The ringmaster of keyboards crystallizes his dark, if relentlessly romantic, vision in a musical Victorian novel.
Given Clive Nolan‘s work with a string of collectives he’s either a part or leader of, it’s surprising that the maestro finds time to come up with one concept album after another. On the other hand, a rock opera – or musical, as Clive puts it – framework allows for recurrent themes and, thus, may save some time; in Nolan case, though, it neither affects quality nor results in repetition. More so, having previously dealt with classical works by Carroll, Conan Doyle and Haggard, he produced a story of his own this time, which, while full of adventure novels clichés, is engaging thanks to melodies and role positioning fashioned with a firm sight on stage. But then, a studio version of “Alchemy” gives more space for one’s imagination.
Sound effects and spoken word remarks creating the theatrical setting of pieces such as “One For The Noose”, with orchestral sway and choir swipe whence the voices of two opposing protagonists emerge, those of Lord Jagman and Amelia Darvas, sung, respectively, by Twelfth Night’s Andy Sears and the Caamora star Agnieszka Swita. Their impassioned delivery, especially in the duet of “Deception”, contrasts the slightly sterile neo-prog vaudeville that the instrumentalists weave underneath it all, most pop-jolly in “Quaternary Plan” and “The Tide Of Wealth”, for all the subject’s seriousness, yet it’s with the heroic vocals of Nolan himself as Professor King that the real drama unfurls. The multi-voiced scenes, like the folk-tinged “Highgate” with David Clifford brilliantly reprising his Red Jasper stance, the harmonically rich “Treachery”, or “The Unwelcome Guest”, where Landmarq’s Tracy Hitchings and Paul Menel from IQ join in, keep the tension high and on the right side of histrionic.
“Anzeray Speaks” might be the rockiest composition on offer, spiked with Shadowland’s guitarist Mark Westwood’s riffs but, in terms of memorable arias, the operatic “Share This Dream”, with Victoria Bolley’s transparent soprano, and the piano-led “Amelia Dies”, arguably Clive’s best ballads – divided by the “Burial At Sea” dirge in which the low tones of Threshold’s Damian Wilson shine over the tremulous synthesizers backdrop – may challenge many of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s lyrical flights. What we witness with these moments of greatness, then, is the arrival of Clive Nolan at the peak of his career.
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