In HG Wells’ novel The Time Machine, a shattering confrontation with the troglodytic Morlocks sends the Time Traveller fleeing home, just in time to tell his story. The next day he vanishes forever. While Rick Wakeman’s favourite Wells book may not technically be the source for Nektar’s first album of new material for five years, they have certainly hauled themselves back from extinction since reforming for the new century, emerging from their hideaway caves with fresh zeal.
They’re now stronger than they’ve been for aeons, and unlikely to vanish tomorrow. Nektar’s fixation with the nature of time runs through their career. Since forming as ex-pat Brits in Hamburg in 1969 – original members Roye Albrighton (vocals, guitars) and Ron Howden (drums) remain – they’ve released albums exploring the subject, from 1973’s classic Remember The Future (see this month’s Reissues) to last year’s patchy, star-studded covers collection A Spoonful Of Time.
They laid low for 20 years from the early 1980s, but this, their 13th studio album, is where their second coming really starts to punch the clock. Being Nektar though, it mostly sounds more like Dalí-esque melting watches than strict time. With the ubiquitous, prolifically busy Billy Sherwood at the controls (and on bass), this is a solidly-produced 10-track set which may not be a concept album per se, but does return to that ticking topic from, er, time to time.
It opens with an unabashed moment of prog majesty as our heroes say, _‘Hello? Hello?’. _A godlike stentorian voice booms: ‘Do you know who this is?’ ‘No,’ answer Nektar, nervously. ‘It’s YOU!’ comes the spooky verdict. Cue an epic, sheeny AOR intro that sets the tone for a run of lovingly-arranged, moderately exploratory songs.
Sherwood’s production lends them up-to-date polish and muscle, more American than European, but it also sacrifices some of the loose, haphazard genius that distinguished the outfit’s heyday. Albrighton’s voice isn’t quite what it was, but, after all, it can’t be the 70s forever. The most captivating tracks here are the neatly complex Destiny and If Only I Could, the turbo-powered Tranquillity and Juggernaut. The splendid title cut has a catchy chorus so good it even overcomes a couplet that rhymes ‘I’m a dreamer’ with ‘I’m a schemer’.
Albrighton calls Time Machine the best album they’ve ever made. Whether that’s true or not, Nektar sound like reformed beatniks who’ve been to the gym. Something’s lost but something’s gained. Such is time.