Klaatu: Hope - Album Of The Week Club review

Accidental Beatle impersonators Klaatu attempt to ride out a global publicity storm on second album Hope

Klaatu - Hope
(Image: © Capitol)

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Klaatu - Hope

Klaatu - Hope

(Image credit: Capitol)

We're Off You Know
Around the Universe in Eighty Days
Long Live Politzania
The Loneliest of Creatures
So Said the Lighthouse Keeper

Released in August 1976, the debut Klaatu album earned several enthusiastic reviews. Canada’s Record Month called it “a terrific concept album”, while Trouser Press said it was “an impressive sci-fi answer to David Bowie”. But the reviews didn’t translate into sales, and it looked like Klaatu was headed straight to the bargain bin.

Then, on February 17, 1977, a feature headlined ‘Could Klaatu Be Beatles? Mystery Is A Magical Tour’, written by Steve Smith, a young journalist working for Rhode Island daily newspaper the Providence Journal, changed everything.

Smith wrote that the song’s vocals are “exactly like Paul McCartney”, the drumming “like Ringo Starr’s” and “the guitar work like George Harrison’s and John Lennon’s”.  Summing up (and hedging his bets), Smith concluded that this mystery band could be: 1. The Beatles. 2. A couple of The Beatles with other people. 3. A Beatles-backed band. 4. A completely unknown but ingenious and talented band.

“By this time the album had been out six months," said Capitol's Frank Davies. "We did have some great press on it, but it had only sold seven or eight thousand copies in the US. We’d reached a point where we thought the first album was over, and the band had already started working on the second, which was shaping up beautifully. Then Steve’s story was published and all hell broke loose sales-wise.”

Meanwhile, the band themselves were over in London, recording second album Hope. "Somebody told us about The Beatles rumour, and we all had a good laugh and went back to work," said drummer Terry Draper. "When we returned to Canada, it went ridiculous."

Because of the ongoing sales of the Klaatu album, Capitol put back the release of Hope – a cosmic-themed concept album – by several months. “We were delighted,” says Draper. “It gave us more time to finish it."

Released in September 1977, Hope was Klaatu’s most ambitious and mature work and went on to sell a respectable 400,000 copies. But despite this, the writing was clearly on the wall for the band.

“We got some great reviews on the Hope album,” says Frank Davies. “But for every great review, we’d get a newspaper article saying: ‘Hoax!’ or ‘Scam!’ and a lot of negative press. We’d release an album and it would go virtually unnoticed. We couldn’t get arrested, no matter what we did.”

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Other albums released in September 1977

  • A Farewell to Kings - Rush
  • Bad Reputation - Thin Lizzy
  • Chicago XI - Chicago
  • Foreign Affairs - Tom Waits
  • Rough Mix - Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane
  • Talking Heads: 77 - Talking Heads
  • Aja - Steely Dan
  • No More Heroes - The Stranglers
  • New Boots and Panties!! - Ian Dury
  • Ringo the 4th - Ringo Starr
  • Beauty On A Back Street - Hall & Oates
  • Blank Generation - Richard Hell and the Voidoids
  • The Boomtown Rats - The Boomtown Rats
  • Broken Heart - The Babys
  • In Color - Cheap Trick
  • What a Long Strange Trip It's Been - Grateful Dead

What they said...

"A somewhat disappointing follow-up to the promise left by the group's inspired debut, Hope was actually recorded just before the first album was released (and prior to the subsequent "Are Klaatu the Beatles?" rumours). The band opted for a more conceptual, rock opera sound, but they ended up sounding pretentious, and in some cases like a rip-off of Queen." (AllMusic)

"Musically speaking, this album is an absolute joy to listen to. Tracks like Long Live Politzania and Prelude just sparkle from the speakers full of musical ideas and excellent orchestration. As a matter of fact, this album won the Juno (Canada's cheapo imitation Grammy awards) for Best Engineered Album and it's easy to see why." (The Prog Rock Blog)

"Possibly the most unappreciated album in history. Hope is not only one of the best concept albums ever created, it is arguably among the best-produced albums ever created: the production is simply breathe-takingly impossible. Yes, they "channel" the Beatles, Floyd, Supertramp, 10CC et al. But they admit that, and what they come up with is clearly more "influence" and tribute than "rip-off." (Prog Rock Archives)

What you said...

Nigel Lancashire: Just to point out, the Beatles theory was partly based on the band’s attempts at anonymity, and the music on the album prior to this (primarily the track Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft – yes, the one that was covered by the Carpenters) so although the record company were making the most of it, Klaatu were likely already trying to move away from ‘that’ sound for this record.

Kevin Miller: Only a few songs in but definitely enjoying this album I had never even heard of. How anyone thought that was Paul or John singing is beyond me though. I guess it has a trumpet in it?

John Davidson: I’ll set this out at the top: I’ve never really liked the Beatles. Odd songs here and there yes, but I haven’t ever bought an album and last listened to one end to end in about 1975.

So, an album by a bunch of Canadian pop rockers which kicks off with a song that sounds like they absolutely love Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band is not likely to hit my spot.

Released in 1977, this sounds 10 years out of date already and seems to have missed out the progress in music during that period. Although there is a nine-minute song – this is not progressive rock in any meaningful sense. Compare it to A Farewell To Kings, Songs From The Wood or Going For The One. There are even Styx and Starcastle albums out there full of bright shiny pop with a more progressive twinkle in their eye.

I’m trying to think of positive things to write about this but I’m failing. On the whole the music does nothing for me, although there is some decent guitar on Madman, and the band sound insubstantial even though it is clear they are reaching for drama. The vocals are theatrical but weak and the lyrics, which if delivered more effectively might sound poetic, come across somewhere between pretentious and plain daft (compare this to say Hawkwind’s Quark, Strangeness And Charm – which is daft but awesome). The production does it no favours either, lacking any dynamism or oomph it just underlines the blandness of the offering. If you took all the musical talent and performance out of Queen but left them with the ideas this is what you might get.

There are so many good albums from 1977 (prog, rock, early metal, punk), but this one doesn’t hold a candle to any of them. If you want a 1977 album inspired by the Beatles I’d recommend Out Of The Blue (which is a pop classic), or even Cheap Trick’s debut (Which I don’t love – but at least it has some life about it).

First time through this I barely managed to complete a song far less the whole album but I went back and persevered for the sake of fairness – it was marginally better once I knew what I was in for but none the less this is hopeless.

Bill Griffin: I am of mixed feelings here; it's a pleasant enough record but it just sounds too much like Sgt Peppers era Beatles. I'm okay with that sort of thing from the likes of The Claypool Lennon Delirium because they have the next best thing to John Lennon in the band. Klaatu does not and while they aren't offensive to me like Greta Van Fleet is, I would prefer more originality.

Mike Knoop: Hope by the band Klaatu does not rock. But I don't think it was ever meant to.

All I knew about Klaatu was the Beatles faux-mystery and their calling card, Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft, as covered by the Carpenters.

In the interest of research, I YouTubed Klaatu's original and found it a fantastic and fanciful tab of psychedelic po(m)p. Not so much the Beatles as an infinite iteration of Beach Boys, full of interwoven orchestration and harmonies.

Hope might not hit those hallowed heights, but it's a funny little curio all the same. It starts and ends kinda boring, but there's some pretty fun weirdness in the middle.

Long Live Politzania is a cod classical absurdist epic complete with spoken word. It's like a Monty Python skit that's lost the plot and rumbles on and on with its own momentum, which is meant as more of a compliment than it reads.

When the creepy voice started singing in So Said the Lighthouse Keeper, my wife, who happened to be in the room, succinctly asked, "What the **** is this ****?!?" When I asked her if I could quote her in my review, she responded, "It is *not* relaxing!" Again, meant as more of a compliment than it reads. The rest of the song is OK, but muffs the promising, if unsettling, start.

The one song that I like through and through is The Loneliest Of Creatures, in which a choir joins forces with an organ lifted from Bach to give joyous life to some pretty sad sack notebook scribblings. If you only listen to one song of this album, please make it this one.

Like their sci-fi flick namesake, I think poor Klaatu was misunderstood. If someone told me this was 10cc or Rick Wakeman or Jeff Wayne, I would nod gravely in approval. I don't always get Godley and Creme or the two W’s, but I recognise their musical clout. Unfortunately, any musical credibility Klaatu had went down the tubes with "Beatlesgate."

James Praesto: I had never heard of the band, or any song they made, before this week. I actually found myself intrigued and entertained by the thematic drama and the silly passages. It's like listening to a concept album, but where you have no idea what the plot is. Maybe you need to be really really high? Someone, take one for the team and report back. I'm old and boring.

Jonathan Novajosky: The Loneliest Of Creatures was great. The rest of the album, not so much. It was a bit odd, but not really in a clever or charming way as you would hope.

Hai Kixmiller: I'm not a fan of concept albums or most music that isn't straight ahead, balls to the wall rock'n'roll. But I am a fan of very talented musicianship, movie scores, and science fiction. Having a plethora of all these components, Klaatu's second album Hope really resonated with me.

My favourite thing about the album is that it's only about 41 minutes in duration. Most of the songs clock in at between four-six minutes, aside from Long Live Politzania which checks in at nearly 10. The shortness of these songs along with the several tempo changes, orchestral fills, and some theatrical dialogue really kept me interested in what was happening.

The theme of Hope is nothing new and frankly I think it's quite overdone. A dystopian tale of an arrogant, narcissistic, totalitarian civilisation that destroys itself, along with its planet, and then is lamented by its sole survivor who tries to warn future worlds about how to avoid a similar fate.

We're Off You Know starts our adventure and that adventure rocks with confidence, courage, and of course hope. Hints of Electric Light Orchestra, and Beatles-ish melodies, are what strike my ears first and being a fan of those bands I fasten my seatbelt, return my seat-back and tray to the upright position, and get ready for takeoff.

Let's just say that the second track, Madman takes the winds right out of the sails. The first verse says 'say your last rites for the world that created you madman'. I'm like hold on, we just took off... courage, hope, happy happy, joy joy... and now we're being destroyed? That escalated quickly!

The next two songs, Around The Universe In Eighty Days and Long Live Politzania are both sort of flashback songs. The former tells the listener about an advanced and possibly ancient civilisation from another world; 'Now the earth is just beginning to learn of our existence, All life in space must learn to live as one, Maybe now is the time for friendship with our neighbours, For our planet is the second from the sun'. The latter song tells us that although it's unknown how the planet actually met its demise, we do know that a culture of arrogance and the squashing of dissidents had something to do with it. Long Live Politzania also takes full advantage of the talents of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. There are some great orchestral pieces in this song alone.

Sadly the second half of the album is mostly... well, sad. One person believes that they are the loneliest person in the universe, only to learn that... SURPRISE! There's someone else with a more sad song to sing. Not only is this more lonely soul the sole survivor of the mystery planet but he has to be the caretaker of a galactic lighthouse and also warn other galactic travellers about the dire consequences of arrogance and narcissism.

And then the album tries to end on a positive note. Hope. Basically, everything good is derived from hope. When things are at their darkest, when fear reigns, and "motivation disappears", all is lost without hope because hope enlightens mankind.

I was disappointed with the ending. I was thinking there should have been a more poignant resolution than a simple generalisation of Pandora's box. This is exactly why I don't like concept albums. One would think that the extra time given to the artists would have resulted in a more structured storyline. But, I really enjoyed the music. Though Klaatu carries the stigma of just being thieves of the Beatles sound, I find their sound is more the result of a huge range of influences rather than it is just ripping off the Beatles. There's a lot of familiar influences or coincidental similarities of many of my favourite classic rock artists throughout this album, The Beatles, E.L.O., Bowie, Pink Floyd, and others. And quite possibly those qualities are what makes me enjoy this album.

Brian Carr: My first impression of Hope is that this is the result of plenty of talent, creativity with studio time and possibly loads of pot. What I found missing with Klaatu was an identifiable sound. The Beatles comparisons are understandable with the opener, We’re Off You Know, due to the instrumentation much more than the voices, and the closing title track, which I found reminiscent of George Harrison. But after the opener, Madman reminded me of Queen thanks to the Brian May-esque guitar work. Around The Universe In Eighty Days was their Bowie tribute. Then they head to Politizania, a destination I couldn’t find anywhere on my musical map (though I did like another reviewer’s mention of Monty Python).

Maybe this pinball type of song assembly is common in prog, a style I haven’t explored too deeply. It is creative and they had talent. I found myself drawing comparisons to Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a group with tracks I absolutely love, but struggle to enjoy an entire album. Hope has some very interesting moments (I’m rather digging Prelude as I wrap up my review, and again thinking TSO), but the lack of sonic coherence is limiting my overall enjoyment.

Roland Bearne: No doubt these are clever chaps, writing pop, psych, orchestral, brass band arrangements and rambling spoken word pieces. I think any Beatles comparison relates only (and at a stretch) to opener We're Off You Know. After that what follows is a part mad, undoubtedly very clever but utterly bonkers smorgasbord of sound. 

Long Live Politzania rather defies description, let's just say! There are lovely moments but I was left with the overall feeling of "ok, got it out of your system now?" I'm willing to bet Roger Waters has a well played copy of this lying around! I checked out other tracks by the band, while there's definitely an inherent quirkiness, other tracks like Sell Out Sell Out and True Life Hero have a distinctive character. This album is crazily over-egged but any band who can release a song called Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III has got to be worth a closer look.

Alex Hayes: I'm usually a sucker for nerdy, conceptual stuff like this, and it wasn't a bad album by any measurement, but I just couldn't get too enthusiastic about this. Apart from the occasional John Lennon mimicry going on with the vocals I thought the Beatles comparisons were rather overstated also.

Final Score: 6.03⁄10 (60 votes cast, with a total score of 362)

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