Back before Prog made a comeback, before Welsh keyboardist Rob Reed formed Magenta, he dreamed of being in a band like Yes or Genesis. He formed a band called Cyan. Still a teenager in the 80’s he and his school chums shopped a four song demo they had recorded. Crickets. A couple years later Reed gets an offer to record an entire album via a Dutch label on the strength of said demo. The problem was: he had left school and his mates had scattered. So he carried on, playing all the instruments and singing all the vocals. There would be three Cyan records done in this fashion. The first of which, For King And Country, was released in 1993. He would later meet vocalist Christina Booth and Magenta was soon to become a reality. But in the back of Reed’s mind remained the goal of someday revisiting this material and do it justice with a full band. That day is today and the newly minted version of this obscure Prog artifact is an absolute delight. Twenty-eight years did nothing to dampen the effectiveness of the songs. What was missing all along were the right players and he found them in Luke Machine (The Tangent), Dan Nelson (Magenta) and the great blind singer, multi-instrumentalist Peter Jones of Tiger Moth Tales, It Bites and, most recently, Camel. Jones is well-known to mainstream British audiences as a contestant on the first season of The X Factor TV show in the UK. The dude can sing.
Listening to the original again (for the first time in a decade) in preparation to do this review reminded me how good this was but Reed was absolutely correct in understanding how much better it could be. And these are no mere re-recordings. Much of the material has been tweaked with new sections, different arrangements and so on. Right out of the gate it’s obvious that this is the real deal. Reed had used programmed drums and keyboard bass guitar settings to replicate those sounds. The improvement is immediately noticeable. This sounds new – like a brand new band performing brand new songs. But clearly the most important component is Pete Jones’ voice. He’s been around a while but this kind of feels like his coming out party. He puts so much emotion into his vocals that it becomes the focal point every time he steps up to the mic. The album starts with 15 epic minutes of “The Sorceror.” It’s pure Prog heaven as the track moves in many different directions – all of which are interesting and inviting. The song’s lyrics talk about wizards and kings and all the things that make Prog heads go nuts. Reed’s keyboards are wonderfully unsubtle but allow for enough space for Machine to spin shiny webs of guitar magic. He pulls sounds out of a guitar like Allan Holdsworth but can shred with the best of them. He wisely chooses to give to a solo only what the song requires. He’s an absolute beast and his inclusion in this project was a stroke of genius.
The next two songs display a more accessible side to the band. “Call Me” lets the more commercial side of Prog come to the forefront. Structured as a pop song in the vein of Collins-era Genesis, it still gets progressive in the middle. “I Defy The Sun” relies on a great vocal melody and Jones, once again, delivers. We also get some female backing vocals courtesy of Angharad Brinn, gently reminding us of Ms. Booth and Magenta. “Don’t Turn Away” makes great use of an orchestra (or sampled facsimiles of the same) that impart drama and tons of energy to an already cool song. The first of two instrumental tracks, “Snowbound,” continues in a Genesis mode with more shimmering keyboards than Tony Banks could shake a stick at. The second long song, “Man Amongst Men,” is up next and if there’s a misstep here it might be on this track. The youth of the composer becomes apparent as there is a naivete at play here as the story unfolds. And that is, in a weird way, one of this record’s biggest assets – the wide-eyed innocence of Reed as a teenage songwriter. But where the original album got stuck was in its monochrome presentation. The dichotomy between Reed’s youthful songs and his (and his bandmates) maturity as performers creates an ever-shifting playing field – almost like a hall of mirrors. The second instrumental, “Night Flight,” is probably my favorite on track on the album. It begins all dark and gloomy with a scary organ and Machine’s crazy guitar bending notes into submission. Suddenly everything changes again and we’re in fusion territory. Not for long though as a Latin jazz breakdown, complete with horns and acoustic guitar, sets in. By the time we get to the album closer (and title track) there is that strong desire to listen to the whole thing again. It is only then that I knew: this is special.
If there is one slightly negative comment I can make here is that the drummer gets no love at all. All the promo pictures and both videos released so far show current Magenta drummer Jiffy Griffiths but I’m pretty sure it’s original Magenta drummer Tim Robinson playing on the album. It’s weird that all the other players get top billing as the drums are alive on this record. And they are way up in the mix so what’s the deal, Rob? This was not a record I was expecting and it certainly was not one I was expecting to love as much as I do. One can only hope that Cyan remains a working concern – right alongside Magenta. They are not the same band. They have a completely different vibe yet one can tell it’s Robert Reed. He has become that identifiable as a composer and keyboardist. And with Cyan he has found out that sometimes the best pathway towards the future can be a careful examination of the past.
Key Tracks: “The Sorceror” / “Don’t Turn Away” / “Night Flight”
Artists With Similar Fire: Magenta / Marillion / It Bites