In the midst of the current Olympic hype, after several years of waiting for a new Vangelis album, there is a strong temptation to give all 5 stars to this record unless it is really disappointing (be assured, it isn't). However, after listening to it about 10 times, I am trying to be more balanced with my judgement. Especially that we have a very strong benchmark which is the Chariots soundtrack album from 1981.
The new stage play album also presents the heroism and emotions like the soundtrack album does, it is full of bombast yet there are plenty of tender passages too. A major difference however is, that while synthesizers seemed to be the most adequate instruments for the soundtrack, many tracks of the stage play are so classical that even an orchestra could perform. As far as my opinion is asked, I prefer synthesizers not to imitate an orchestra but find their own sounding, which was so obvious on the soundtrack album. I was happy to note, though, that after a few choral albums from Vangelis in the last decade, there is no choir employed now, all new tracks on this album have been composed, arranged and played fully by Vangelis.
The stage play album starts really strong, thanks to the well-known tracks borrowed from the soundtrack album, and also the excellent Physical Energy with all its intensity, and Home in the Glen which a highlight of this album due to its wonderful bagpipe orchestration. The second 5 tracks are rather classical: slowly flowing harmonies, usually quite restrained. Belief, Ballard and Eric's Pleasure are all pleasant songs without making strong impression, I believe Vangelis could write a dozen of them a day. Aspiration is the only lengthy track, providing an opportunity to build up and vary a theme: but somehow the bombastic and subtle parts placed next to each other just do not seem to form an integral composition (as opposed to the B side track on the soundtrack album, for example). Then the last 5 tracks show again something of the Vangelis magic that we are eager to see: Lord Lindsay with its uplifting melody, At the Starting Blocks with its serene beginning and closing, Epilogue with the return of the Chariots theme in a jazzy form, and After the Race featuring the haunting, pulsating bass-line of the Chariots song with a more relaxed arrangement of the melody. Jerusalem, taken from the soundtrack album is a perfect, solemn closing.
All in all, this is a nice album, harmonic from the beginning to the end, which will invite us to hear it again and again and discover new things every time. The major shortcoming is that - apart from the 4 tracks from the soundtrack album - it does not provide strong, remarkable new themes. Take the beautiful Home in the Glen, for instance: can you easily recall its melody after hearing it a few times? I couldn't.
But I will keep on trying.