Kayak – Seventeen
Kayak, together with Focus, has to be the most known of the dutch progressive bands of the classical seventies era. And not without reason, hitting the scene with the amazing “See See The Sun” in 1973, their blend of funky rock and impressive classical keys, overlaid by great harmonic vocals just work. And even though they were not as overtly technical or weird as some of their fellow acts of the period, they always kept an edge with mindful elegant songwriting by setting their spotlight more on melody and sensibility than on pure virtuosity and experimentation.
Through the seventies, and early eighties, they composed a string of good albums before finally breaking up in 1982 after releasing their eight album “Merlin” just the year before. Luckily the story of Kayak does not end there, as the band reunited in 1999, and then quickly delivered their comeback “Close To The Fire” the year after, and has since then added several albums to their discography up until this new one. Considering the title of this new album, I’ll leave it up to the listener to guess how many studio-albums they are up to at this point.
The band has gone through a great many lineup changes over the years, the most recent one before the release of “Seventeen”. The band is, of course, still centered around keyboard maestro Ton Scherpenzeel, but this time he has a brand new crew supporting him, featuring Bart Schwertmann, from melodic hard-rockers Galaxy on vocals, and producer and songwriter Marcel Singor as the new guitarist. Former Pain of Salvation member Kristoffer Gildenlöw handles the bass on the album, while Collin Leijenaar, known from his work with Neal Morse, sits firmly behind the drumkit.
Not surprisingly, considering the last few outings of Kayak, “Seventeen” sounds, mostly, as something that belongs more on a musical-theater stage than in a rock club. Like other recent albums from classic progressive acts I’ve listened to the last few years, for instance Kansas “The Prelude Implicit” or more recently P.F.M’s “Emotional Tattoos”, “Seventeen” is more of a symphonic rock album, than it is progressive rock. Adult orientated pop/rock would also be a fitting label to put on the sixty minutes of music offered by the dutch veterans here. There are still some impressive musical chops on display, but in general the music on “Seventeen” will be more pleasant than challenging, and perhaps more relaxing than exhilarating.
Let’s start with the positives; the album is without a doubt a very enjoyable listening experience, and the longer tracks, especially the bombastic ‘La Peregrina’ and the memorable ‘Walk Through Fire’, still highlight some of the band’s progressive spark. The latter featuring the kind of haunting guitar and vocal lead that just nests in your ear instantly, as well as a folksy middle part, complete with a jolly violin melody. Another highlight is the short but sweet instrumental ‘Ripples On The Water’, written by Scherpenzeel with guitar-ace Andy Latimer in mind. Latimer himself guests on the track, bringing some much needed gentleness into a melodramatic album. I must also mention the almost nine minute ‘Cracks’ once again showing off the classy and polished guitar-work of Singor.
Another boon is the production and performance on “Seventeen”. Production-wise is outstanding to say the least. The musicians seek to impress at every opportunity. Especially guitarist Marcel Singor awes the listener with his tasteful and melodic guitar work, and singer Bert Schwertmann has the perfect voice for this sort of theatrical music, at times strong and melodic, and other times velvety and expressive. It sounds and feels so very professional, perfected, and glossy, but sadly that’s also where parts of the problem with “Seventeen” lies for me.
It’s very hard to get enthusiastic about the content of the album for me, and I feel that the musical-theater format that Scherpenzeel has followed for the last few Kayak releases has become restrictive, rather than liberating. All the tracks seem tailor made to be performed on the grand stage, thus leaving very little room for anything but the pompous, immediately catchy and poppy. It’s grand and bombastic, but for me it lacks real emotion or poignancy. Personally I would have loved to hear some of the more delicate and discreet parts, that made their early albums stand out, make their way back into the band’s music. Quite a few of the shorter, more pop-focused, tracks on the album also fail to impact me as a listener, even after spending many hours with “Seventeen” in my ears.
Still, it’s definitely an album worth owning if you enjoy this kind of theatrical symphonic rock, and I’m sure a lot of listeners will enjoy what is on offer here.
2. La Peregrina
4. Feathers and Tar
5. Walk Through Fire
6. Ripples on the Water
7. All that I Want
8. X Marks the Spot
9. God on Our Side
10. Love, Sail Away
12. To an End