1992 (SI Music)
Except from some other pieces of work out of the heydays of prog I’ve rarely heard a concept album where the interaction between music and lyrics is so strong as on the casino album from 1992. This project from keyboard-player Clive Nolan and singer Geoff Mann has the casino as a setting for a metaphorical story with a religious meaning. What makes this album so special is the tragedy that comes forward in every sentence, given the fact that Mann died very shortly after the release of colon cancer, age 36. Because of that his expressive way of singing feels as if someone tears a razorblade right through your soul. Combine this with the prog music that is on display here and you’ve got an album that fascinates for life.
It is well-known that Mann was a passionate vicar. Let’s see what he has got to say on the album and how it’s framed musically.
In the song Prey the casino is introduced with conviction and the main character Lucky James who, weak as he is, falls for the temptations of gambling. Musically we hear a dazzling song with plenty of polyphony and nice keyboards. They are not the least musicians we hear. Besides Clive Nolan there is Mike Stobbie (Pallas) on keyboards, on guitar Karl Groom (Shadowland) and Sylvain Gouvernair (Arrakeen) are given their best. On bass we hear Jon Jeary (Threshold) and on drums there is Brian Devail (Twelfth Night). However, as well as it goes for you, the listener, as bad as it gets for Lucky James.
In the following songs we are witnessing his downfall. Crap Game let us hear how pointless it all is, a gambling addiction leads to nothing. This is supported by a genius keyboard-theme. ‘To Win The Toplimit’ Mann proclaims. In Drunk the total disorganization of Lucky James is in the spotlight and, drunk as he is, he decides to continue playing. Beautiful warm keyboard playing sets the atmosphere perfectly, at which the falsetto voice of Mann is extremely intrusive. What comes next is the demise of Lucky James. In the thrilling Crying Onto Baize we hear that he is completely ruined. Its packed in a golden neo-prog song with a brilliant guitar solo and an undeniable Nolan -piano. A haunting passage is next up, debouch into a depicted roulette-wheel which is turning slower and slower.
Then there is the appearance of the character Stranger. He is the metaphor for Jesus, deliverer of the good. It is a happy bluesrocker who is slightly out of line with the other songs. After several spins it leaves you in a good mood nevertheless. The closing Beyond That Door is fortunately highschool-prog again. The management of the casino (the devil) doesn’t like Stranger that much and kills him by pushing him through a window. A resemblance with the crucifixion can be made here. Because of this move the outside world comes inside, and the inside world is going out, as it were. At the end the staff is leaving and the casino falls. This is such a monumental song, so great, it is by far the most played song in the van der Heijde residence.
All in all this album is one to cherish. If you like melodic, neo-proggy symfo, then you have two options: you’re already addicted, or you will become addicted to this album. Ignoring is not an option in that case.