Nektar – The Other Side
Release Date: 24th January 2020
Label: Cherry Red
Formats: CD, vinyl 2LP
When a band like Nektar has been there and done most things including buying the T-shirt, they perhaps deserve to be tagged as ‘legendary’. They’ve returned for a new decade with The Other Side that celebrates both their past and the present.
So where does Nektar fit into the grand prog rock scheme of things? Perhaps not quite up there and possibly overshadowed by the likes of Yes, ELP and Genesis – their seventies peers when keyboards, capes and one side of vinyl epics were the order of the day and the passport to prog rock VIP. However, there are plenty who’ve tagged onto the coattails of the greats and still make their own way in the prog scene.
While at their peak in the seventies, they may have struggled to make the same impact as some of their peers in a crowded and to be fair, very high-quality marketplace, their longevity is admirable. True, they’ve not succumbed to creating music that centres on commercial appeal in the desperate attempt to get a ‘hit’ and have taken a few breaks, but they’ve remained true to their prog rock roots. Indeed, they believe they’ve “found all the Nektar concepts to produce this album.”
The idea that “Nektar was always a concept, not just a band name” is very much like the one that drives Yes music where the ever-revolving doors have seen a long list of players taking their part in bringing Yes music to life.
But it’s 2020 and although some musical ideas stretch back to 1974 and 1978 there’s a positive vibrancy that saturates this record in a celebration of what great progressive rock music is all about with Kendall Scott’s keyboard sound and the twelve-string of Randy Dembo playing a huge role in rejuvenating the concept.
The joy and abandon that accompanies the opening flurries of I’m On Fire is that of a band that’s clearly in a groove. The keyboard chords and stabs and the drive and bounce of the rhythm decorated by some squalls of lead guitar and piano flourishes before the balls pout climax – a combination that seems as fine as anything in the Nektar catalogue.
Picking up again following the death of original member Roye Albrighton in 2016, the reunion of founder members Mo Moore, Ron Howden and Mick Brockett with Randy Dembo, Ryche Chlanda and Kendall Scott has seen the band make hay while the sun shines.
Aside from the fact that the opening track originates from a poem written in the late seventies, it’s Chlanda’s work with the band from 1978 that’s seen the emergence of Skywriter from the ’78 unrecorded Skypilot. One where the jazzy tones might have been linked and likened to the work of Camel although there’s a distinct Procul Harum keyboard phrase right in the middle of the piece.
Similarly digging into the archives, Devil’s Door was performed live in 1974 yet remained unrecorded. It features the presence of Albrighton in the intro, the part taken from a soundboard recording from the era. Done with taste and due reverence, it marks a lovely moment on a track that explodes into prog life with particular enthusiasm as the band dial into a series of funky chops and guitar/keyboard dueling as they “turn around while we have the chance” and indulge in the sort of crescendo that prog god Neal Morse would be proud to call his own.
Drifting sees a doom-laden Sabbath styled opening softened by the swathes of keys and guitar before erm, drifting briefly to emerge into a more ominous section where ‘Nektar do Floyd’. However, all eyes may be drawn to the extended Love Is / The Other Side. Seemingly using the old method of working several shorter pieces into one epic whole, the central instrumental section shifts into classical piano mode before coming out of the other side. The prog adage of bigger is better perhaps coming a little unstuck with this one.
Point in case as finally, we get all contemporary with the song titles; Y Can’t I B More Like U (2020) highlights the acoustic side with a gentle opening that feels almost like a coda to the album until we get a McCartney-ish passage and impressively fluid instrumental sequence that ends the album as it began – the creation of a joyful noise. It may be the latter phrase that sums up The Other Side; a grand progressive rock opus that might have some stampeding back to the Nektar archives.
Watch the official video with some selections from the album here: