Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Lady Lake - Shameless Plug For Dutch Prog Rock Heroes


You've got to be careful when you do retro. Faithfulness to the text is everything; not just the form, but the content. But when the past is dug up it's likely to smell a bit, well, old.

Focus, of course, did the exhumation job effortlessly with Focus 8 - after all, reviving a template they toured around the world for years wasn't so hard. Van Leer's talent as a tunesmith did the rest.

But Lady Lake? They'd be near the bottom of anyone's wishlist of Most Likely To Make A Comeback. Even Europrog specialists have difficulty placing them... they count on the recognition scale along with the plankton, the likes of Itoiz, Akasha and Banzai. Hang on, Lady Lake... small Dutch band, one album, 1977, good effort, God, my son/daughter wasn't even born then etc etc. And then?

Well, and then Supercleandreammachine. Hard though it may be to believe, this apparently unwise comeback after the small matter of, er, 27 years, is actually rather brilliant, a serious statement in Dutch prog history. Nowt radical, natch - this isn't Group 1850 or Willem Breuker territory but you knew that. No, what these guys have done is make a spectacularly old-fashioned sounding collection that succeeds because it does the simple things so well and with such genuine thoughtfulness. Tunes, arrangement, delivery, the lot. It's one of the many pleasures of Supercleandreammachine -named for an old hippy radio show, we learn - that an album which sounds about 30 years out of date is so enjoyable to listen to. And it's not for flimsy nostalgic reasons - although lovers of old keyboards will no doubt get erections at some of the moog-'tron-organ sounds here (are there any female lovers of old keyboards?). Crucially for LL, though, the choice of notes always comes first, not least for stand-out guitarist Fred Rosenkamp; there are lots of ingenious harmonisations on familiar chord cycles and Pohjola-like melodies which playfully elude expectations but never sound forced or self-conscious. Anyone with a working brain and ears twigs that these are guys that understand instinctively how harmony works, and what fun you can have with even its diatonic basics - without offending anyone.

I'm unaware if Rosenkamp ever wanted to be Jan Akkerman, but he makes a fair fist of his wannabe tendencies here; he'll never make it to Akkerman's level, but he's a very fine player, resourceful and tirelessly inventive. It's just that he sounds SO like the Volendam virtuoso - his attack especially- that it points up a little too much the already sizeable harmonic and melodic debt the band owe to Focus. And No One Will Ever Know in particular is spookily similar to Paul Stoppelman's ballad No Hang Ups from Mother Focus. There's also a straight lift in the excellent and knowing Radio Reminiscence (purposely?) of an Akkerman riff from Hamburger Concerto. Leendert Konstanje's big chewy helpings of stylishly-phrased Leslie-powered Hammond are another Focus nod, and the tasteful use of mellotron should do more than merely summon up Cleem Determeijer's work with Finch. But such are the risks of retro.

No. I'm being unfair. This is a band that has reinvented itself and is more than the sum of its influences. That its sound should be fatter, nastier, rawer - louder, ferchrissakes - and that there should be more naked energy on show is a genuine downer. After all, does the world really need a new bunch of part-timer chamber-rocking cheeries like Rousseau? It does not. Lady Lake sometimes risk becoming just that - but they have infinitely more creativity and just need a bit more confidence in themselves to stretch out - not to mention a full-time bassist, preferably with a Rickenbacker and a big ego, both of which would immensely strengthen the sometimes meandering 14-minute opener and turn it into a real showpiece. Then they would take this intelligent music to the stage and become real contenders.

It took them long enough- but here is a late-blossoming flower of a rare hue and beauty. 'Good things come to those who wait' is self-evidently this band's axiom. Fair's fair - but don't leave it 27 years before the next one, boys. After all, you've got yourself at least one new fan and if there's any justice there should be a few more pronto.


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