Thursday, July 14, 2016

Focus - 1972 - Focus III

Focus III

01. Round Goes The Gossip (5:12)
02. Love Remembered (2:50)
03. Sylvia (3:31)
04. Carnival Fugue (6:09)
05. Focus III (6:05)
06. Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers! (14:03)
07. Anonymous Two (Part 1) (19:28)
08. Anonymous Two (Conclusion) (7:30)
09. Elspeth Of Nottingham (3:15)
10. House Of The King (2:23) *

* Recorded in 1969, previously included on Focus 1st album

- Thijs van Leer / vocals, Hammond organ, piano, alto flute, piccolo, harpsichord
- Jan Akkerman / electric & acoustic guitars, lute
- Bert Ruiter / bass
- Pierre van der Linden / drums

- Martind Dresden / bass (10)
- Hans Cleuver / drums (10)
- Mike Vernon / backing vocals (1-uncredited), producer

2xLP Imperial ?- 1A 154-24753 (1972, Netherlands)
2xLP Sire - SAS 3901 (1972, Canada/US) Different cover art

After a solid debut and a better second release (Moving Waves), FOCUS had really crossed the borders of Netherlands and were gaining a solid fan base all along Europe and even in USA, so they had to do something specialr not to loose this popularity, instead they did something better, they took the risk and went for a double album.
"In and Out of Focus" presented us a band worried to make sober and solid music, with echoes from the 60's and a delicate style of jamming, then moved towards a more spectacular instrumental sound, using the voice almost only as an extra instrument in "Moving Waves", but in "Focus III" we find a more mature band that reached the balance between pomp and virtuoso attributes, a band with enough courage to go further to the past up to the Medieval era in search for their roots, but using a clear Flemish style or Hard Rock when required, in other words a band with the guts to be different, not just a bunch of guys following the model that came from UK, they took the best of both worlds to create something exquisite and unique.

The album is opened with "Round Goes the Gossip" a vibrant track that starts with a drum intro that leads to an elaborate and complex multi instrumental passage in which Thijs Van Leer uses his versatile voice to create strange sounds, part in joke part completely serious and complementary of the music. The peculiar way of playing the organ is shocking, les lush but extremely complex, jumping from melodic passages to jazzy cacophonies, just can describe this song with five words....Progressive Rock at it's best.

"Love Remembered" is the perfect contrast, instead of the usual aggressive style of Thijs flute, he goes for a delicate and melancholic melody, the drums play a crucial job supporting all the weight of the song and Ian Akkerman adds his subtle touch with the guitar, only three minutes long, but it's said that you'd better leave the listener with the taste of honey in the lips rather than saturated, again incredibly beautiful and melancholic song.

The story of "Sylvia" is quite original, before joining FOCUS, Thij's Van Leer was a chorus singer for a pair of well known Dutch crooners, as he tells in the DVD "Masters from the Vault", tired of making oohs and aaahs, he and Sylvia (another singer of the chorus) asked their bosses to allow them to sing one song each one, they allowed but Sylvia's song was terrible, so Thij's wrote this track for her, but the girl hated it and he just kept it hidden somewhere with all his music.

When the band was working on "Focus III", they were short of material, so Thijs remembered this track, searched for it, deleted the lyrics and recorded it with the band, surprisingly was one of their biggest hits.

But what to say about the song? Not specially complex or frantic, mostly a catchy melody with an excellent guitar work and some subtle yodeling, the Hammond touch is a perfect addition, but that's how things work, it became a world hit despite they have better tracks.

"Carnival Fugue" begins with a dramatic piano intro in which Thijs makes his formal training evident while Jan Akkerman adds soft and barely listenable guitar sounds, but then the classical influence gets evident, both piano and guitar start a tandem work with clear Baroque leanings, until out of nowhere a radical change happens and the band enters into Fusion territory in the vein of "Miles Davis", that leads to a humorous Psyche oriented passage with Bossa Nova hints, this guys keep surprising me, no matter how many years pass.

Now is the turn for "Focus III" an incredibly beautiful song where Akkerman creates a fantastic atmosphere working with Thijs as one man, dark, somber and mysterious is one of my all time favorites, and despite not being a very long track, seems that never ends because it morphs into "Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!", one of the most dramatic epics that FOCUS has released, the pass of decades has not damaged it, by the contrary it has turned into a timeless classic that always makes me tremble. The incredible organ performance enhanced by the magical style of Jan Akkerman playing the electric guitar with the delicacy of a Flamenco guitarist is simply unbelievable, this track flows perfectly from start to end as a 1,000 pieces puzzle where everything fits in its right place.

Won't even attempt to comment it more because words can not describe the beauty of this epic, or how the psychedelic atmosphere of the first break, thick as the morning mist falls into the audience, almost a magical experience.

In the CD I got, "Elspeth of Nottingham" comes before the complete version of "Anonymous 2" something very adequate, because this travel in time to the 1300's with lute (I guess because is not mentioned) and piccolo prepares us for another epic that must nbe listened as a whole and not divided.

The album is closed with "Anonymous Two" which begins with the Hocus Pocus main section but immediately moves towards a frantic flute and drum section a la Jethro Tull, Thij's Van Leer proves us his dexterity rocking as an expert, while Akkerman, Ruiter and Van der Linden give a heavy Rock support, showing us how a band is supposed to work, one guy takes the lead in a semi solo and the rest keep working to enhance the effect.

But in this track not only Thijs is the star, there's a turn for each musician to shine with controlled solos, because even though they are essentially playing alone, they keep coordination among all the members to maintain the general atmosphere of the song intact.

In the original version the album is closed with the excellent "The House of the King" already released in their debut album, but IMO it would sound out of place in "Focus III.

After 70 minutes of great Progressive Rock, the album reaches its end, and always feel tempted to play it again immediately, a sign that it ever bores me.

Even though by my words everybody can notice I'm a FOCUS fan, won't give 5 stars to this fantastic album, because I believe their next release "Hamburger Concerto" is much more solid and I reserve the maximum rating for that one.

I'm sure some people won't enjoy this album as much as I do, because FOCUS is not for everybody, especially for people who grew listening British and Italian Symphonic exclusively, maybe because they are too eclectic or simply because it's not easy to get used to the Dutch masters' style, but the quality of the album is beyond any doubt as the fact that no Prog collection is complete without "Focus III".

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