When multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Andy Foster produced his debut release, The Way Home, a year ago, I was bowled over by the sheer melodic vibrancy on show. Like condensed sunshine, the raft of accessible, and yet deceptively complex songs were a breath of fresh air. His stunning vocals, sparkling instrumentation and shiny production values reminded me of the classic ’80s pop of the likes of Go West and Nik Kershaw, but with the prog-pop sensibilities of It Bites, the numerous projects of John Mitchell and even later-period Genesis. There were also subtle elements of John Young’s Lifesigns in the soundscapes of some of the longer compositions. It remained one of my top albums the entire year and always delivered when I returned to it repeatedly, like a ‘proggy’ comfort blanket.
So how on Earth was Andy going to follow up such an impressive debut album? The list of musicians, across all genres, who have failed to produce a sophomore release to match their initial burst of creativity is sadly a very long one. Surely all the great ideas that have gestated over the years have already seen the light?
Well, it is my pleasure to announce that Andy has not only matched the quality of the first Kite Parade album with Retro, but, in my humble opinion, he has exceeded it! Not only do you have melody-driven songs as memorable as the likes of The Way Home, This Time and Letting Go, but overall, the album is both more consistent and more dynamically complex too. Even the wonderful epic Stranded has been trumped by the outstanding Merry-Go-Round.
Andy handles the vocals, guitar, bass and keyboard programming with great aplomb, and even throws in some memorable saxophone lines at times. However, once again, it is the amazing drumming of Big Big Train’s Nick D’Virgilio, on all but one of the tracks, that drives the musical journey effortlessly throughout. Andy’s already excellent production standards are mixed and mastered to an even higher sheen and polish by the incomparable Rob Aubrey (of BBT and IQ fame). If there is a fresher and better sounding album released this coming year, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
The opening title track, and lead-off single, delivers Kite Parade’s prog-pop credentials in spades. Retro begins with spiky and shallow spoken extracts from an American shopping channel over the powerful, guitar riff-led introduction, which is soon joined by swirling keyboard lines, before Andy’s clean and breezy vocals grab the limelight. Nick’s jaunty drumming propels this song relentlessly. Lyrically, the song is about the fight against consumerism. The ‘experts’ that continually bombard us with products to change our lives – not only what to wear or say, but what to think too. Andy suggests that maybe going back to simpler times is an option worth considering!
Better be damn quick now ‘cos it won’t be around too long.
Maybe go retro to save yourself a load.”
Brimming full of memorable hooks and snippets of exuberant instrumentation, it’s a great way to kick off the album – and the accompanying video gives us a tantalising preview of what any future live appearances could look like.
Speed of Light also opens up with spoken sounds – this time those of Mission Control, as we prepare for a rocket launch into space. A rather funky, shifting bass and drum rhythm provides the foundation to some soaring keyboard patterns, hints of electronica and a trademark big chorus.
We close our eyes, pray to all of our gods at the speed of light, speed of light.”
There is a nicely judged darker tone here, both musically and lyrically, as Andy contemplates a journey we hopefully will never need to make. Finding another home out in space, if we are unable fix this planet and reverse the damage we are doing to it. There are some refreshing shifts in tempo and tone, with a lovely guitar solo midway, along with an extended period of intertwining musical paths, before the return to the chorus and a vibrant finale.
That environmental message is emphasised further by Wonderful. Starting with a gentle acoustic guitar and plaintive vocals, this thoughtful, slow burner of a ballad steadily gains depth and gravitas with guitar, bass, drums and keyboards combining into an uplifting, complex and rich instrumental soundscape, with some lovely prog noodlings to savour here and there. Pete Smith’s lyrics are a plea to us to do something wonderful to be able to leave our amazing world intact for future generations to enjoy.
And all that I know, is that we can’t stop the future now, so we better do something wonderful.”
The sound of birdsong and the chiming of distant church bells might conjure up the start of Pink Floyd’s High Hopes momentarily for many, but whilst there is indeed a similar, wistful melancholy to proceedings, Shadows Fall is a different beast. Warm waves of simple acoustic guitar accompany Andy’s thoughtful contemplation of a life lived as the shadows fall at the end of the day. Different paths not taken? Regrets? Did we ever have control of our life choices, or was it all mapped out by fate?
The beauty of this track is the way it builds momentum as the dreamy vocals and instrumentation intertwine and become more complex and diverse. Andy skilfully plays with subtle chord changes that are so resonant of the music of Kite Parade, soothing harmonies adding to the grandeur. Nice fretless bass from Vladimir Kurganov and a lovely saxophone solo from Andy are track highlights before a pulsating and staccato interlude and then some sweeping musical themes that fans of the melodic prog rock of Lifesigns and Lonely Robot will lap up. Just time for another well-placed closing guitar solo before a return to the catchy chorus:
Always thought we’d planned it, but our journey turned out how it’s meant to be.”
Andy has clearly found a unique signature style to his music on this album, with all the tracks showing nuances of these in a coherent way, but without getting repetitive or formulistic. Under the Same Sun is a good example of how Andy continues to mix mainstream pop music structures with more intricate progressive passages. The darker and more mysterious tone of the introduction is built upon by lighter stabs of bright guitar and keyboard chords, and the flowing chorus reminded me of Nik Kershaw in his heyday.
Rich or poor we breath the free air. Maybe one day be as one.”
Steve Thorne’s lyrics have a powerful, political edge as they shout for the equality that should be afforded to us all, and Joe Crabtree (formally of Wishbone Ash) on drums and Russell Milton on bass, provide a solid foundation, allowing some striking guitar flights of fancy from Daz Atkinson and finally some throbbing Hammond organ soloing by Steve Bradford through to the sharp ending.
Despite the quality and vitality of the five mid-length album tracks so far, they are aperitifs to the main course. The closing epic Merry-Go-Round is destined to become the defining centrepiece of the album. Running to almost 15-minutes, as did Stranded on the debut, this new multi-faceted prog epic not only matches that much loved track but exceeds it in quality and vision, in my view. Smoother transitions and more linkage between sections, with a majestic sweep, lots of space for progressive musical excursions and a satisfying conclusion. Nick returns to the drum kit and impresses throughout, but the rest is all down to Andy himself, save some nice harmony backing vocals by Jessica Chambers peppered here and there to great effect. As you’d expect, Steve Thorne’s lyrics are complex and bitingly damning of the worrying state of affairs we find ourselves in at present and suggest that maybe we should demand the peace we all dream about, get off the merry-go-round and break the cycle.
Musically, it is a tour-de-force. It starts with chiming piano, and dreamy keyboards create a sombre, languid atmosphere with rising guitar motifs before the bass accompanies the heartfelt, defiant vocals.
No, never fear love, never look down.
Always look up to the stars.”
There is a haunting shift in musical direction just before midway, and some dynamic interweaving of keyboards and guitar, before a lighter, more optimistic and joyous tone appears as the tempo quickens and the catchy secondary refrain commences.
It’s easy to change your mind and you know,
We got it wrong from the start.
The absence of heart was fatal, now look where we are.”
The intensity of the song builds incrementally, flowing to a well-rounded instrumental conclusion – ending the album very satisfyingly. No need for excessive musical showboating here, the coherence resonates more powerfully, with the melodic character of the track never lost.
Andy Foster has done it again. Retro is another highly enjoyable, melodic and accessible prog-pop album, that somehow manages to raise the bar further still from the impressive debut. Andy shows that he now has the confidence to embrace more musically progressive ideas without sacrificing his uncanny ability to conjure up joyous melodies – all heightened by sparkling and gleaming production values. For those who like their prog rock on the melodic side, Retro is an essential purchase, and I already know it is destined to be one of my albums of 2023.
01. Retro (5:53)
02. Speed of Light (7:14)
03. Wonderful (6:24)
04. Shadows Fall (9:14)
05. Under the Same Sun (6:33)
06. Merry-Go-Round (14:35)
Total Time – 46:53
Andy Foster – Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Saxophone, Keyboard Programming
Nick D’Virgilio – Drums (tracks 1,2,3,4 & 6)
Joe Crabtree – Drums (track 5)
Russell Milton – Bass (track 5)
Vladimir Kurganov – Fretless Bass (track 4)
Steve Bradford – Hammond Organ Solo (track 5)
Daz Atkinson – Guitar Solo (track 5)
Jessica Chambers – Backing Vocals (track 6)
Record Label: White Knight Records
Formats: CD, Digital
Country of Origin: U.K.
Dates of Release: 14 th March 2023 (CD) | 7th April 2023 (Bandcamp: CD & Download)