2021 (Spirit Of Unicorn)
When the keyboard-playing duo Clive Nolan and Oliver Wakeman were gathering ideas for a follow-up to their famous albums “Jabberwocky” (1999) and “The Hound Of The Baskervilles” (2002) their former record company pulled the plug on the project. It must have been painful for the gentlemen that their intended trilogy based on literary works was never completed. The album would have centered around Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein.
Many years later the plan arose to release a box set featuring remastered versions of “Jabberwocky” and “The Hound Of The Baskervilles”. When asked if there was any leftover material Nolan and Wakeman brought forward their ideas for Frankenstein as well as some leftovers from “The Hound Of The Baskervilles” and a poem recited by Rick Wakeman that didn’t make it onto “Jabberwocky” back then. The two keyboard virtuosos received the green light and so various singers and fellow musicians came together during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2020 to breathe new life into Frankenstein. At the beginning of 2021 the box set “Tales By Gaslight” was released containing the two aforementioned remasters and a third disc titled “Dark Fables”. Half a year later “Dark Fables” also saw the light of day as a separate CD.
It is an enjoyable album, although not as grandiose as its predecessors but good enough to be positive about. It remains impressive to hear them galloping over the keyboards. The sound fluctuates between bombastic and atmospheric, always with well-placed instrumentation whether it’s David Marc Pearce’s fat electric guitar or Adam Nunes’ buzzing cello.
The vocals also add value to the songs. Don’t be afraid of an overdose of theatricality because it’s not there. You might expect it considering Andy Sears (Twelfth Night) is one of the vocalists. You can’t tell that he sings in Clive Nolan’s musicals. His expressions are always genuine and fueled by his passion. He is present in two songs, I’d Give You Anything and Time Passes. Another singer is Paul Manzi, a man with a history in both Oliver Wakeman’s band and Clive Nolan’s Arena. His warm rock voice adds color to the music. In Why Do You Hate Me he tackles the task with a biting voice reminiscent of Fish. We also hear Nolan himself singing The Mirror which has a Shadowland/Arena-like vibe and Charlotte Dickerson shines with her often doubled angelic voice in The Wedding Approaches. Beautiful in this song is also Gordon Giltrap’s subtle play on the classical guitar making each song unique.
The album starts with the bombastic The Overture in a style that feels immediately familiar. It underscores that both keyboardists know their way around majestic themes, big chords, and seductive Moog riffs. However the album has more of a singer-songwriter signature a thought fueled by the abundance of piano playing in most songs. Remarkably, the piano acts as a sort of binding agent on this album and it’s needed too. With a bit of luck “Dark Fables” could be considered a compilation album. And it is but what I want to say is that there is a pleasant flow to the album a rhythm of enjoyable songs with occasional highlights. The riffing section of I’d Give You Anything always brings a smile to my face and I always have a great time when I hear the piano in Elizabeth. Why Do You Hate Me has a delightful passage with instrumental indulgence from the guitar and keyboards. The Wedding Approaches is a tasteful event in a folky atmosphere and both the instrumental A Descent Into Madness and The Man Called Sherlock which has a gothic vibe can be considered highlights. Personally I find it incomprehensible that this song was left out during the selection process for “The Hound Of The Baskervilles”. Enjoyable swirling sections revolving around the main theme of “The Hound” and strong vocal sections alternate regularly. The album has an intriguing ending with the aforementioned recitation of the “Jabberwocky” poem. You don’t expect it.
In conclusion “Dark Fables” contains enjoyable tunes and that’s what we’re here for. The fact that the album requires some perspective is not actually a hindrance. Go for it!
© Dick van der Heijde 2022