Concept albums are risky. Done right, they can become a classic work of art; The Who’s Tommy, The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Under The Sea are concepts that will be lauded for decades to come. However, if done wrong, they can be seen as pretentious, self-indulgent, and can be the ruin of a band; nobody’s making a case for the greatness of the KISS album Music From “The Elder,” Styx’s Kilroy Was Here, or Pink Floyd’s Animals. (Of course, who hasn’t laughed at the most hilarious example of conceptual album pomposity, Spinal Tap’s Jack the Ripper opera, featuring the song, “Saucy Jack?”)
British progressive folk group Quiet World’s sole album was a conceptual record, and though not a masterpiece, it isn’t nearly as bad as those dreadful records. Formed in 1969 by two sets of brothers; John and Steve Hackett and John, Lea and Neil Heather, and augmented by over a half dozen other members (encompassing strings, percussion and brass), they quickly composed the seventeen-track concept The Road, an album in part about the life of Jesus Christ, with a subplot dealing with living through and dealing with the turmoil and tumult of 1968.
The Road is well-produced; listening to the album on headphones, one can really fully experience the lush, colorful arrangements. Several songs are superb, too; “Children Of The World” is an upbeat number that transcends the concept, offering a message of peace and love and unity, while “First Light” blends slow balladry and rock groove together quite nicely; the tempo changes along with the song’s harmonies makes for a lovely listen. Yet most of the songs are inexorably linked to each other, and the concept gets a bit heavy, making piecemeal listening confusing. It doesn’t help that there are a few spoken word passages that occasionally are giggle-inducing in their overt earnestness. The Road is a beautiful sounding record, but it’s not a record that can be appreciated in half-measures; it must be taken as a whole, and while it has its merits, creatively, it has winsome moments and generally doesn’t inspire multiple listens. It’s not surprising, then, that the record came and went quickly, and the group soon parted ways.
Yet this expanded edition makes one realize how the band’s ambitious concept could have been its fatal flaw. The reissue includes six bonus tracks, collecting the band’s three singles. The first, “Miss Whittington” and “There Is A Mountain,” their debut single, was credited to The Quiet World of Lea and John, and consist of two pastoral folk numbers, heavy on the harmony and gorgeous in their arrangement, and serve as a nice taste for the superb recording arrangements that would soon come. But it’s the post The Road singles that really shine. The first was released in 1970, and sounds nothing like anything they’d done before. “Rest Comfortably” is heavy—and I mean heavy—blues-rock, verging on metal, not unlike Free and even Black Sabbath. The b-side, “Gemima,” is psych-folk, and sounds like A Saucerful of Secrets-era Pink Floyd; it’s a sound they’d explore further on their final single, released the following year, with “The Visitor” and “Sam.”
These six sides show that there was much more to Quiet World, and that they were a band with much potential and promise, and not necessarily one for whom obscurity beckoned. Not that all of the members were destined for obscurity; Steve Hackett would soon join Genesis, his brother John would become a notable session musician, while The Heather Brothers would garner international acclaim in the theatrical world as the creator of innovative musicals, which is not surprising, considering The Road is very much a musical. This expanded reissue is a lovely—if slightly flawed—document of a band who took a creative risk and ultimately suffered for its ambitiousness.
Categories: Album Reviews