01. Merlin (7:23)
02. Tintagel (2:41)
03. The sword in the stone (3:21)
04. The king's enchanter (2:42)
05. Niniane (Lady of the Lake) (7:22)
06. Seagull (4:10)
07. Boogie heart (4:11)
08. Not that we've gone this far (4:39)
09. Can't afford to lose (3:19)
10. Love's aglow (6:03)
- Katherine Lapthorn / backing vocals
- Irene Lindner / backing vocals
- Edward Reekers / vocals
- Peter Scherpenzeel / bass
- Ton Scherpenzeel / keyboards, backing vocals
- Johan Slager / guitars, backing vocals
- Max Werneer / drums, percussion, vocals
The first five songs here (Merlin, Tintagel, The Sword In The Stone, The King's Enchanter and Niniane (Lady Of The Lake)) form this half concept album. These songs are all very good and have a strong classic feel. Merlin and Niniane (Lady Of The Lake) are particularly beautiful songs that really deserve to be heard. The music is often rather mellow and serene with a strong presence of piano and symphonic keyboards with occasional outburst of harder rocking passages and some good guitar work. There is also a very appealing folky sound and medieval feeling to some passages. Some excellent stuff here for sure!
The second half of the album is thematically and also musically unconnected to the first and has a much lower value. Boogie Heart is particularly painful to these ears, being, as the title implies, something of a Boogie song. Needless to say, this is best avoided. The rest is quite typical Kayak Pop Rock with little or no progressive aspects; tasteful but largely forgettable. The value of this album lies primarily in its first half.
In 2003 Kayak made a remake of Merlin adding the subtitle Bard Of The Unseen. While many people think that the remake constitutes a large improvement over this original version, I must here say something in favour of the original 1981 version. While I agree that the remake is an improvement in some respects, in other respects it is the opposite of an improvement. The new version is better recorded and has a much higher sonic quality but I feel that they turned these very good Merlin songs from the present album into some kind of "Rock musical" or Rock Opera that I didn't much like at all. Comparing the two versions side by side I must say that the original version is by far the one that I personally like best. This original has something special that I feel is not entirely recreated on the new version. And this is not an expression of nostalgia since, as I said, I heard the new version before I heard the original one.
Having defended this original version, I must point out again that it is by no means perfect and doing a remake was indeed a very good idea. However, I don't much appreciate what they did with these songs while re-recording them in 2003. The result was too bombastic, too theatrical and too orchestral. It comes across as a bit overblown and too "big" for my taste. But I should stop talking about the remake as this review is for the original version.
Now, how to rate this album? Had the second half of the album been as good as the first half, this would probably be a four star release. As it stands, however, with the second half being much weaker, I can certainly not go above three stars for the whole. Still, this is one of Kayak's best albums ever!
Recommended for the very good conceptual first half that is better than the 2003 remake of the same (unless you are into "Rock musicals" in which case the new version is probably preferable).