One of the very best prog releases of 2022 was Lalu’s unexpected and remarkable “Paint The Sky”. More than likely, not nearly enough people are aware of its existence and if you happen to be one of them, go check it out right now and listen as you continue to read. Here’s our review to give you a synopsis and a background of the band. It’s more than worth your time, especially given that you’re already here and interested in Lalu’s latest.
A year and a half onward, Lalu are back with their followup, the enigmatically titled “The Fish Who Wanted To Be King”. The core band is the same as on the previous release but the numerous guests who appeared on “Paint The Sky” are no longer present. Which works out just as well because this band needs no guest artists to embellish their sound further, they’ve got plenty of chops and ingenuity to do just fine on their own. Jelly Cardarelli continues to shine as one of the most exciting modern drummers on the scene, his strong attack and nuanced technique fills every track with vibrance. Joop Wolters is absolutely stunning on guitar styles of every color, flawlessly executed and composed, but he is equally strong in the role of the band’s bassist, playing many a mighty prog bass line that propels the songs forward. Band leader and namesake Vivien Lalu lays down a wide range of keyboard textures that ensure the arrangements are well supported. And singer Damian Wilson does what he does best – provide some of the mightiest vocals in modern prog possible. What a juggernaut of a band! Still, they do add a fifth member to the group this time around: Matt Daniel who adds more keyboards, hammond organ and piano as needed, to create an even richer soundscape than before.
The album launches immediately with Wilson’s powerful voice on “Forever Digital”, proclaiming “In the moment you became as a light that is the fires of your face.” It’s a gripping opening. As the high tech story continues – “From the second you were saved, in the blockchain you were made” – the band traverses multiple instrumental sections, including a ripping acoustic guitar solo followed by a more classic electric approach, and finally ending with a bluesy slide coda. Is there anything that Wolters can’t do?
We then jump right into the lengthy title track, its wild story exploring “universal need”, told compellingly by Wilson. The extensive musical sections are rooted in Wolters’ punchy prog bass tone that would make Chris Squire happy, while his guitar playing at time suggests more than a little similarity to that of Steve Howe. Still, Lalu does not come off as retro in any way, this is unquestionably contemporary prog, meticulously performed and arranged with a very modern edge. Lalu’s keyboard patches and composed sections sound like a modern sci-fi soundtrack, giving the band their true identity. Wolter’s shining moment comes later in the piece with a soaring, slow burner electric solo. The structure of the song is a bit curious, it almost feels like one (fantastic) section is attached to another without much reason to it, but perhaps the goal was not to conform to traditional songwriting patterns.
Wilson is front and center – as well as panned left and right – on “Deoxyribonucleic Acid” as his vocals surround the listener in beautifully arranged dynamics. Fortunately, the skilled production of the album ensures that multiple stacked Wilsons don’t sound muddy, but rather shine in their brilliance. “Is That A London Number” provides another platform for his operatic vocals to shine, proving that he could read out of the phonebook and it would still sound heavenly.
“Amnesia 1916” is the longest piece on the album, running 14 minutes. Opening with a deliciously ambient mood with organ runs, it almost seems a shame to move into a driving pace for a couple of minutes before it returns to a spacious speed, dripping with beauty in its voice, keyboards and guitar. Then Cardarelli comes to the fore as the rhythm picks up slightly, completely surrounding the stage with his creative playing, it is clear that we are in good hands with Cardarelli at the kit. Wolters waits until the end to reveal his most stunning guitar solo section, beautifully supported by the rest of the band. As with the title track, there isn’t much of a pattern to the song writing; we travel from one section to another, never to return to a previous chorus or melodic structure. But again, the contents within are too engaging to mind the lack of repeating sections, it just requires more repeat listenings to fully absorb.
“A Reversal of Fortune” picks right up where “Amnesia 1916” leaves off and if you’re not watching the change of the track listing, it’ll sound like a continuation of the previous epic. For a change of pace this is an instrumental and turns out to be one of the most satisfying pieces on the album. Which is almost a shame to say, considering how good Wilson’s voice is, but it’s a testament to the strength of the band. Bringing some delicious jazz jamming into the mix, we get soloing from everyone here. It’s pure class throughout, including Cardarelli’s fantastic performance. “The Wondering Kind” is the last offering in our 54 minute journey, bringing some level of conclusion to Wilson’s lyrical explorations as he literally has the last word, the vibrato of his powerhouse pipes ringing out through the final second.
Whew. Lalu are one of the brightest hidden gems of the modern progressive rock world right now. These last two albums are monumental. If you like classic prog sensibilities in a shimmering modern context with an edge, this is a band for you. Highly recommended.
Released By: Frontiers Music SLR
Release Date: October 20th, 2023
Genre: Progressive Rock
“The Fish Who Wanted To Be King” track-listing:
- Forever Digital
- The Fish Who Wanted To Be King
- Deoxyribonucleic Acid
- Is That A London Number?
- Amnesia 1916
- A Reversal Of Fortune
- The Wondering Kind
- Damian Wilson / Vocals
- Joop Wolters / Guitars, bass
- Vivien Lalu / Keyboards
- Jelly Cardarelli / Drums
- Matt Daniel / Keyboards, Hammond organ, piano
Pre-order “The Fish Who Wanted to Be King” HERE.
Although not widely known yet, Lalu are one of the brightest hidden gems of the modern prog world. Masterminded by keyboardist Vivien Lalu, his band features one of prog’s greatest drummers, greatest guitarists and greatest vocalists. Producing a sound that is equally hard-edged and ambient, Lalu draws from the symphonic greats of the past while forging ahead into a sci-fi future