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Nektar – A Spoonful of Time

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Cover version albums are always an odd thing. People will either complain if tracks don’t sound close enough to the original songs or sound too different from the original versions, so bands who do them are always in a no-win situation. The best things to do is to try and ‘own’ the tracks themselves and make them yours – after all, some bands covers have outstripped and outsold the originals. Are these sorts of albums necessary? Probably not, for instance most people don’t hail Bowie’s Pin Ups album as work of genius. But these records do give bands a bit of breathing space (and to be fair probably a lot of fun) in between recording their own material. Some of Nektar’s takes on these tracks are great and they add a little of their magic to songs we all know so well.

Nektar suffered the oxymoron of being known as the British Krautrock band. Their sound had little in common overall to the rest of the Seventies’ major German cosmic rock bands such as Ash Ra Tempel and Tangerine Dream but did create similar concept progressive albums like Grobshnitt. However, their sound and feel was more within the style of the British bands such as Genesis, ELP and Yes. Here they release an album of cover versions with a plethora of progressive rock’s finest musicians on hand to help out. So let’s pull the album out of the triple gatefold sleeve and light the joss sticks and see what it’s all about.

“Sirius” (written by Alan Parsons) is a bombastic opener, with Roye Albrighton’s guitar soaring over guest musician Michael Pinnella’s keyboard runs; it’s a moody instrumental that’s fairly typical of Parsons work such as Lucifer – an interesting start. OK – I have to be straight here; I bought Permanent Waves by Rush when it first came out, so have lived with hearing “The Spirit of Radio” for the last 33 years. They are a band that has a distinct sound so I was fairly apprehensive when I saw that this was being covered. Mark Kelly of Marillion adds some extra keyboard touches to the track, and the song remains musically very close to the original. It’s only when the vocals come in that the track hits a different stride; for starters they are not sung in a Geddy Lee falsetto, but in a lower register that took me a bit of getting used to. You can’t fault Nektar’s musicianship though, which crunches ahead with what is a difficult song to pull off. Steve Miller’s “Fly like an Eagle” works better, with Buggles and Yes keyboardist Geoff Downes adding some great bits to this straight-ahead rocker.

One of my heroes Edgar Froese adds some keyboards to the cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” – this sticks pretty close to the original again, with Froese adding atmospherics beneath Waters and Gilmore’s tune; the guitar solo isn’t a million miles away from the album version, and this would always be a difficult song to make one’s own. The odd pairing of Hawkwind’s Nik Turner and Deep Purple’s Ian Paice help out on “For the Love of Money” – which becomes one of the more funkier and stand out tracks on the album with Turner’s extended sax wig out. Steve Winwood’s “Can’t Find my Way Home” has Yes man Steve Howe and Mel Collins on board to help give the track a lazy summer afternoon feel, and the track – thanks in part to Collin’s flute and sax – sounds breezy and is definitely an album highlight.

High Tide’s Simon House is there to add his violin strings to The Stones’ “2000 Light Years from Home.” In Nektar’s hands the track seems to take on the rather odd trait of sounding like it could have been an out-take from Bowie’s Low at points; top marks though for breathing some new life into a song that has been covered quite a lot in the past. OK, here’s the difficult one for me: I’ve been a Doors and Jim Morrison nut since I was 15 and I’m never very keen on people covering their songs as very few people do it with the same passion as the original versions. Nektar play “Riders On The Storm” straight, taking away some of the song’s more bluesy elements and making it more of a rocker and less jazzy than the original. Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light” has Cream drummer Ginger Baker pounding the skins, and Nektar manage to Prog up the track and keep it ballsy with some great guitar and keyboard work.

Simon House is back to play on the cover of Roxy Music’s “Out of the Blue.” This is quite an odd choice and the group manage to add those Roxy touches into the track without ever stamping on their toes, and start to own the track themselves. Neil Young’s “Old Man” is given a lush sound that makes the track sound melancholy ,and Roye Albrighton carries off Young’s vocal line with aplomb. Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver” is up next, filled with space rock synth wibble under Jerry Goodman’s fine expressive violin passages that give the track a late night drive kind of feel. Another Yes man, Rick Wakeman, adds keyboards to 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love.” which Nektar slightly speed up here as well as dispensing with all the lush vocal backing of the original. The track has a pleasant Sunday morning feel, but I think more could have been made of Wakeman’s complex keyboard style to help take the song to a different place and make it slightly more progressive. There is a great Moog solo at the end though; another album highlight. Patrick Moraz (Yes’s other ’70s keyboard player) adds some synth to Toto’s “Africa” – I was never a fan of the original song and this cover doesn’t stray to far away from it and keeps within the parameters of the AOR sound. If you liked Toto’s song then you will definitely enjoy Nektar’s take on it.

-Gary Parsons-

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