So this is the album that we've been promised for 10 years. If you've been a fan of Secret Chiefs 3, then you should know what to expect in terms of music. I was really excited when I saw the track listing and the number of tracks(13). But after all the hype "Over a decade in the making, it's Secret Chiefs 3's most elaborate work yet", to say I'm disappointed with this record is a nice way of putting it. I'm actually closer to being pissed off. My reasons:
1) Four tracks we've already heard before. Three of them have been on tour only vinyl, and they are fantastic, but I wouldn't call them new since they've been out for years. They should have released them on the promised compilation Satellite Supersonic 2. The other track feat. Mike Patton was released I think earlier this year or late last year. So again not exactly new, but if we consider it a single then fine, I'll let that one slide.
2) Six tracks are supposedly bridges, but to me they're just snippets of sounds, a bit like what they did on their first record. I'm sure it was fun recording them, but six tracks out of 13 is a bit too much.
3) Running time of 39 minutes. That would have been reasonable if so much time wasn't taken up by filler.
So essentially what we get is THREE new tracks. If I hadn't heard the other tracks before I would have raised my rating to four stars (the filler tracks would still bring my rating down). It's nice to finally own those rare tracks, but like I mentioned above should have been on a compilation.
I am starting to have the suspicion that Spruance is paying little attention to studio recordings and more on touring for financial reasons. Which would be understandable for an independent release, but that doesn't really do anything for me. This record is apparently part A, but I'm not keeping my hopes up this time for part B, or part 3 of the trilogy. Still, once my disappointment has subsided, I'm sure I'll be enjoying it a lot more.
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Of the thirteen tracks on Folio A, six are interludes, i.e. one minute sound collages at best, which leaves us with seven songs proper. Those are great, in the bouquet of sometimes slightly bombastic styles that the band is known for. Though the metal accent has nearly all gone, left is the instantly recognisable sound - brass, glockenspiel and snare drum (in the march-like Potestas Clavium), low synths, organ, electric saz. And the unpredictable hopping between time signatures, like in track 7, a slightly claustrophobic sounding miniature suite for ballet. The disc opens and closes with signature, Arabic inspired tracks, which is what drew me years ago to SC in the first place. Then there are two covers, which have always been one of SC's fortes: a reworking of John Carpenters' Halloween theme - very much in the way Barry Adamson would have done it - and a version of Jacques Brel's La Chanson du Jacky, which can compete with Marc Almond's interpretation from years ago and for me is the cd's highlight. Drive is, like all the remaining tracks, instrumental, propelled by a strong rhythm and paranoid undertones. One has to take into account though, that after all the hype and postponing, expectations were high. And my realization from the credits that Secret Chiefs is actually no more than a studio project wherein musicians never meet (single tracks are recorded between long intervals of time, followed by a lot of cut-and-paste) has shattered a bit of the romance. It is, no doubt, a craftfully and lovingly made album, but rather short at thirty-nine minutes. It fits well beside, but does not stand above, the other Books (or Grand Constitutions). That is why I doubted giving it 4 stars or 5. Awarded it 5 now, but with a reserve: after A follows Folio B? Then Mr Spruance has to come up with a full length disc with few more surprises. And a lot quicker.
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This is the sort of album that really starts to grow on you. At first I was a little unsure, as others have pointed out the repeated material and short running time. After a few times through I really love it, despite it`s few flaws.