I’ve had a pretty spotty history with Nektar. My first brush with the group was with their sophomore album A Tab in the Ocean, which is their highest rated on ProgArchives. I was especially charmed with the first side, the anthemic 17-minute title track, but found that muddy production and a heavy reliance on straight repetition to artificially increase the length of the song held it back from being a masterpiece.
Undeterred, I tried their second most highly-rated album, Remember the Future. And I just never got into it. Yes, the intro was good, and the production was far better than Tab, but it was neither complex nor cohesive enough to justify its existence as an album-length suite. If there had been a few more running themes I might not have dropped this album so quickly from my playlists.
I then went on to review the reissue compilation Man in the Moon/Evolution and 2013’s Time Machine during my tenure with DPRP, each release cementing my resolve to not give the group another chance, as it didn’t seem worth it. Even at the height of their career, Nektar only played a very shallow version of prog that borrowed from their contemporaries, but they never had the innovation to make something truly original.
Fast forward a decade to when Esoteric announced a 50th anniversary deluxe reissue of Remember the Future, the very album that had caused me to stop exploring the group’s oeuvre. I knew the album wasn’t all bad, so I felt like giving it a second chance; after all, opinions can change over time.
So, on it went. The classic, catchy verses of the introduction greeted me, just as sharp as they’d ever been. As the album wore on, however, I was reminded of all my criticisms of the past. The album is presented as two continuous suites of music but is actually made up of ten parts which have very little to do with each other. Sometimes the segues between these sections are seamless and at other times they are more abrupt. Had just a few themes from Side 1 been allowed to exist in Side 2, we’d have had a more cohesive and fulfilling suite.
If we look at other progressive suites from this era, such as Close to the Edge and Tarkus, there’s a clear sense of dynamic contrast and having a showstopper moment, usually towards the end. Remember the Future has surprisingly little contrast, with each song having roughly the same energy as the one before it. And while there are some showstopper moments, they failed to grab me on my initial listen, because I was waiting for something bigger and better to knock me off my feet.
The box set includes two versions of the album, a new remaster and a new remix by Ben Wiseman. The advantage of this is that the listener is forced to listen to the album twice, and I realised there were already elements that were growing on me by the second listen. In the early days, I had rarely made it as far as the second side, which had always seemed weaker to me. This time around, I realised that there was a lot more meat on this side of the album than originally met the eye. I was becoming thrilled by the Floydian Recognition and the triplet fills in the Let it Grow finale.
Soon, I was enjoying all of it. As I said before, the album has a surprising amount of energy that stays consistent throughout, and none of it is weak; it’s just not particularly strong either. But as simple as the compositional components might be, there’s something particularly effective about it, such as the drum rolls in Wheel of Time or the 5/4 prog breakdown in Confusion. The production is crystal clear, especially on the remix, and the instruments all glimmer, sometimes sounding almost sickly sweet, but it certainly ensures that every second is a joy for the ears. At 2:58 on Side 2, the band suddenly changes to a more positive key and the tight playing – every note made audible by the impeccable production – makes this moment much more triumphant and powerful. Even though Nektar don’t have the complexity and depth of Yes or the pure, raw soul of Pink Floyd, I realised there were little joys to be found in every section of the album by just listening to some of the subtle details. Presented in this spanking new remix, it’s a feast for the ears.
Of course, the 50th Anniversary box has more treats for those willing to part with their hard-earned £46. Alongside some obligatory single versions, that have been previously released, there is an embryonic 18-minute live rendition of Let it Grow recorded several months before the group made the album. This funky version is almost unrecognisable from the album version and feels more like a jam than a completed song. I can’t say I’ll be returning to it, but I’m sure it will be fascinating to Nektar enthusiasts.
There’s also a full 110-minute concert from 28th January 1974 that gives a more complete look into the band’s live personality at the time. I was quite astounded by the amount of freeform jamming and realised that perhaps the band’s studio albums were seen as less important than their live act. Perhaps it was wrong to judge them on their studio work alone. After all, the group considered Mick Brockett, who did the band’s innovative liquid light show, to be a full member of the group, even though his presence cannot be felt whilst listening to the albums. There are a few gems from A Tab in the Ocean (though sadly not the title track) and a full run-through of Side 1 of Remember the Future, as well as some more loose tracks from the loose album …Sounds Like This; A Day in the Life of a Preacher is stretched from thirteen minutes to twenty! The show is closed with a stomping rendition of Let it Grow, this time played as recorded on the album, and quickly becoming my favourite part altogether. Sadly, the muddy audio quality makes it difficult to fully appreciate this live recording, but it’s still interesting to hear this approximation of their sound.
Remember the Future was one of the albums in the ’70s to receive the quadraphonic treatment, and purchasers of this set can hear it for themselves, provided they have a Blu-ray player and surround sound. I have no such luxuries at home and thus cannot comment on this part of the box set, or indeed the new 5.1 mix, lovely as I’m sure it is. But I was able to view the visual content supplied alongside these mixes, which includes a promotional film featuring Let it Grow (which I’m still not tired of) as well as two Old Grey Whistle Test performances from 1973. The first of these, Wings, features no footage of the group and instead a highly experimental video of some seagulls. The other two videos give a more traditional look at the group playing together, and my first chance to see the late Roye Albrighton singing, playing and generally enjoying himself. It was a bittersweet moment. Crucially, both Let it Grow and Desolation Valley feature Brockett’s spectacular light show overlaid onto the video to give the audience a feel for one of the group’s live shows. Towards the end of the promotional film, the camera begins to dolly behind the large screen and actually shows Brockett and his multitude of flashing lights, giving him as much credit as the rest of the group. The effect is truly psychedelic and one has to wonder how Brockett is achieving all those effects, such as having a cubic array of green bubbles suspended in a purple liquid.
The accompanying booklet is of Esoteric’s normal high standard, featuring plenty of group photos and posters and including an insightful introductory essay by bassist Derek Moore (with the assistance of Brockett) as well as a more general overview of the album by label manager Mark Powell. One of my more surprising discoveries was made when inspecting the 1973 tour dates for Nektar on one of these posters: it seems that there was a venue named Boobs in Bristol in the 1970s which was frequented by Thin Lizzy as well as Fruupp. It seems as if you could get away with just about anything back then.
I’m very glad to have picked up this box set as it gave me a chance to reassess Nektar and this album in particular, which I will be returning to more frequently. Ben Wiseman’s remix is conservative but I reckon more punchy than the original version, and I’d be interested to read what Nektar enthusiasts have to say about it. The full added concert feels a little excessive and doesn’t provide much extra value given the poor audio quality. One would hope for more studio outtakes, but given how fast the album was recorded – just three days, according to Powell – perhaps there weren’t any to be found.
In a time where almost any classic prog album would be eligible to receive a swanky 50th Anniversary release, one wonders what makes Remember the Future so special and not the scores of other incredible albums from 1973. It feels as if this album was picked from a hat to be reissued, and since the dates lined up, it just had the “50th Anniversary” tag slapped on it. Nevertheless, this is a fitting and definitive edition of an album that I never looked back at, and I’m glad this reissue came along to change my mind.
Disc One – Remember the Future: The 50th Anniversary Remaster
01. Remember the Future, Part One (16:44)
02. Remember the Future, Part Two (19:07)
~ Bonus Track:
03. Let it Grow (Live in Erbach, Germany April 1973) (18:02)
Time – 53:52
Disc Two – Remember the Future: The 50th Anniversary Stereo Remix
01. Remember the Future, Part One (16:55)
02. Remember the Future, Part Two (19:14)
~ Bonus Tracks:
03. Lonely Roads (German promo single version) (3:51)
04. Let it Grow (German promo single version) (2:20)
Time – 42:19
Disc Three – Live at Stadthalle, Munster, Germany 28th January 1974
01. King of Twilight (9:06)
02. Desolation Valley (9:33)
03. A Day in the Life of a Preacher (20:02)
04. Cast Your Fate (5:39)
05. Remember the Future, Part One (15:40)
Time – 59:59
Disc Four – Live at Stadthalle, Munster, Germany 28th January 1974
01 Odysee (3:00)
02 That’s Life (6:21)
03 Fidgety Queen (5:08)
04 Ron’s On (4:20)
05 Show Me the Way (8:38)
06 Little Boy (3:09)
07 Need Love (5:00)
08 Smile / Lonely Roads (6:30)
09 Let it Grow (8:01)
Time – 50:02
Disc Five – Remember the Future 96 kHz / 24-bit 5.1 Surround Sound Mix / Stereo Remix / Original Stereo Mix / 1973 Quad Mix
01. Remember the Future, Part One (16:55)
02. Remember the Future, Part Two (19:14)
~ Visual content:
01. Remember the Future (promotional film 1973) (3:34)
02. Wings (BBC TV Old Grey Whistle Test – 10th July 1973) (3:52)
03. Desolation Valley / Waves (BBC TV Old Grey Whistle Test – 23rd October 1973) (9:39)
Time – 53:14
Total Time – 4:19:25
Roye Albrighton – Guitars, Vocals
Derek “Mo” Moore – Bass, Vocals
Allan “Taff” Freeman – Keyboards, Vocals
Ron Howden – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Mick Brockett – Lights