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on 12 December 2008
Studio album #4, following Live at the Rainbow (of which, to this day, I've never heard a note), this was the last of them before the final disintegration of the Akkerman / Van Leer partnership ~ after that, it all went to pot. This one isn't helped by the masterful Pierre Van Der Linden having left to join another Dutch band, Trace, fronted by keyboards player Rick van der Linden (apparently entirely unrelated), which wasn't exactly a great career move, as he quit the music business after just one album with them ~ a tragic loss or what? His replacement, in Focus, was Colin Allen (formerly of Stone The Crows, about whose music I know nothing), who simply wasn't in the same league. By comparison with van der Linden, both his sound and style were simply flat and boring. Why they chose him I'll never know ~ surely there must have been a host of better drummers around at the time looking for a new home, not least with a band like Focus?
Sonically, musically and stylistically, Hamburger Concerto bears so little resemblance to its magnificent predecessor that you could almost be forgiven for failing to recognise this generation of Focus as (nearly) the same band from just a year or two earlier. In fact, the general feel of the album is somewhere between In And Out Of Focus (though with no vocals) and Moving Waves, their first and second albums from 1970 and `71 respectively. Moving Waves, for example, has a noticeably perkier air to it, at least on side 2. As I never owned the vinyl LP and the CD is a bit sparse on info, I don't know where this one was recorded, though by the sound and whole feel of it, it almost certainly wasn't Olympic Studios in Barnes, even though production credits were still in the hands of Mike Vernon, by this time a seasoned 29 years old.
That having said, there are flashes of the old magic here, whilst the 20 minute title suite on (what was originally) S.2 is pretty good, if not quite inspired. Noticeable by its absence though is any of the soaring, lightning-fingered, driving guitar, organ or flute work that made 3 such a flawless knockout. In places, one is also reminded of the likes of Rick Wakeman and Jethro Tull, which could never be said of their earlier work. In fact, this one almost has a plaintive, wistful air to it, as if they all knew their glory days were slipping away inexorably. Yet, for all that, it's okay now and again, albeit so overshadowed by III as to hardly bear comparison. That having said, the rendition of the title suite on The Ultimate Collection DVD is surprisingly good and somehow adds a new dimension of interest.
Oh yes ~ buying the digitally remastered edition is essential. The job's been well done (overseen by Mike Vernon) and the original CD issue is a very dreary transcription.