Audience: The House On The Hill/Lunch

The Hill’s alive, but Lunch is off.

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In a meeting of minds with new producer Gus Dudgeon, Audience’s third and fourth albums showed they’d gained confidence in experimentation while upping the melodic ante over previous proto-prog highlight Friend’s Friend’s Friend.

1971’s House is the British quartet’s pinnacle (7) and still holds up through tracks such as Eye To Eye, with its sassy jazz-blues strut, and the lively baroque instrumental Raviolé. The prog element is revived in the title track’s extended sax part, and the ballsy Jackdaw (which perhaps inspired ficticious group Stillwater’s Fever Dog from 2000 rock flick Almost Famous) telegraphs their commercial potential.

The sleeve design was classic Hipgnosis – a creepy, 1940s mise-en-scène that paralleled the music. Success beckoned, and Audience scooted off to tour the US with Rod and The Faces.

From that high comes the album where it falls apart: Lunch (5). Roxy, glam rock and Bonzos influences abound – Stones brass boys Bobby Keys and Jim Price are along for the ride too. The material is more eclectic – “our White Album,” says vocalist Howard Werth in the sleeve notes – but lacks cohesion, becoming throwaway on the Herb Alpert-esque Hula Girl and the terrible Party Games.

In Accord brings things back with some brassy Bowie punch, but after digesting the whole thing you’re still craving substance./o:p