It's amazing what a period of time, if long enough, can do to a person's taste and even do to their whole lifestyle. Back in 1998 I was harping away about losing my copy of the travesty called NOVA SOLIS by Morgan you are about to hear me trash and then two years later after getting it the previous year it was my favourite prog album and I found England's GARDEN SHED to be horrific. There couldn't a wronger opinion or a worse take on what progressive rock is all about. I spent years trashing England even after I disowned Morgan to a certain extent. I also spent years just collecting records in the right way and not going crazy with them and falling into a trap that leads to depression and illness. Maybe my love of England and determination to go back to a collector and not an addict is a sign that I WILL come around. I certainly hope so.
-Morgan's NOVA SOLIS The Worst Insult To Progressive Music There Is And Will Be-
Prog Rock as it is called is probably the most double-edged music form in all genres of rock and whilst I can say that "Heavy Metal" is mostly by definition bullshit Prog Rock is mostly brilliant, but that said it can be just as bad. That's where Morgan come in. Formed by ex members of The Love Affair Morgan Fisher (keyboards) and Maurice "Mo" Bacon (Drums) they soon found themselves a group and recorded this stale as a loaf of bread left on a street corner for 2 years album in Italy although the band were English. Their overbearing brand of prog rock not surprisingly has some things in common with the worst of Italian prog, but I don't think even that was this bad. Since the Italians love noodling more than anything else it probably isn't surprising that Morgan had a lot of encouragement there. Their line up unfortunately and disturbingly contained the once brilliant Tim Staffell on vocals who had been Freddy Mercury's precursor in Smile- the band that became Queen once Mercury came in. That this is the same Tim Staffell who was so good in Smile and sounded great with Brian May's guitar was one of the biggest shocks when I heard this album again.
I can't believe I ever saw anything in one note of NOVA SOLIS as there isn't one second here that isn't cluttered up with nauseating drooling synthesizers, strained pompous vocals, and humorlessness turning this album into something I can't even listen to. Morgan Fisher is the most tasteless boy-with-a-toy-synthesizer keyboard player I've heard, is totally unmusical, and his tendency towards inconsequential little noises and sounding like he is masturbating with his synthesizer puts even other bad keyboard players who fell victim to the worst indulgences of a synthesizer to shame. The fact is that rarely is a synthesizer tastefully used, but rarely is it on this level of tasteless. There is no guitar in Morgan except the occasional acoustic being strummed by Staffell so Fisher gets to dominate all of the 4 tracks mercilessly and the whole album is based around him not surprisingly. Also, Morgan are a band with a NO SENSE OF HUMOR RULE. All the lyrics to the 3 tracks on Side One and sidelong epic disaster title track on Side Two are the wrong kind of over serious. Sometimes German bands or Dutch bands or even other British bands are dark and disturbed, but this album sounds gratuitously so in a Holier than Thou Heavier than Thou way. I've heard bad lyrics that make me laugh hysterically, but Staffell's pompous jottings made me instantly hate NOVA SOLIS even more hearing it again with a feeling of pain deep within my soul. I put this album straight in a big pile, but not as big as it was in the past, to go to the one person I deal and I can't imagine what his reaction is gonna be to NOVA SOLIS if he plays it except that I seriously doubt it will differ from mine.
So with all I've said against Morgan did they have anything going for them at all? Is there one little ray of hope here that suggests the word "music?" No. From the pretentious opening track "Samarkhand The Golden" there are even overt traces of a middle finger to the progressive audience and not just the genre itself. This is so offensively bad both musically, vocally, and lyrically that how I ever thought it was good is something I'll never be able to fathom. You can skip over this album and never hear it and be a much happier person. I wouldn't recommend this to even the most die hard progressive freaks who specialize in boring Canterbury prog bands like Egg or their next venture National Health. Egg may have been bad, but they were a lot better than this! While I'm at it let me tell you about Morgan Fisher again. While Egg were organ oriented there is no classic Hammond B3 on NOVA SOLIS and if you, like me, think Morgan Fisher did irreparable damage to Mott The Hoople when he came in (except for when they became Mott with a new singer and the guitar really took over again) just imagine the worst aspects of their later work with no guitar at all. Egg possessed a truly gifted keyboard player in Dave Stewart and their problem was a lack of good songwriting. If you want tastefully done all keyboard progressive rock Morgan is going to make you long for a guitar to come in with screaming feedback and high velocity soloing before you even get through the first track. Avoid this album at all costs and put it right down there with Warm Dust and Deep Feeling (the 1971 album/group) as the worst ever. I've yet to hear something as dire as this except for those two within the progressive genre and I'd put the easy listening cocktail jazz of Samurai on Greenwich above Morgan. At least Samurai is pleasant and has a sense of fun. Unpleasant and humorless Morgan is not what progressive rock should sound like. Tim Staffell seems so obsessed with death and destruction that it seems like he is being sadistic towards you and just trying to bring you down. He definitely doesn't sing like he did in Smile instead opting for a histrionic approach more reminiscent of Martin Griffiths in Beggar's Opera. Musically speaking, Morgan make me long for Emerson Lake And Palmer as there was a true virtuoso in Keith Emerson even though he often went over the top. There are no similarities to ELP as Morgan is fully synthesizer driven and seems to be attempting some kind of bombastic electronic music that makes Kraftwerk sound brilliant to me who doesn't like their music much. Avoid this album at all costs. It certainly isn't worth spending as much time looking for it as I once did and you might if someone pointed you in the wrong direction to pick this one up.
-A Band Called England Make The Best Ever 3 years Too Late, But Still Great-
Now this is an album that I trashed for years and found "terrifying" that must be an album I missed the point of and underrated more than any other album in the history of my listening to music. England are another 4 piece band, but that's where any similarity with Morgan abruptly ends. Guitarist/vocalist Franc Holland, bassist/vocalist Martin Henderson, keyboard player/vocalist Robert Webb, and drummer/vocalist Jode Leigh comprised England and they were a band of high spirited, intelligent, and thoughtful musicians who could write out of this world material and add to that the fact that all 4 of them can sing lead!!!! England would have made a big splash in 1973 or 1974 which is when this album sounds like it was recorded, but not only was 1977 too late for recording such a symphonic and grandiose progressive pop masterpiece it was the year that punk destroyed music. In 1977 a lot of bands were about to go out the window for a period of tastelessness and gimmicks that Ray Davies summed up perfectly in his parodies of punk. He even wrote a song called "Prince Of The Punks" to show his disdain and Ray Davies and The Kinks were on Arista at the same time as England which is a funny little coincidence. Arista didn't really ever buy into punk. In fact, when the label launched a mega successful act several years down the road it would be Air Supply! So it may not be a surprise that Arista gave England complete artistic freedom on their one album GARDEN SHED and no band could have done more with that freedom.
England are very much a pop group at heart with a knack for filling heavy progressive/symphonic rock compositions up with great melodies, soaring vocals, and really daring imaginative structures. Their album is disciplined in all the right ways and never sounds stiff or mechanical. Their songs are prone to sudden changes in mood, melody, and atmosphere which together with their amazing musicianship bring to mind the three number one prog rock bands: Yes, Genesis, and Camel. If you love those bands you can't go wrong with England although the one thing that may put you off are the strong pop leanings which for me are a big plus. Jode Leigh plays drums and percussion with a devilish fury at times and at other times with the dexterity of Mike Giles and Phil Collins. Robert Webb's clever and majestic keyboards bring to mind a fun loving Tony Banks and Rick Wakeman at his best in Yes. Bass player Martin Henderson is melodically creative and plays with a driving forcefulness like Michael Rutherford and Chris Squire. Guitarist Franc Holland is just as important to England's music as the keyboards and bass playing with a keen sense of melody and power throughout. Add to that the excellent and devoid-of-pretension vocals and this is progressive rock heaven!
At times I'm reminded of earlier bands in the outdoorsy/pastoral progressive vein when the lovely melodies are flowing, but when England get heavy they get heavy. I was probably put off by some really dark lyrics to songs like "Midnight Madness" and the over 16 minute long take on The Picture Of Dorian Grey "Poisoned Youth," but England were never a band who suffered from a lack of humor and "dour" is a word that does not apply here. England are only sad in that their England that they named themselves after has turned into something of the distant past. The whole look, sound, and smell of this record is the great wonderful England that is dying off fast. The soldiers are sick of fighting in pointless wars. The country is divided and losing all sense of what it is all about. The crime rate is horrible. People are beginning to develop bad greedy behaviors like the worst of America. Can England be resurrected? Can the true real England come back? I'd say that if the people start trying harder they can bring England back to its former glories, but the music and literature for now along with the aesthetics are keeping it alive and don't fear for one second that we're gonna lose that.
England the band have a sense of fun that helps out immensely and they also are one of the most ambitious bands ever to play progressive rock. Take for instance the two longest tracks the amazing "Three Piece Suite" and the ominous yet also very melodic "Poisoned Youth." Both these tracks could easily pass for epic suites with their unique and clever songs-within-songs structures. There are about 6 songs in both of these tracks and the instrumental passages are full of melody and devoid of self indulgences. The vocals are great throughout with an emphasis on perfect melodic phrasing and complex harmonies. How could I not have loved such a wonderful album!? There are no weak links on this record and "Midnight Madness" would have Genesis smiling despite a darker lyric than nearly anything they were doing post Gabriel. The Genesis comparison is more in the keyboards and strong melodic sense. The band that influenced England more than any other band I can think of is Yes. Some would argue with me about Yes, but as I see it they are together with Camel and Genesis the Gods Of Progressive Rock. If you come close matching the magic they had at their best you must be doing something right. England have the harmonies, melodies, and essence of Yes and I'll fight that they aren't a "cloning" kind of a band like a lot of people say they are. The obscure band Kestrel also come to mind in a big way as does Aussie band Headband. Both these bands also had the same kind of melodic magic that England have and its really sad that so many great bands with so much potential go by unnoticed. Give England a chance. They'll open your mind and they'll blow it to rebuild it again and make you appreciate the magical splendor of what England the band and England the country are all about.