01. Beautiful scarlet (5:23)
02. Sympathy (2:30)
03. Nature's fruit (2:32)
04. Bird on a wing (4:13)
05. God of war (5:08)
06. Iceberg (6:46)
07. Times (3:19)
08. You went away (4:17)
09. Melanie (3:27)
- Mike Ashton / drums, lead & backing vocals
- Graham Field / Hammond organ
- Steve Gould / guitar, bass, vocals
- Dave Kaffinetti / electric piano, synthesizers
NOTE: The version of the album I am familiar with has Iceberg, Times, You Went Away and Melanie at the start the other songs towards the end. Perhaps my CD has the LP sides in the wrong order, or perhaps the progarchives entry is wrong. (Either way, I think the running order placing Iceberg at the start and God of War at the end is superior, since it means the album is bookended by its two best and most progressive tracks.)
With two keyboardists and no lead guitar, Rare Bird's debut album takes them into territory much like that occupied by early Procol Harum (if you take the talented Mr Trower out of the picture). But it's evident from the first track on this album, Iceberg, that they're a somewhat different proposition. As dark and mysterious as Procol themselves could get, the track also brings to play a higher level of complexity and at points starts to sound similar to early Van der Graaf Generator.
USA Front Cover
If the whole album were up to this standard, the band would have a real treat on their hand, but there are a few numbers that are simpler, more commercial, and (if I'm being brutally honest) just plain less good. Times is, to be frank, kind of lousy to start off with, but the second half of the song improves once the singing stops and the keyboard soloing kicks in in earnest. You Went Away and Melanie are similarly conflicted; the love song parts are a bit less simplistic and clumsy, but then again the improvisation parts are briefer and more tightly contained, so on the whole they're both clunkers. (Melanie, in particular, is let down by an unconvincing vocal performance that lacks the impressive intonations of the more dramatic tracks on the album.)
The second side puts things back on track as it opens with Beautiful Scarlet, that recaptures the dynamism and drama and foreboding of Iceberg. But the side lets itself down with Sympathy, apparently a hit for the band - which I can't understand, considering that it's a plodding, sappy mess of a song. I guess the "half the world hates the other half" message seemed more relevant during the Cold War. But actually, as a whole the second side holds up much better than the first: Nature's Fruit, the other short song on this side, is actually a bit more peppy and more musical interesting to boot, and I'm also personally quite fond of the pastorally-themed Bird On a Wing. And the side closer, God of War, is the first hint of the dark and Van der Graaf-haunted territory they would explore on their superior second album.
Rare Bird's debut is an extremely promising album with some dynamite tracks in the form of Iceberg and God of War, but it's badly let down by the filler material that seems to have been cooked up in a rush to get the thing finished - particularly on the first side. (After all, the band had barely formed when Tony Stratton-Smith signed them up and hustled them into the studio to lay this one down.) It's also suffered from a fairly cheap production job - perhaps not surprising considering that this was one of the very first albums Charisma put out - and, on at least the CD copy I have, a rather poor-quality transfer which sounds like it was taken directly from a vinyl copy rather than the master tapes. (That said, I've not heard the latest reissue from Esoteric so that might have superior sound quality - they've done a wonderful job on other reissues so I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't spruce this old Bird up a bit.) Still, when the band is up to scratch, they are a true delight for any proto-prog fan.