TRACKLISTING (2005 edition):
1. Dark Side Of The Moog (6:17)
2. Down To You (9:05)
3. Gemini And Leo (4:48)
4. Secret Places (3:59)
5. On Second Thoughts (7:30)
6. Winds (10:23)
7. Castles Version 1. (previously unreleased demo – 1975)(11:09)
8. Gary’s Lament (previously unreleased demo – 1975) (7:00)
9. Walking The Park (previously unreleased demo – 1975) (7:05)
1. Night Creeper (previously unreleased demo – 1976) (3:46)
2. The Awakening (previously unreleased demo – 1976) (11:43)
3. Siren Song (previously unreleased demo – 1976) (6:55)
4. Castles Version 2. (previously unreleased demo – 1976) (5:00)
5. The Scorch (previously unreleased demo – 1976) (4:39)
6. Rivers (previously unreleased demo – 1976) (4:27)
7. Interplanetary Slut (previously unreleased demo – 1976) (5:32)
8. Dark Side Of The Moog (BBC session, In Concert – June 1976) (9:00)
9. Siren Song (BBC session, In Concert- June 1976) (12:13)
10. The Awakening (BBC session, In Concert – June 1976) (15:46)
Don Airey – keyboards, synthesizers
Jon Hiseman – drums, tympani, gongs
Gary Moore – guitars, vocals
Neil Murray – bass
Mike Starrs – lead vocals
Although I had been thinking for a while of posting a review of this album for my ‘vault’ series, the sad events of today have made it almost mandatory for me to do so. And what better way to celebrate the life and work of Irish guitar legend Gary Moore – who passed away last night at the still young age of 58 – than posting a review of an album that sees some of his finest contributions to the history of rock music?
In spite of the name, the only connection between Colosseum II and the original Colosseum is the presence of monster skinsman Jon Hiseman (so conveniently forgotten in those boring “best drummer” polls, where everybody seems to think that Portnoy and his ilk are God’s gift to drumming). The new band also showcased the considerable talents of keyboard maestro Don Airey (who went on to replace Jon Lord in Deep Purple) and bassist Neil Murray, nowadays better known for his stints in Whitesnake and Black Sabbath. Murray tends to be given less credit than other four-stringers – in spite of having previously played with such Canterbury legends as Gilgamesh and National Health, where he took the place left vacant by Richard Sinclair after Hatfield and the North’s demise. The musical proficiency of somebody who can keep up with both Jon Hiseman and Pip Pyle cannot be so easily disregarded, and Murray’s playing on Strange New Flesh is immaculate.
However, Colosseum II’s ace in the hole was the fiery fretboard prowess of then 24-year-old Gary Moore, formerly with Dublin-based band Skid Row. Moore’s stunning guitar work gave Colosseum II a definitely harder edge than the band’s former incarnation – straddling the line between Colosseum’s blues-based, sax-laden jazz-rock and Deep Purple-style hard rock. Unlike other jazz-rock bands, Colosseum II did not start out as a purely instrumental outfit. For Strange New Flesh, their debut album, Hiseman and Moore enlisted the talents of vocalist Mike Starrs (later with German-based band Lucifer’s Friend). For some, the sometimes overpowering presence of Starrs’s otherwise excellent vocals – a powerful tenor that, at times, oddly reminds me of a richer, more restrained version of James LaBrie – detracts from the overall brilliance of the album. Personally, though I quite like Starrs’s singing (Moore’s backing vocals being quite abrasive most of the time, though he developed quite a respectable voice in later years), I must also admit to having a slight preference for the instrumental tracks. As Starrs (together with Murray) was subsequently fired by the band’s record label, Colosseum II’s next two albums were almost completely instrumental.
Most of the songs on the album were penned by Moore, with the exception of the Joni Mitchell cover “Down to You” – apparently an odd choice, yet rather successful, mainly thanks to Starrs’ passionate vocal performance and Moore’s beautifully melodic guitar. The album, however, opens in a completely different vein, with the blistering keyboard and guitar tour de force of the aptly-titled “Dark Side of the Moog”. “Gemini and Leo” is a funkier, jazzier track, with Starrs sounding a bit like Glenn Hughes in his Trapeze years. The following songs, “Secret Place” and On Second Thoughts” continue in much the same vein, all featuring superb interplay between the four virtuoso musicians, as well as soaring, powerful vocals. Hiseman and Murray’s propulsive rhythm section is masterful throughout, but Moore and Airey are the ones who really steal the show, Airey’s majestic keyboard sweeps duelling with Moore’s fluid yet searing lead. Original album closer “Winds” , a 10-minute-plus epic, summarizes all that is great about this record, at the same time jazzy and edgy, with plenty of tempo changes and that magnificent guitar sound.
The 2005 edition contains some real treats for fans of the band, including a number of live tracks (such as a killer version of “Dark Side of the Moog”) and quite a few unreleased demos of songs, part of which would end up on the band’s following albums, Electric Savage and War Dance - notably the original versions of blistering, intricate “Intergalactic Strut” (here bearing the amusing title of “Interplanetary Slut”), the self-explanatory “The Scorch” and romantic ballad “Castles”.
The highlight of those bonus tracks, though, is the utterly beautiful Moore showcase “Gary’s Lament”, a wistful slow burner that sounds particularly poignant in the light of today’s news. Gary was the anti-shredder, a down-to-earth guy who could really make his instrument speak and sing with an almost human voice. This review is dedicated to him, one of the many great musicians who left us way too soon. On any account, Strange New Flesh is a superb album, highly recommended to all lovers of great musicianship combined with heart and soul.