The first wave of prog-rock sometimes proves surprisingly tenacious. When a band reaches the 50 year mark, any remaining original members are inevitably reaching their 70s or beyond and usually there have been more than a few lineup changes along the way, if any original members remain at all. In the case of the Nektar, although the founding iconic focus of the band, Roye Albrighton, sadly passed away a few years ago, this resurrected version has called together three other original members who haven’t all been in the band at the same time since 1977. Welcome back, Derek “Mo” Moore, Ron Howden and Mick Brockett. Along with guitarist Ryche Chlanda who had a brief stint with the band in 1978, and bassist Randy Dembo who joined for a time in 2005, the only member who is truly new to Nektar is keyboardist Kendall Scott. But pedigree alone doesn’t necessarily equate a dignified carrying of the torch, let alone offering anything new worthwhile of a listener’s attention. Happily, the material offered on “The Other Side” is a sterling collection of songs and jams in its own right, containing over an hour of material which confidently brings the band into the 2020’s, a true cause for celebration not to mention a good reason to support their current tour.
Several of the songs herein have touchstones to the past and even take inspirations from nature’s elements. Opening rocker “I’m On Fire” is authored and sung by Mo Moore, the lyrics first being penned in 1978 for his soon-to-be bride, and now the music coming together to make for a scorcher of a start to the album. It’s a joyous clarion call to the faithful that this is a band re-birthed. As if to prove that was no fluke, followup “Skywriter” is one of the best compositions on the album, playfully starting with Ron Howden’s drum sticks tapping out a pattern before Chlanda’s smooth but emotive vocals take center stage. This track also has its origins from the 1978 period when Chlanda was in the band and the song was called “Sky Pilot”. During the instrumental break, Scott’s organ solo and Chlanda’s guitar offer entrancing interplay for the listener while the steady support of the rhythm section remains impressively engaging. Nektar boasts not one, but two bassists and sometimes they are both present on the same track. It makes for a rich, but not overwhelming, low end. At other times, Randy Dembo leaves his Rickenbacker for a 12-string guitar and Moore holds down the bottom end with experienced skill.
The centerpiece of the album undoubtedly is the 18-minute title track which takes up one full side of vinyl and is an homage to those who have passed from the Nektar Family. The song is somewhat of a medley between “Love Is” and “The Other Side”, cleverly blending together. The former walks the line of nearly being a bit sappy, while the latter contains more engaged vocal sections. Regardless, it’s the instrumental breaks which really make this song shine, beginning in earnest around the 9 minute mark. And then we truly witness the wizardry of Chlanda on guitar and Scott on keyboards. These two are a wonder to behold, and the continued success of Nektar owes much to their contributions throughout this recording. The solid drumming and bass work underneath perfectly compliments the arrangements and solos on top, giving the conviction of a well-chosen band who are playing skillfully together. This cohesiveness is taken even further on “Drifting”, a highlight of the entire album, which features one of the best vocal sections gently supported by piano mirroring the sung melodic lines, but then is largely devoted to intoxicating solo’ing in 9/8. As the tempo later alternates with 4/8, the bar is raised higher and it feels like this jam could go on forever, the specter of Nektar’s legacy rising up and enveloping the listener in swaths of psychedelic ecstasy. In many ways, the album could end here quite convincingly.
Instead, we are treated to the brief surprise of Roye’s own guitar playing, providing the intro to “Devil’s Doorway”. It’s a perfect mellow segue after the intensity of “Drifting” and we are brought back to earth as the song develops in true rock ’n roll fashion. Along with Scott’s synths and organ, the 70s feel very much alive in this piece, Nektar stands in its rightful place. There still remain three pieces on the album and they’re all fine in their own right, but honestly they almost feel unnecessary at this point as Nektar have proven their point. “The Light Beyond” is an atmospheric Scott solo piece which the band now use as their stage entrance for live shows, and “Look Thru Me” is basically a Chlanda acoustic solo song with sparse support from the band, notably including another ecstatic Scott synth solo. These two pieces slow up the flow of the album to a degree, but then we close with the strong “Y Can’t I B More Like U 2020” which brings the collective band together again for a grand finale.
At this point in their evolution, and after the passing of Albrighton, there likely weren’t many who expected a reformation of Nektar with a lineup like this. The point can’t be made strongly enough that the founding members chose very wisely in bringing back/in Chlanda and Scott, as this allows the entire lineup to shine and feel new and relevant while still rooted in their origins. As this new album releases on January 24th, the band find themselves in the middle of a North American Tour which extends into March. Show your support and treat yourself to the new material on album and in concert, where “The Other Side” tracks are played side by side with their classics.
Released by: Cherry Red Esoteric Records
Released Date: January 24th, 2020
- Randy Dembo / Bass, bass pedals, 12-string guitar
- Ryche Chlanda / Guitars, vocals, lyrics
- Kendall Scott / Keyboards, synths
- Derek “Mo” Moore / Bass, vocals, lyrics
- Ron Howden / Drums, vocals
- Mick Brockett / Visual conceptions, lyrics
“The Other Side” Track-listing:
1. I’m on fire
3. Love is / The Other Side
5. Devil’s Door
6. The Light Beyond
7. Look Through me
8. Y Cant I B more like U (2020)
Classic psychedelic proggers Nektar update their sound while staying rooted in their origins for a surprisingly fresh release. Despite the passing of Roye Albrighton, which is honored on the album, various Nektar co-founders and alumni collaborate to bring the band back for a well-deserved new round in their legacy.