In days of old when knights were bold, and monsters stalked the planet...
...somebody decided it would be a really good idea for them to all to go out and make solo albums. Even the drummers.
Yes did it, and Jon Anderson’s Olias of Sunhillow returned a couple of weeks back to remind us of its majesty. Kiss did it, and Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove” turned up on a Glam Rock compilation at the end of last year. Alongside the likes of Noel Coward, Jacques Brel and Marilyn Manson, just in case you care about truth in advertising. ELP sort of did it, but then only came up with one side apiece, so they stuck them on the next band album. And the Moody Blues did it, around the same time as people stopped really caring what they were up to.
We look at such prolusions now, and ask “what were they thinking?” It’s only on the occasions that we actually play the things that we realize, hey maybe they weren’t all so bad after all. It’s so easy to mock, after all, and prog bands have never been known for their lack of pretension. But Justin Hayward and John Lodge worked together, and Blue Jays emerged as well-crafted as it could be; Ray Thomas came From Mighty Oaks, without sounding at all wooden; and Graeme Edge got together with Adrian Gurvitz for a set that positively seethes. And then there was Mike Pinder, whose The Promise seemed the lowest key of them all, probably because it arrived a little later than the others, and we all forgot to buy it when it did appear.
Which was a shame because, if you take it all together, it was probably the best of the lot.
Good enough that you’d want to buy the box set?
Well, kinda-sorta-maybe. Yeah.
Newly-released by the UK’s Esoteric, The Promise / Among the Stars is in fact two Mike Pinder albums; his 1976 debut, in all its shimmering and occasionally Mellotronic glory, and Among the Stars, a 1994 collection that fell into the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it abyss, but bounces back now with three bonus tracks; plus a third disc comprising a DVD interview that is remarkably enthralling from start to finish. There’s also some postcards and a booklet, but such treats are fairly standard these days. It’s the music that matters, man, and The Promise that surprises. Partly because past CD releases scarcely set the world aflame, and partly because... well again. A lot of people missed it the first time around, and they carried on missing it thereafter.
A lot folkier than you’d have expected from its maker, often acoustic, occasionally even gospel-like, it’s an album of melodies cast from textures. The lyrics, at the risk of sounding hokey, concern Pinder’s own spirituality and philosophies, but he was scarcely the only mid-70s musician to tack those themes to an album, and he pulls it off well. It’s musically that The Promise best excels, though, buoyant waves of sound that propel the listener through the changes of pace without ever jarring the overall mood. A snatch of light jazz here, a taste of psychedelia there... grumpily, one notes that this latest release eschews the two bonus tracks that graced the One Step Records CD, “Island to Island” and a remake of “Step Into The Light,” reprised from the Moodies own Octave. But neither have anything to do with the album itself, so we’ll forgive and forget and move on to Among the Stars.
Eighteen years separated Pinder’s second solo album from his first, and it’s a lot more easy listening than its predecessor, albeit riddled with some startling passages - “Fantasy Flight” is an absolute highlight, while the title track carries much the same momentum as the airier elements of the Moodies themselves. The Days of Future Passed era Moodies, as well.
At the same time, however, Pinder readily admitted that "I consider myself now more as a writer-communicator than a performing artist," and there is an element... not of preachiness, but of instruction to the album, a mood which carries over to the interview as well. But it’s fascinating to hear Pinder dig into the past, discussing the primal Moodies albums in depths that we haven’t all heard before, and it’s good to hear “Go Now,” the song that started it all, years before any of this was imagined.
Nice box, great remastering, fair price. What more could you ask for?