Think of all the prog bands you've ever heard. This twofer reissue has snatches of reminders of most of them scattered all over it. Gracious are nowhere near the best in the genre, but they do enough here to keep your interest. There are problems though. I was taken aback on first listen by just how poor the sound is on the first album. At times thin, sometimes murky, it subdues some of the music. Also, it can sound rather ordinary and anonymous at times. You get the impression that their ambition outstrips their expertise. The aim to evoke heaven and hell convincingly is, for instance, a colossal task. Gracious aren't up to it but they make some good music trying. The fugue reveals their classical aspirations, but again, while it's a decent effort, they don't possess the skills necessary to transcend genres. "The Dream" meanwhile, might have been better titled "The Kitchen Sink". There are so many shifts in this near twenty-minute epic that you wonder whether they'll have any ideas left for the second album. As it is, the track is full of musical snippets borrowed from elsewhere, notably Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" and The Beatles' "Hey Jude". Despite the criticisms, I thoroughly enjoyed this disc after getting over the first listen. The second disc I enjoyed the first time around. The production is better and Gracious seem to have more fire in their belly. The album begins with the four-part, twenty-one minute long "Super Nova" and it is a considerable achievement. It begins with two minutes of spaced-out noise, a cross between Pink Floyd's "Saucerful Of Secrets" and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.Read more ›
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I must confess to being slightly biased where Gracious are concerned, as they were the first band I saw use the mellotron 'live', what a sound. However if I were to rate these albums individually they would both get 4 stars, but as this BGO release is what I call a 'supermarket jobby' (buy one get one free), there is more than enough to warrant top billing. Downsides of this package is that while sound quality is reasonable, both albums would benefit from remastering, plus the debut album '!', while brilliant in places has some wayward moments. Please take note Amazon the tracklisting should read as my review :-
! tracks 1 - 3 (side 1) concept about heaven and hell 'Introduction' midtempo number lyrically setting the scene for side 1. 'Heaven' opens with gentle haunting mellotron building up to include elctric guitar, before moving to an acoustic passage then beatlesque vocals (one of the few rock bands to successfully use harmonies)before continuing with some nice keyboard and guitarwork. 'Hell' opens with a darker menacing keyboard, (later king crimson style) with various stop start time signatures and up to this point its ok, however the vocal sections are a complete mish mash. I believe it would have worked better as a five minute instrumental, which would have freed up more time for heaven. 'Fugue in 'D' minor' is a classical piece with Martin playing harpsicord with some acoustic guitar backing. 'The dream'as you would expect from a seventeen minute piece, goes through various phases, mostly successfully, but a few leave room for improvement.
Quite radical for 1970, along with Gentle Giant, King Crimson etc this album was helping to lay the foundations for further progression.
Gracious are probably best known through their association with Vertigo records, rather than for their musical output, which is a shame, as some of their music is really very good. But then some of it is not quite so appealing. And there lies the rub. Their first album was created almost like a musical collage, with snippets of different tunes and melodies all strung together to tell the rather grandiose tale of Heaven and Hell. While the concept is great, what they really needed was someone in the quality control department. The good riffs and melodies are fabulous, and you can't help but wish that they'd taken more time to develop those into more than the 30 second bursts that they tend to be. But then I suppose that might have detracted from what is a slightly nieve, certainly dated, but ultimately very enjoyable listen.
Their second album sounds much more developed, which robs it of some of the 1st album's charm, and therefore pushes it more into the light of comparison with other UK prog bands of the time. And sadly finds Gracious lacking. The first track is a 20 minute opus which benefits greatly from the much needed quality control. Although you find yourself losing interest at points as it drifts over you. The remaining tracks are much more conventional in structure and length, but again, never succeed in unleashing any truly memorable melodies which stick with you.
If you're looking to complete your Vertigo collection, or just hanker for some early prog and melotron, then there's much to enjoy here. Just don't expect too much and you won't be disappointed.
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