Album Review

Nektar – The Other Side: Album Review

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:

With the help of Matt at Cherry Red, we were able to sort a quickfire Q&A with Derek ‘Mo’ Moore from the band after giving the album the once over.

ATB: When I first heard to opening track, I’m On Fire, it sounded like a bunch of guys having a real blast. Laying down some chords and enjoying creating round them. Is that how making the album was for you?

Mo: Yes it was a lot of fun to do. We did all the tracks for the new album live and then did overdubs.  The exception was Drifting which was the first take live we only added the vocal lines and the piano under them

ATB: There does seem to be a sort of renaissance (or perhaps it never really went away) for bands like yourselves, Gentle Giant and Gong/Hillage releasing work from the archive as well as new music. Is that quite reassuring that the demand is still out there?

Mo:  It is incredible that after 50 years we still have fans of all ages.  The new album is for them.  We feel it is the follow up to Recycled as it is a concept album and sound like that era

ATB: The album feels like a proper old school progressive rock album in terms of the arrangements and the instruments – the 12 string and keyboards. There’s also a distinct nod to and link with the past in various ways through the music and the personnel. Did you feel it was important to include those latter elements.

Mo:  They were there from day one.  The band is awesome.  We play like it is the 70’s naturally.  I am VERY pleased with the result

ATB:  So, can you tell us a bit more about the idea behind developing Sky Pilot from 1978 into SkyWriter.

Mo:  Sky Pilot which I wrote in 1978 never felt right to me.  Ryche called me and he told me he had a verse that would fit and we looked at it and it was perfect.  The whole song now made sense.  Mick and I started the lyrics and invited Ryche to join us .  It made for a great writing team as we finished the lyrics.  The story of a guy who loses his girlfriend and is up in the sky writing letters to her hoping she will see them.  Nowhere does it say he is in an aeroplane.  He is flying.  Lots of imagination here

ATB: With a piece like Love Is/The Other Side that hits eighteen minutes, it seems to start as a simple love song (possibly the Love Is bit…) before you’ve expanded the piece. Am I thinking on the right lines here or miles out!

Mo: We wrote all of the music first and then we did the lyrics.  Mick Brockett came up with the name The Other Side then everything came into focus from there.  We were still writing lyrics in the studio.  The whole album is a love song.  Starting with I’m on Fire when he professes his love. SkyWriter where she dies and he is writing letters in the sky to her hoping she will see them (she does).  The Other Side is the musical trip he takes to the other side.  Drifting where he is hanging in space having learned how to fly and he can see her eyes in space.  Devils Door tells of the journey to the Devils Door and back.  The Light Beyond tells of the light you see when you die. You can hear the voices of the dead.  Look through me is a look inside yourself and Y Can’t I B More Like U 2020 is self explanatory closing out the album

ATB: Does it sort of annoy you a bit when us reviewers listen to a track like Drifting and fall into the trap of commenting write that we can hear a touch of the sounds of  Sabbath/Floyd/Barclay James Harvest…etc

Mo:  I think it is clear that there are influences, bands like Floyd, Rush, Iron maiden and many more were influenced somewhat by Nektar.  We had our own groove.  I am flattered that they do that.  If you listen to the album you will hear lots of influences from that time in the 70’s  Even the keyboard sound in I’m On Fire sounds like John Lord and the SkyWriter solo reminisces Procol Harum and lots more, it was not intentional but it is there.

ATB: What prompted the choice of Drifting/Devil’s Door as the ‘single’ for the album?

Mo:  The single was SkyWriter/Devils Door and we felt they were good songs to represent the band.  Then we released Drifting into the internet community.  We held back The Other Side until the album was available

ATB: Y Can’t I B More Like U? sounds like the title from a Prince song but the gorgeous twelve string and the ‘proggy’ instrumental passage puts that thought to bed – however, is this ‘Nektar 2020’ in six and a half minutes?

Mo: Yes the whole album has that Nektar Proggy feel to it.  I am flattered you mention Prince as he was a fantastic performer who now lives on The Other Side with Roye and Vinny and Michael our Tour Manager

ATB: Nektar has quite a history and legacy – how do you think The Other Side sits in the catalogue?

Mo: I would place The Other Side after Recycled in our legacy / catalogue.  It is the ONLY concept album to follow Recycled and has the 70’s feel about it and has that Jam Band feel.  This band, like the original, is a Jam Band

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