Shadowland - Ring Of Roses

Year of Release: 1992
Label: SI Music
Catalog Number: SIMply Twelve
Format: CD
Total Time: 58:30:00

I must begin this review by telling you that I have loved this album upon first hearing it several years back and count it among my favourites. There is a richness to it and something about Clive Nolan's voice that keeps drawing me back to it. I can't describe what it is really, except to say that while he doesn't have the best voice in rock, it works quite well with the material and style of music he creates, and can be warm and inviting. It is of a tone that not everyone will like, but if you are in to neo-prog, especially Marillion (to pick a non-Nolan project), you will probably will. He doesn't sound like Fish, or Steve Hogarth - oddly, the vocalists he's chosen for Arena thus far bear some resemblance to Nolan, most notably with Paul Wrightson.

Anyway, Nolan is picking up where Marillion essentially left off after Clutching At Straws, and harking back to Marillion past, with this Shadowland release (their debut from 1992/93). With Nolan (Pendragon, Arena) on keyboards and vocals, Karl Groom (Threshold) on guitar (and bass pedals), Ian Salmon (now in Arena, I believe) on basses (and acoustic guitar), and Nick Harradance on drums, this quartet took the Marillion sound into a bit harder edged territory, a more bass-heavy sound. Though, Groom plays and sounds quite a lot like Steve Rothery. What sets this apart is Clive Nolan, because he doesn't sing like either Marillion frontmen, nor does he write lyrics the same way - though he does occasionally have the same poetic way with words that Fish had/has.

You can see the Pendragon influence in here, too, and what would later show up in Nolan's other band, Arena. Of course, with Nolan writing the lyrics for Shadowland and Arena, that doesn't come as too much of a surprise. I imagine, though I don't know for sure and don't recall reading anything, but Nolan sure was looking at the cover of Marillion's 1983 release Fugazi as he was composing "Jigsaw" (note that both disks have a track of this name). In fact, let's say that this "Jigsaw" is an explanation of that illustration, as there is a lyric here that reads "Got to find the missing pieces." And, if you look at the back of the cover of Fugazi, you'll see a picture (puzzle) jester on the floor (the jester from the Script album cover) with a piece missing. Fittingly, it is his heart, as one of Fish's themes was a broken, or lost, heart ? but we're reviewing Shadowland here, so ?

Now, I don't plan on this review/commentary to be a "spot the Marillion influences" only, because despite all that (maybe because of it) I really love this album. Though there are quite a few moments here that you'll find yourself saying "oh, that's just like?" In fact, "Hall Of Mirrors" (cf. Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors) contains a section that reminds of "Grendel" (cf. Genesis' "Supper's Ready"). Suffice it to say this is the album Marillion didn't make.

Nolan doesn't have a terrific voice, but I do like the way he sings, and the tone of his voice, which is somewhat rich. There really isn't a track that I don't like. "Scared Of The Dark" echoes ? presages "(Don't Forget To) Breathe" (from The Visitor). There's a beautiful, scalar, guitar solo by Groom on "Hall Of Mirrors" - it's not very intricate, but I think it's great sounding - effective. Thematically, this album is very dark, Nolan shows off his keyboard chops on "The Kruhulick Syndrome" (though there is a brief passage that sounds a bit like the 80's Doctor Who theme - unintentional, I'm sure). Here too is where we hear Salmon's acoustic arpeggio, while Nolan's keys swirl (one hand) and portend doom (deep, descending notes with the other). All of which leads a repeat of the themes on Groom's guitar.

The title track, which closes the album, is a strange mix of 80's new wave dance (by way of Roxy Music) and prog (more of the former, less of the latter).

As I said, I truly liked this album from the first moment I heard it. At first because of the Marillionisms, and now despite it. Nolan makes this an engaging and involving listen, one that bears repeated listening. There are so many great musical moments here.

While this was originally released on the now defunct SI label, the good news is that a couple of years ago, Verglas (Verglas decided to re-release this disk (VGCD006). Read Frank Blades' review of the reissue for more details

The Whistleblower (6:33) / Jigsaw (11:06) / Scared of the Dark (6:09) / Painting By Numbers (6:35) / Hall of Mirrors (14:24) / The Kruhulick Syndrome (inst.) / Ring Of Roses (6:32)

Clive Nolan - vocals and keyboards
Karl Groom - guitars and bass pedals
Ian Salmon - fretted/fretless bass and acoustic guitar
Nick Harradance - drums

Ring Of Roses (1992/1997)
Through The Looking Glass (1994)
Mad As A Hatter (1996)

Genre: Neo Prog

Origin UK

Added: March 1st 2000
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 894
Language: english


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