As soon as the opening notes to Belle-Ame chime into focus, you know this isn’t just another album from a bunch of veteran proggers.
It has the blush of a delicate atmosphere, with a lyrical challenge to match the fragility of the music. ‘Just who will save your soul?’ Not a question, more a statement on the way life can decapitate dreams.
Every song here is different to what has gone before, yet they are also linked to each other in a fitful gaze of introspection. And when the music is a little brasher and loud, as it is on Beautiful Soul, there’s an edge to the lyrical substance.
Nick Barrett, who could be termed Pendragon’s auteur, is responsible for the music and lyrics here, and he clearly sees this as not so much a labour of love as a renewal of the band’s raison d’être. He’s prepared to roam through jazz rock, as he does In Bardo, acoustic fields, as evidenced in Faces Of Light, moody sharpness in Faces Of Darkness, and melodic rock in Explorers Of The Infinite.
But it’s not just about Barrett finding his range and versatility. The rest of the band are also heavily involved. Clive Nolan provides some scintillating keyboards, Peter Gee pumps out virtuoso bass lines and new drummer Craig Blundell slots straight in with some unfussy work.
Everyone involved delivers at the peak of their talents, and the work that’s gone into each of the tracks here is exemplary. Nobody is prepared to settle for anything less than a sound as close to perfection as is possible, and it helps that Barrett has come up with bright ideas that allow the other musos to stretch out and try different skills. They are never locked in to sailing down a narrow musical confine, but are prepared to nod towards surprising influences like U2 and Dire Straits at certain times. And while Barrett might not have the most obviously charismatic voice, his singing style nonetheless brings out the shade and depth in the words.
The qualities on Men Who Climb Mountains become even more evident when you play it through headphones. Karl Groom’s mix gives the tones an extra separation, allowing you to hear how each instrument melds into the overall structure.
It’s easy to get carried away and suggest this album will give Pendragon’s fortunes a huge boost. But there’s no doubt it will appeal to more than just the old school followers of the band. There’s a contemporary style and buoyancy that will ensure anyone who’s prepared to listen to what the band have done will inevitably be hugely impressed.