This 1984 album by the Metheny group is certainly one of the classic albums from a classic era which culminated with the magnificent Secret Story in '92. The title track is absolute perfection (what the hell is that intro time pattern??). Metheny says you cant really explain it, you just have to learn it. 'If I could' is a sort of hymn to nostalgic beauty. It wont leave you, it gets deep within you. "End of the Game" has that tell-tale classic Metheny / Mays melodic turn and harmonic structure, and with metheny's synth/guitar solo and May's acoustic grand keyboard we are really taken on a dark journey, & then May's solo really does it, taking us deep within ourselves. It paints pictures we that we have long forgotten. Everything about the album is a dramatic joy. You will live with "First Circle" for a long, long while.
So curious that every other PMG release has plenty of reviewers and more or less across the board 5/5 stars, but this one seems to have gone unnoticed. I would hesitate to say that this is my favourite PMG album because there are so many other contenders but, it does include my unreservedly favourite PMG track, namely the eponymous 'First Circle'.
The 'First Circle' is the third track on the album and it is such a perfect composition in so many ways that I don't know where to begin. With each new PMG release I listen to see if they have managed to equal or surpass it, but although I invariably love whatever they bring out next, and although I might hear First Circle like resonances here and there, I've still to hear anything that captures the full perfection.
Firstly, there is the form of the thing. We start with a complex handclapped rhythm against which is overlayed the main theme, quite gently the first time through. This then drops away to reveal a finger-picked guitar part that quite simply has no key and no time signature. It is an absolutley miraculous piece of composition within a composition that I would defy any guitarist to transcribe. I've heard nothing like it before or since. This then breaks out with Pats wicked right hand strumming technique taking over and we're back to the main theme, but building in power, layer by layer, with each iteration. Space is then made for a quintessential Lyle Mays piano solo. Neither too long or too short, not a note out of place. This gives way to a final round or two of the main theme, sung and strummed with great joy and gusto, and with huge flying horns, pounding tympani and trademark whirling synths all bought to an abrupt and startling halt.
I've seen this track done live, more than once, amd it shows up on a later live album, and I seem to recall, one of the DVD's. To see a band of six or seven musicians make a noise as big as a symphony orchestra in full flight like this, is one of the most awesome manifestations of modern electric music.
The album starts with a brief joke track. Its a marching tune with everyone playing the wrong instrument, deliberately badly played. It was an amusing scat they used to do as an introduction to their live shows. I suspect however that it creates a poor impression for a first time listener, and I presume that this is why the album has less of a reputation than the others. I tend to skip straight to track 2 automatically whenever I put it on. If this is the reason for it being less popular its a shame because every other track is a PMG masterpiece. It was only meant to be a joke after all.