Album Review – Nektar “The Other Side”

Posted: March 6, 2020 in Uncategorized
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Review: “The Other Side” Nektar
by Ken Applin

Album released January 2020 on Cherry Red Records

Nektar, the legendary Prog Rock band, recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of their founding in 1969. To further commemorate this landmark, the band started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for their 14th studio album titled “The Other Side”. The project raised over $33,000 allowing the album to be completed for release this month.

A bit of history: Nektar was founded in Hamburg Germany and later moved to the US. During the late 60s and early 70s, popular music made a huge shift from AM-radio pop singles to FM-radio deep cuts (also called “Album-Oriented Rock”, or “AOR”, by the recording industry). This was a magical time for Prog Rock that lasted until the mid to late-70s when Disco, Punk, and New Wave (all simpler and more accessible music styles) took over the airwaves. During this magical period, Nektar released their first 7 albums, 5 of which made it onto the US Billboard Top 200. Their 4th album, “Remember the Future”, climbed all the way to #19 in 1973. In the 80s, musical tastes shifted even further away from complex musical styles evidenced by the rise of MTV which was dominated by 3-minute videos and Hair Metal Bands that had “the look”. It was extremely rare that Prog bands got any airplay at all. As a result, Nektar went through numerous lineup changes (19 are noted on their Wikipedia site) and disbanded at least twice. It was a time when most other Prog bands “sold out” adopting more commercially viable music styles to keep going. This makes it even more triumphant that Nektar has released this gem of an album so far into their career.

The perfect trifecta: “The Other Side” sounds like it could have been Nektar’s 8th album set to continue their string of successful releases in the 70s. In fact, if you dig around, you’ll find that the band admits that many of the songs and musical ideas were written in 1978. Add the fact the band members now have a literal lifetime of musical chops, and that this album was recorded in 2019 with modern recording techniques that have vastly improved during the last several decades, and you’ll find that “The Other Side” is an amazing achievement and a rarity in this day and age: an album that brings back the positive energy of Prog’s heyday, played by talented and experienced musicians, properly recorded to bring out the best in the music. Even the album artwork rings true as it was created by Helmut Wenske, the German artist that created many of the intricate covers for Nektar’s original albums.

The lineup for the new album combines 3 founding members with 3 “newer” members. Derek “Mo” Moore (bass & vocals), Ron Howden (drums & vocals), and Mick Brockett (lyrics & visual conceptions) were part of the original band. Ryche Chlanda (guitars & vocals) comes from Fireballet and Nektar’s 1978 lineup, Randy Dembo (bass & 12-string guitar) was a member of the 2005 lineup, and newcomer Kendall Scott (keyboards) has been added. This version of the band is tight and talented. The only thing missing is some of the flashy synthesizers and sound effects that Larry Fast brought to several of the 70s albums, although the song “The Light Beyond” comes close. With that said, the fact that the band has opted for a straighter-edged Rock sound feels clean and well executed.

The proof is in the music: the first chord of the first song, a track titled “I’m on Fire”, immediately sets the stage for the rest of the album. It’s played on a Hammond B3 organ, the seminal keyboard of 70s rock (think Jon Lord of Deep Purple). It’s hard to ignore. Guitar feedback is quickly overlaid upping the ante and grabbing for more attention. The rest of the band then kicks into gear with an upbeat staccato anthem that just gushes energy. Throughout the rest of the song, the guitar and keyboard trade solos as the rhythm section actually slows the pace like an experienced jockey holding back a thoroughbred racehorse champing at the bit and wanting to race. I can’t imagine a better live show opener on their current tour. The band is hitting many US cities in February and March (see https://nektarsmusic.com/events/ for more information).

Overall, the album includes 66 minutes of music in 8 songs which average over 8 minutes per song and is typical of prog’s lengthier, evolving compositions. That doesn’t mean there aren’t potential singles or bathroom shower singalong moments: “Skywriter” and “Y Can’t I B More Like U” are just a couple examples. The album strikes a good balance between accessibility and virtuosity. For the Prog veterans out there, “The Other Side” has enough chops to keep it interesting. For those new to the genre, the album is very listenable and a good place to start. Recommended.

Ken Applin
ken.applin@gmail.com

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