XII Alfonso: Charles Darwin

Highly ambitious yet under-evolved paean to Chuck D.

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This French quartet are prone to grandiose concept albums and experimental ideas, and their boundless imagination is admirable. As its title clearly advertises, this self-released triple CD is a concept album celebrating the life and times of Charles Darwin.

The scale of this album is enormous, running to over three hours, comprising 22 songs with vocals, complemented by 30 further instrumental tracks.

While the core of XII Alfonso remains the Claerhout Brothers,for Charles Darwin they’ve worked their contacts assiduously to assemble an extensive guest list of almost 50 musicians including Pink Floyd sideman Tim Renwick, former It Bites frontman Francis Dunnery and Alan Parsons guitarist Ian Bairnson. Numerous other prog luminaries crop up too, albeit most in brief cameo roles with the exception of Supertramp saxophonist John Helliwell.

So far so intriguing, but Charles Darwin flatters to deceive. The performances are faultless and the album has been lovingly and painstakingly crafted; ultimately however it suffers from being overlong and with too few truly memorablemoments.

By turns accessible but nondescript, the result is an album where the whole adds up to less than the sum of its myriad parts.