Upon receiving the album in the mail from Europe (Centertainment- thank you!), I knew that the original 1991 CD release was a very talked about album; this release includes that album (including singles versions) and a second disc of extras and demos.
Coda is the brainchild of keyboardist and multiinstrumentalist, Erik De Vroomen. With a strong emphasis on melody, the band's material is dramatic, symphonic and atmospheric which focuses on keyboards (grand piano, mellotron, bass pedals, Hammond organ, a bunch of digital synths), and some sweet guitar. Though listed in the neo-prog genre, the album has enough of it's own style to firmly hold its own as a pure prog release. The influences of early Steve Hackett, The Enid, Keith Emerson, Camel and hints of Marillion abound. On the demo disc, I even heard a smidgeon of a Mike Oldfield influence.
The second disc contains demo versions of the SOP album (recorded under the name- Sequoia) as well as the bands second second (and last) album, the even more ambitious 'What A Symphony.' Unfortunartely the band faded in obscurity, though in 1991 they re-released `Sounds of Passion' on CD. In many ways the demos are quite similar to the final work in composition and lead play. They seem more sparse and less polished, but the power and the atmosphere remains intact (and all the digital synths as well). And for demos, the sound quality is quite good. The demo of `What a Symphony (parts 1 & 2), from the band's first album is excellent, and makes me long to find the band's final release. Even though the demos are well made, they are for the completeist Coda fan. It would've been nice to hear more unknown or newer pieces. Perhaps this release with entice Mr. De Vroomen to record again in band or solo form?
Now to the meat and potatoes, with the exception of the vocals, Coda is by far, one of the best prog albums of the 80's. The music is catchy, powerful, strong, beautiful, emotional and fluid.
But first the bad. Now unlike a few reviewers, I did not think that the vocals by Jack Witjes, on `Crazy Fool and Dreamer, and `Defended,' were that horrendous. I fact compared to some prog crooners, I thought they were fine. But there are problems, most having to do with language. The lyrics are fine, but the way Witjes pronounces certain words such as- cherishes and facts are cringing. It would have been better if he had a dialogue coach or had gotten an English vocalist if they preferred those lyrics. Unfortunately, the worse part of the album is the first two minutes, with some very embarrassing narration, on par with the worst of the Eloy spoken word. The band would have been wise to edit it out.
The last few sentences didn't sound like anything to back up my view of Coda being one of the best prog albums of the 80's. did it? Well, some narrative and vocals aside, this album is a thunderous roller coaster of progressive music delight. Witjes' shortcomings as a linguist fail to shadow his mastery of the guitar. Think Steve Hackett at his earliest and best. Besides the excellent bass and drums (and creative use of percussion) (Jacky Van Tongeren and Mark Eshus respectfully), the entire album showcases the artistry of Eric de Nroomen. The 29 minute plus long `Sounds of Passion' `suite.' is the highlight of the album. Narration aside, the first half has a pronounced neo prog/new age vibe, though composition-wise it's structure seems almost classical. Suprises such as the nice use of flutes and timpani enhance this overall feel. The power of the suite comes to fruition during the 20 min. mark, with thunderous church organ and one of the most perfect prog guitar solos I have ever heard. Add some grand piano and the 4th movement of `Sounds of Passion,' has kicked it up a few notches into prog heaven. De Vroomen's synth interplay with the electric guitar is simple and breathtaking. Themes return at the end to bring the composition back full circle. Simple stated, this is an amazing composition on par with the best of classic progressive bands epic works. Symphonic Proggers with eat this up! Just like bands such as Eloy, Coda seems more powerful and confident with their strength- instrumentals.
The two vocal-based tracks are solid pieces as well. Aside from mispronouncing some words, and some questionable intonation, the songs are strong and Witjes' voice is fine. Witjes' guitar plays a more pronounced roll on the two shortwe tracks and he doesn't disappoint. Oddly, the `Crazy Fool and Dreamer' single remix - another bonus track is 1 sec. shorter than the album version. The vocals seem to have a pronounced reverb on the single version.
One of the bonus tracks features bassist Jacky Van Tongeren, an engaging and lively bass solo. It seems more like an exercise than a song, but it showcases his talent.
The second bonus song `Central Station' take some of the SOP first movement and then takes it down an interesting almost surreal direction.
The album art by Fred Markus works, through it's pastels showcases the softer side of the album. It looks almost art student in nature, but good quality art student work. Nice interplay of subject matter.
The CD also comes with a 20 page CD booklet with photos, lyrics and notes. Bravo.
I have no idea why SOP didn't hit big. Sadly, reading the liner notes, it seems this will be the only opportunity to ever listen to Coda, (no new material (I hope Eric changes his mind!!!)). Regardless, all in all, the 21st Anniversary 2cd release is a easy choice as a winner and well worth the purchase price. If you have the original CD (not easily found), would you pick this up as well? I would say- don't bother unless you are a completeist, but if you have never heard Coda, or simply enjpy killer Symph Prog? I can not recommend this CD for Symphonic progheads enough. The album is an excellent musicl mix of poetry, beauty, power, grandioso, killer solos and... the sounds of passion.
9.5 out of 10 rating
Sounds of Passion (The album, the demos- 21st Anniversary edition)