For Absent Friends - Running In Circles

Year of Release: 1994
Label: SI Music
Catalog Number: Simply Forty
Format: CD
Total Time: 49:38:00

You know, for a band that has seemingly taken their name from a Genesis track, there is hardly anything here that makes me think of Genesis. Which, of course, could mean two things - one, they liked the phrase (and/or chose it for personal reasons) or two, the phrase is older than Genesis.

Either way, For Absent Friends' Running In Circles is not a bad album. Prog purists might find this a little more pop oriented than "traditional" progressive rock like classic Genesis, Yes, Crimson, etc. And yet, for fans that like what is called neo-prog, this isn't a bad album. There are very few "widdly" keyboard bits, as keyboardist Peter De Jong's style seems more solid than that. Oftentimes I thought of Clive Nolan though I can't really pin down any specific version of Nolan, maybe more so his work with Arena, but there isn't an edge to For Absent Friends. There are hints of jazz in their music, mainly in some of the keyboard interplay, but one would be hard pressed to classify this band as anything remotely called jazz. The all instrumental "The Bald, The Fat, And The Ugly" begins as if it were Marillion's "Incommunicado" but suddenly takes off [elsewhere]. There is enough energy and drive to this track that I'm surprised it hasn't turned up behind sports highlight footage. Okay, maybe not surprised exactly, because I really would be more surprised if I had, but it easily could be.

The vocalist, A.T. (Alex Toonen), isn't the best singer who's come down the pike in the past 30 years, but he does an admirable and listenable job, which is a lot more than I can say for many bands, progressive or otherwise. Anyway, while there are other instruments being played throughout the album, the keys often seem to be the most prominent. The exceptions are "A New Day," which is a punchy, drum driven track, and "Passing Days," which begins with an acoustic guitar refrain, that is soon joined by vocals and strings ... from a real string quartet. While mostly gentle, this melancholy track expands out for the chorus, adding percussion and piano to the mix. It is a very nice track, though for large parts of the arrangement, it doesn't have a lot of movement. The other mellow ballad is "The Fight" which is mainly vocals and piano. "Running Scared" is perhaps the most pop track, as it has an 80's synth-pop feel about it. A-ha come to mind, for example, but rockier than ones impression of that band. "Memories" also has that 80s pop feel about it, at first sounding a bit like Survivor, but afterward..."Easy Lover," the Phil Collins/Phillip Bailey hit comes to mind, though this song doesn't sound like, it's just a general impression.

Other artists that have come to mind include Eloy, especially in comparison to their recent output. Maybe it's the epic sound, the accented English (although A.T. is much less accented than Bornemann is), who knows. The opening piano passage of "Downtown" made me think of Night Ranger's "Sister Christian," but this song goes into a different direction. However, in thinking about this mellow ballad, it wouldn't have seemed out of place for Night Ranger to have recorded this song. We can't overlook the comparisons to English prog bands either, such as Grace, Grey Lady Down, etc., either. Saga, too, comes mind.

It's not a perfect band, as the Big Country-like "Someone Like You" seems hurried yet hesitant, as if in trying for an upbeat and loping rhythm, the different parts weren't sure at which pace to go. This is the kind of material Fish was creating post-Marillion, though with an admittedly stronger hand. De Jong's use of Hammond puts this song in a unique contrast to the rest of the album; it and the vocals are the highlights of this particular track. "Nights," which closes the album, goes into very interesting directions. The warm, smooth, sultry vocals of Saskia Lie-Atjam being one highlight, and a very nice guitar solo from Edwin Roes being another.

Thematically, these songs often contain dark, or at least grim, content or references -- physical abuse, prostitution, obsession, paranoia. Of course, that staple subject matter of songs "love lost" also makes a couple appearances in two tracks that might be companions, where "The Fight" is part one and "Memories" is part two.

I have liked this album for many years now, and was originally going to review it a few years ago, but like some others on this site, it was one that was never finished. As it happens, the band will be releasing a new album in September 2001 (the release party is September 22) called The Big Room, so it's serendipitous that I chose now to finally publish this review. A.T. left the band in 1998, 10 years after the band's formation, to be replaced by current vocalist Hans van Lint. After the recording of The Big Room, De Jong left. Joining the band is ex-Timelock keyboardist Julian Driessen.

For those looking for a particular type of prog, this is one that shouldn't be overlooked, though I wouldn't say that it's essential. As it is, having been originally released on the long-defunct SI label, tracking it down might be difficult, at best.

Into Love (5:39) / Downtown (4:35) / A New Day (4:54) / Passing Days (5:22) / Running Scared (3:53) / Someone Like You (5:03) / The Fight (3:36) / The Bald, The Fat And The Ugly (4:29) / Memories (4:15) / Nights (7:31)

A.T. - vocals, percussion
René Bacchus - bass
Peter De Jong - piano, synthesizers and Hammond B3
Edwin Roes - electric and acoustic guitars
Ed Wernke - drums, backing vocals
Saskia Lie-Atjam - vocals (10)
Danzi String quartet (4,6)

Illusions (1990)
Both Worlds (1991)
Running In Circles (1994)
Out Of Hal (1994)
Tintinnabulation (1996)
Decade (1999)
The Big Room (2001)
Square One (2006)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin NL

Added: September 24th 2001
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 996
Language: english


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