later this year, and I would recommend catching them while you can.
[And you can read Graham’s interview with Derek ‘Mo’ Moore of Nektar HERE.]
01. I’m On Fire (8:32)
02. SkyWriter (7:52)
03. Love Is……The Other Side (17:57)
04. Drifting (9:11)
05. Devil’s Door (8:11)
06. The Light Beyond (2:51)
07. Look Thru Me (5:01)
08. Y Can’t I B More Like U (6:31)
Total Time – 66:06
Randy Dembo – Bass, Bass Pedals, 12-string Guitar
Ryche Chlanda – Guitars, Vocals, Lyrics
Kendall Scott – Keyboards
Derek ‘Mo’ Moore – Bass, Vocals, Lyrics
Ron Howden – Drums, Vocals
Mick Brockett – Visual Conceptions, Lyrics
Record Label: Cherry Red Records
Date of Release: 24th January 2020