Focus plays Focus
In And Out Of Focus
Led by flutist/keyboardist/vocalist Thjis Van
Leer and guitarist Jan Akkerman, Focus was one of the leading
Dutch progressive rock bands. The classic and typical Focus
sound, was quite jazzy and symphonic, but it's unfortunately not
too much of that on their debut-album. There`s three classic
tracks here: Focus (a quite representative track of the more
mellow side of Focus), the energic "Anonymous" and the VERY
Jethro Tull-like "House of the King". The rest of the album is
just a bunch of useless pop-tunes. But the three mentioned
tracks showed that the group was capable to make great stuff, so
the next album just had to be better. And it definitively was!!
(Tommy Schonenberg, Vintage Prog)
In & Out of Focus is not bad for a debut by one of the biggest prog rock bands to come out of the Netherlands (same country that also gave us bands like Earth & Fire, Ekseption, Trace, Finch, Alquin, Supersister, Kayak, etc.). Of course the sound of this album has not been fully developed, and there are several pop oriented numbers like "Black Beauty". This is also by far their most vocal dominated album. There are a couple of cuts that showed the more progressive direction the band will quickly move to. One is the instrumental opening, "Focus", and the other is "Anonymous" which I think works a lot better than Focus 3's "Anonymous II" because it's shorter allowing the band to focus (no pun intended) better. "House of the King" is a totally wonderful and cathy Jethro Tull-like number that was later featured on the LP version of Focus 3, because the American LP version of In & Out of Focus did not feature that cut (but the European version did). Also the US version of this LP did not feature "Sugar Island" either. The IRS CD reissue features the American cover but all eight of the European tracks. Regardless, this is a nice and listenable album, but much better things were to come to this band with their followup Moving Waves.
(Ben Miler, Amazon)
This debut album is gentler and more low-key and vocal-oriented than their subsequent efforts; fans of Jan Akkerman's pyrotechnics may be disappointed by his relatively restrained presence, but others may be pleasantly surprised to find a more economic group than they remember. A fair collection of progressive rock tunes without a clear focus, the material is dominated by Thijs Van Leer, often introducing classical sensibilities. But at least as often, it sticks with fairly conventional period folk-rock and blues influences, with occasional jazzy shadings. Akkerman's "House of the King" is the most accurate Jethro Tull imitation ever recorded.
(Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide)
Excellent debut. Although I did not hear In and Out of Focus until after my big brother bought Moving Waves, on the back of Hocus Pocus which caught all our imaginations when we heard it on the radio, and Focus 3, which everybody who I ever knew, in the mid to late seventies, had in their record collection. House of the King is clearly a stand out track that, along with several other tracks of that eary period of Focus, was used extensively on television as a theme tune or as background music. Now though is the time to re-evaluate the work of this band. From a British perspective Focus embody two genres of mistrusted and largely despised music from the past thirty years, Progressive Rock and Music from Continental Europe that seems to come to these shore as a ready packaged phenomenon. There are some countries we seem to be able to accept certain kinds of music from but Holland and Prg Rock have only ever had fleeting acceptance in popular imagination. I dug my heels in during the mid seventies against the Soul mania that seemed to grab everyone around me. I resisted taking on Punk and abandoning all the music that I had loved until then. three goups were my badge of honor Led Zep, (whom everyone I knew had abandoned, Soft Macxhine, who I have always felt were cool and interesting and finally Focus who were simply as uncool as you could get. I found myslf drfawn into many different musical cliques whilst never being really part of any, I liked Bob Marley but was clearly not a Rastafarian, ian Dury (the first time I heard sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll in Groucho's Record Shop in Dundee, I was hooked and I started to check out Punk free from the tyranny of the style fascists) but Focus were my private world of uncool. I am pleased to be re-enbacing their music and now that I have much of it on CD (i did get rid of the worn LPs quite some time ago) they are as good as I remember. My other boyhood music which I have yet to confront as it is possibly even less cool than Focus is Status Quo. I found myself contemplating buying On The Level recently. but I was too self conscious. I am after all in my mid forties and I was standing in HMV wearing a denim jacket, although I have not had the long hair for twenty years, I still thought that I looked too much of the stereotype Quo fan and that was too sad for word so i chickened out. But do not be a coward about Focus, In and Out of Focus is excellent prog rocjas are moving waves (which I bly recommend listening to from track two for the first few listening) and Focus 3 should still be in everyone's Cd collections it is truly indispensable
(Kevin McClure, Progarchives)
A marvelous debut but somewhat short in running length at just over 35 minutes. Nevertheless it contains the formula which would put Focus and the Netherlands on the world music map for the next 5 years. Guitarist Jan Akkerman had just given up his previous post in the pop band Brainbox in order to embark on a musical journey which would lead him into more complex territory. He found this in Focus which was a 3 piece house band for the Dutch stage production of the musical "Hair". There is a lot to be said here starting off with the introductory instrumental piece simply entitled Focus. The buildup in this precious work defies the imagination and nothing like it had ever been heard at the time (1970). This is the Akkerman guitar meets the flute and keyboards of Thijs van Leer at it's finest. Akkerman's fine guitar lines set he stage for this dynamic musical demonstration which culminates into a flute freakout which established by an incredible Hammond riff. It almost seems to me that Van Leer did the riff on the organ and picked up his flute and just started going crazy! Akkerman recedes into the background, doing some unbelievable rhythms to complement Van Leer's frantic flutism. (Ian Anderson eat your heart out!) The other instrumental showpiece on the album is Anonymous which was done in a more extensive form on Focus III. This reviewer prefers this original more compact version. All four players are permitted to show off on this one. A classical theme is stated and the individual musicians successfully acquit themselves in the form of solos. A display of the talent possessed by this remarkable band. Martijn Dresden's bass slot is one of the most impressive prog bas solos ever committed to record. He can certainly be compared to the likes of Squire and Wetton! Let's move on to other aspects of the record. House of the King shows off guitarist Akkerman's compositional abilities. He allows Van Leer to create the theme on his flute while maintaining a solid rythm harmony on acoustic guitar. (another version of this can be heard on Akkerman's solo album Tabernakel which is available in CD form through Wounded Bird Records sans flute). Sugar Island is another example of this simply incredible acoustic guitar/flute interaction only with vocals from Thijs. Other tracks contain thoughtful lyrics and vocals from Van Leer and this reviewer wishes the band could have done more of this on subsequent works. The combination of short vocal tracks and rather long instrumentals work very well. Definitely go for this, the first Focus lineup. A great record which I never tire of. No problem, 4 stars. Classic Dutch rock.
(Ian Gledhill, Progarchives)
With new drummer and bassist, Focus was now ready to create a real masterpiece! On "Moving Waves" the group had turned into a pure progressive rock band, with absolutely no pop-crap! The album opens with the bands most known song ever: "Hocus Pocus". An extremely weird track, with a driving hard-rock riff relived by a totally absurd yodeling-sequence! This track was however not very representative for the rest of the album, and not for Focus either. "Focus II" is one of the best of the groups more relaxed tracks. "Janis" is a very lyrical, flute-led track, while the title-track is one of the group`s better vocal tracks. The real highlight anyway, is of course the 23-minute "Eruption". This track has absolutely everything that makes Focus a great band: energy, atmosphere, majestic and melodic themes and everything are very excellent played and performed. This is my favorite album by the band, and it should be a great starting point because it's a very representative album for Focus.
(Tommy Schonenberg, Vintage Prog)
It's sad how much good music is lost under the piles of trash masquerading as music. Moving Waves one of the true masterpieces of progressive rock. Excellent and intelligent instrumental songs (with the exception of the title song, which has a vocal), and shifting tempos and moods makes this an enjoyable album and a break from the 3-chord variety of music. The tracks "Focus II" and the suite "Eruption" have always been my favorites. The first song "Hocus Pocus" is kind of goofy but, its fun and has fantastic guitar work. I say "goofy" because it's not often that you hear yodeling in a rock song. It was a big hit at the time of it's release and it is the reason most people bought the album. After people got tired of playing that song over and over, an unexpected treasure was found when people started listening to the entire album. Listening to the entire album revealed one of the best albums of the 1970s.
(Gary Pedoto, Amazon)
'Moving Waves' was the first LP I ever bought,
back in early 1973. Having bought it purely on the strength of
the excitement of 'Hocus Pocus', I was disappointed that the
rest of the album was nothing like it. Focus seemed less a
hard-rock thrash-metal band and more the purveyors of a
middle-aged, dinner-and-dance style of music. Hardly the stuff
that a 14-year-old schoolboy craved. Within a couple of years I
had sold it, presumably in order to enhance my Steely Dan
collection.I have since re-purchased the album on CD, more out
of a sense of completeness than for any other motive. 'Focus
III' is undoubtedly the band's best album, with 'Hamburger
Concerto' placed a close second and 'Moving Waves' third.
In retrospect, 'Moving Waves' was a wonderful preparation for the 'Focus III' masterpiece. Two members of the band -- Van Der Linden and Havermans -- were new, and one should not be surprised that they are feeling their way into the utterly unique sound of Focus. That said, prog groups of the period clearly listened to each other's work. There is a striking similarity between the melody of the title song and Emerson, Lake and Palmer's 'Trilogy' -- but which came first?
'Eruption' is one of those concept pieces which occupied the entire side of an LP. Its merits became clearer with familiarity, but it isn't outstanding, and to my ear, it owes much to ELP's 'Tarkus', which definitely did come first. For their 'Live at the Rainbow' LP, the band reduced the 23-minute piece to a mere 8:29 without much loss of substance.
Focus are now an under-rated and much overlooked band. Availability of this and their other CDs is sporadic. Snap them up while you can!
(Gavin Wilson, 2001, Amazon)
For the longest time, I used to hear "Hocus Pocus" on the classic rock station as a kid and later on as a teen. Of course this was way before I knew what progressive rock was, but I loved that song, so I wondered if the rest of the album was worth having and once I was able to get a hold of this album, I was not one bit disappointed. "Hocus Pocus" was actually pretty untypical of the band and of the album, and in fact the band thought of that song as little more than a joke, so it was basically an albatross around the band's neck and they were forced to play that song live. Some people hate this song, but I love it. How about the rest of the album? "Le Clochard" is a gentle acoustic piece played with just classical guitar and Mellotron. "Janis" is a cool flute-driven piece. The title track is more or less simply a Thijs van Leer piece with just him singing and piano. This song shows that van Leer's did rather poorly in the vocal department (that's why, with the exception of In & Out of Focus, their debut, their music has been 99% instrumental). "Focus II" is one of the more jazzy pieces of the album and show's Jan Akkerman's more jazzy side. But the real crowning glory is the killer side length suite "Eruption". It starts of gentle enough but in the middle is simple really killer guitar and organ jamming. By the way, did anyone notice the band ripping off a Led Zeppelin riff on a small part of "Eruption"? The band totally stole the riff of "Who Lotta Love" before the band calmed down again and ended the piece with a wonderful piano and flute interlude. For me, I feel Moving Waves is one of the greats of progressive rock and whenever I hear this album, I begin to wonder why people listen to N'Sync and the Backstreet Boys.
(Ben Miler, Amazon)
The album that boosted Focus into at least semi-fame outside of continental Europe, Moving Waves blasts off with their hit single "Hocus Pocus." Built around a killer guitar hook by Akkerman and a series of solo turns by the band, this instrumental replaced "Wipeout" as a staple of FM radio. The bizarrely hilarious vocal and accordion solos by Thijs van Leer — one of which absurdly concludes with rousing stadium cheers — have to be heard to be believed. After this over-the-top performance, the other tracks seem comparatively constrained: the gentle "Le Clochard" features some gorgeous classical guitar over Mellotron strings. The album concludes with "Eruption," which while mimicking the multi-suite nomenclature of Yes and King Crimson, is essentially a side-long jam session. Stop-time Emersonian organ solos alternate with languid sections of jazzy guitar redolent of Santana, while still other sections are flat-out electric blues-rock stomps. It's impressive playing, though it comes off as a bit meandering after the tightly structured solos that began the album.
(Paul Collins, All Music Guide)
Progressive rock was really happening in 1972, what with bands like Gentle Giant, Genesis, Jethro Tull, ELP, Yes, Zappa, as well as many Italian bands starting to gain a lot of momentum towards the genres greatest years of popularity. Fusion was also enjoying a surge in interest, and the onset of what this site was about was beginning to come into full swing. Focus, a band until this time relatively unknown, coming from the Netherlands, released this album, and to this day have one of the most popular progrock song of all time in Hocus Pocus. No doubt that this song not only put The Netherlands on the map as a musically diverse country, but this band would leave a legacy of great recordings, though none as popular as this. Focus' music as a whole had little to do with what was heard on the song Hocus Pocus, deeper cuts on the record revealed a band that was able to capture a writing style that encompasses a wide variety of separate influences. In hearing this record in it entireity, you can better appreciate what a truly talented band this really was. As much as they were part of progressive rocks beginnings, they interestingly enough were contributing to the fusion genre as well. Later albums would see them gravitate into the fusion realm much further. Of course guitarist Jan Akkerman's name, became nearly a household word, and he went on to record quite a bit of solo material, prog, fusion, and some classical as well. Thjis Van Leer, would have to be considered the brains behind this band, his flare for complexity, and fusiony breaks, were a direct result of his musical vision, no doubt, hearing this music yet today has a most refreshing feel to it. If you are a bit leary of getting acquainted with Focus, definitely start with this album, my guess is you will be very impressed.
(M.J. Brady, Prognosis)
Originally the houseband for the Dutch theatrical production of "Hair", this album introduced the greater European audience to the masterful playing of Jan Akkermann and Thij Van leer, who were to go on to carve separate careers in jazz and jazz rock.
The album was produced by the legendary Mike Vernon and was released through Polydor in the UK but with his Blue Horizon association well displayed. Perhaps Vernon had thought he had discovered another band to follow in the bluesy rock footsteps of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack or (alas, the forgotten) Duster Bennett. However, enthusiasm for British blues had cooled and besides Focus were a jazz-based musicians who used rock rhythms and threw in occasional English lyrics to their songs. An edited version of the novelty song "Hocus Pocus" with yodeling, piano accordion and all, got UK radio play and they were a hit.
This album will appeal to jazz rock fans and to those who like excellently played solos. It should also be used to remind fans where Jan Akkerman start from before now being one of Europe's premier guitarists. However, it is one of those albums that bought on the day of its release in the UK, I can't say it has come down from the shelf that regularly in the last decade. Once seen live circa 1973, Focus were one of the few bands that had me leaving a gig well before it was finished - an interminable dull drum solo did it to me and perhaps a degree of sameness in many tunes (but that was the British drummer not the original ).
(Dick Heath, Progarchives)
Focus' second release 'Moving Waves' signifies an undoubtful symptom that the band has already conquered their own musical maturity. No question about van Leer's and Akkerman combined (and competitive) genius in terms of writing and performing are more polished and more ambitious as well... but the main factor of this evolution is the entry of drummer extraordinaire Pierre van der Linden, whose mastery in precise and powerful capacity to handle demanding time signatures is only equalled by his ability to influence effectively on the melodic aspect of the tracks with his cleverly administered rolls and other percussive tricks. His work therefore becomes the anchor that sustains the flow of the main writers' efforts and performances. 'Hocus Pocus' is a notable example of energetic rock infected with exhilarating humour: no wonder it went on to become one of Focus' most celebrated and emblematic tunes (I'm sure there's myriads of us prog-heads that every now and then do that catchy yodeling, at least mentally). But it is melancholy and reflectiveness that get hold on most of the rest of the material - the classically oriented trend of 'Le Clocharde', the half-contained sadness of 'Jadis', and the ethereal mood of the title track consecutively show us the most overtly elegant side of Focus' music. That same sense of elegance goes on in 'Focus II', a classy exercise in jazz fusion, still infused with the general ambience of melancholy displayed in tracks 2-4, yet enriched with a couple of well crafted high-spirited interludes. And then... the intense suite 'Eruption' covers the last 23 minutes of the album, making endless transitions from languid grace (the Orfeus parts) to pompous fire (the Answers parts) to slow blues (Pupilla/Tommy) to red hot excitement (The Bridge) to serene beauty (the Euridice parts) to impending doom (Dayglow)... and let's not forget the stunning drum solo, performed by a van der Linden that feels more like a "force of nature" than an actual person. All in all, 'Eruption' is a superbly conceptually organized piece of music that closes the album with grandeur and class. Ive got nothing else to say - 5 stars!!
(Cesar Inca Mendoza Loyola, Progarchives)
I remembered way back as a kid hearing "Hocus
Pocus" on the radio, this must be around 1979 or 1980, on the FM
dial. Around 1989, I heard this song again and found out it was
"Hocus Pocus" and the group was called FOCUS. I thought that was
silly to have a song title that rhymes with the group's name. I
thought it was a rather ingenious mixing of heavy metal and
When my interest in prog rock was on the rise around the early '90s, I was wondering if it was worth trying FOCUS, and once I got to hear "Moving Waves", I was not disappointed.
The album was entitled "Focus II" in Holland, but elsewhere, it's known as "Moving Waves". This album is definitely an improvement over "In & Out of Focus". The vocal pop-oriented material of that album have been totally dropped. Original members Hans Cleuver and Martijn Dresdin had left the band to be replaced by drummer Pierre van der Linden (ex-BRAINBOX, which Jan Akkerman was a member of, by the way) and bassist Cyriel Haversman. The other two guys, who helped make FOCUS what they were, were guitarist Jan Akkerman and keyboardist/flautist Thijs van Leer. "Hocus Pocus" was actually an unintentional hit for the band, and in fact wasn't a hit in the United States until 1973, that is, not until even after their following album, "Focus 3" was released. The band thought the song as little more than a joke, but were forced to play it after it became a hit. And yes, it's true, this song is not typical for FOCUS, but I still think it's a truly wonderful song. "Le Clochard" is Jan Akkerman's time to shine, a laid-back piece played on classical guitar (with nylon strings) and nice use of Mellotron in the background. "Janis" is a flute-dominated piece from van Leer. The title track is a piano-dominated piece, and the only song with any singing, showing that Thijs van Leer isn't the best vocalist out there. It's still a nice piece with a classical feel. "Focus II" is a jazzy piece with Jan Akkerman's trademark lead guitar. The album's crowning achievement, in my opinion, is the epic "Eruption". It starts off rather mellow, dominated by Hammond organ and lead guitar. They also do a cover of a song from another Dutch band called SOLUTION in this song, in the "Tommy" section of the suite. Halfway through is a really intense and mindblowing rocking piece dominated by guitar and organ. Somewhere the band steals a LED ZEPPELIN riff ("Whole Lotta Love") before they mellow out with nice use of piano. There's also a really dramatic Mellotron passage, and then a nice drum solo from Pierre van der Linden. Previous themes on this suite resurface. Without a doubt, I feel Moving Waves is by far the best album FOCUS ever done, and this is the album you should start if you're not familiar with FOCUS.
One of three high water marks for this Dutch group (led by Thijs van Leer (flute) and Jan Akkerman (guitar)) was achieved by their double LP, Focus 3 from 1973. After two years of touring to support an international hit album, Moving Waves, the duo pushed drummer, Pierre van der Linden and bassist Bert Ruiter to search for that new elusive sound which was equal parts improvisation and carefully crafted composition. From the outset, this collection of nine songs runs the full range of the group's talent from classically fused pieces, ("Elspeth of Nottingham"), to extended thirty-minute jams ("Anonymous II"). The peak tracks on the album include the medley of Van Leer's subtle ballad, "Focus III" and Akkerman's "Questions, Answers, Answers Questions". The piece builds from a quiet organ passage with an emotive guitar lead. The tone quickly shifts from subtle to frantic in part two of the medley, where dual electric guitar leads burst into the sound map while the rhythm section does its best to hold it all together. Notwithstanding, the album's sole AM single, Akkerman's romping track "Sylvia," was a minor hit only slightly tainted by Van Leer's daft yodeling. Focus 3 carries the full spectrum of the band's personalities which would unfortunately decline from this point forward. Although the group's next studio album, Hamburger Concerto, contains a more structured approach, this album indicates how far the group could stretch its sound and break through to a supportive US audience.
(Jeff Melton, Gnosis, 2001)
Another classic from Focus, and a double one this time! The album starts with "Round Goes the Gossip", a jazzy vocal track, with some vocals in Latin. "Love Remembered" is beautiful and atmospheric, while the catchy "Sylvia" became Focus' biggest hit. "Elsbeth of Nottingham" was the first piece where you could here Akkerman`s love for medieval music, and the track is really good. "Anonymous II" is a VERY extended version (nearly 30 minutes!) and energised version of the track from the debut-album. This track has some of the rawest flute-playing ever heard on a record! The whole album is a rougher and more unpolished record than "Moving Waves", and it kicks some real ass! Progressive energy at its best.
(Tommy Schonenberg, Vintage Prog)
Focus 3, released in 1972, was originally a double album set, the American version released on Sire featured a totally different cover with the die-cut cover and the rainbow "Focus 3" logo. Double album sets are supposed to give you more for your money. Double albums tell you the band recorded enough material to cram on to two discs, and the album is supposed to just simply stun and amaze you all the way through in a way that perhaps a single disc of material could not. But unfortunately, in reality, a double album set is usually just an excuse for the band to stroke each other's egos (live albums are often the most guilty verdict), so you get yourself lots of aimless guitar and drum solos, and unfortunately, that's what is found on this album. Their previous effort, Moving Waves, from 1971 is totally amazing and simply one of the greatest prog albums I own (I'm a big prog rock fan so I know all about the excesses of this genre). Focus 3 isn't totally bad, many of the shorter pieces work just fine. There's the minor hit, "Sylvia" which gave the FM radio listener a sample of what Focus was really like as opposed to "Hocus Pocus" (which I happen to like a lot, I realize many don't). "Elspeth of Nottingham" is a great, gentle medieval piece played on lute and recorder. "Love Remembered", a rather moody and atmospheric piece played on flute and classical guitar (and some weird sounding electronic device, perhaps a Theramin), although it works fine, for some reason I never really cared for that one. But the worst problem is "Anonymous II". The cut is so long it takes up all of side three on the LP and had to continue on side four. Problem here is the band basically jams and really goes nowhere. "Eruption" from Moving Waves works because there was a point, it was also a suite, and they had many different themes and ideas to work on. With "Anonymous II" it sounds like the band was just killing time, so that means endless guitar solos and a drum solo that's so long it's about three times longer than In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. "Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!" is the album's other lengthy cut, but at least it benefits from better ideas, and it often has a nice, almost Pink Floyd-like atmosphere. As for "House of the King", a rather Jethro Tull-like number which I find is the best cut on the LP version of Focus 3, here's the story: The original European LP release of In & Out of Focus already featured that cut. The US LP version on Sire did not. So Focus 3 on LP form also featured the cut so American did not have to miss out (and for real good reason). So when IRS reissued Focus' first three albums on CD, In & Out of Focus (with the US cover) now contained all the European cuts (including "House of the King") so they didn't need to include that on the CD version of Focus 3 (and besides it wouldn't fit on one disc if it did). Whatever the case, I find Moving Waves and Hamburger Concerto better Focus albums, which you should start there first before you come to Focus 3.
(Ben Miler, Amazon)
Focus have been overlooked by several rock
historians who should know better. For instance, the band fails
to get its own entry in Donald Clarke's 'Penguin Encyclopedia of
Popular Music.The band has also been very poorly served on CD:
there have been no re-masters until recently (only 'Moving
Waves' has undergone the treatment, and I haven't yet heard it);
some track listings have been re-sequenced; worse still, some
tracks have been entirely omitted; across the EMI edition which
I own, producer Mike Vernon's sleeve notes are identical on each
Availability of these Focus CDs is extremely erratic, so when they appear on Amazon's catalogue, you should snap up the good ones as quickly as you can.
To my ear, 'Focus III' and (sometimes) 'Hamburger Concerto' are the band's really outstanding albums, though 'Moving Waves' also some real highs. 'Focus III' was a double LP, which meant it needed four manual interventions to play in its entirety. It's better suited to CD -- you can play it from start to finish with one loading, and there's the additional benefit that the classic 'Anonymous II' no longer spans two discs. For some bizarre reason which only Mike Vernon will know, 'Elspeth of Nottingham' now appears before 'Anonymous II'. And even more bizarre, the beautiful 'House of the King' (2:23 minutes) has been left off this 68-minute CD. Don't some CDs stretch to 79+ minutes these days?
I still have the LP, which I played alongside the CD yesterday. The good news is that the CD sounds better, but the album is still crying out for a proper remastering treatment with a new focussed set of sleeve notes -- pardon the pun. Sometimes the drums sound boxy; at other times, they are pumping the air from the speakers so much that I feel my ear drums will burst. Similarly Bert Ruiter's wonderful bass is always there, thick in the background, each note delivered without a percussive attack. The bass solo and subsequent climax on 'Anonymous II' remains one of the outstanding moments of 70s rock.
Focus as a group was launched onto the British market fully formed early in 1973. They had already recorded at least three decent albums, and had two cracking singles in 'Hocus Pocus' and Focus 3's 'Sylvia' to win over the Brits. Indeed, given the simultaneous onslaught by another band from the Polydor stable, Golden Earring, with their excellent 'Moontan' LP, we felt the Dutch might overrun the country. But whereas Golden Earring could be classified as a straight-ahead Stones-like band with a bit of moog and flute thrown in, Focus were harder to place: part-jazz, part-rock, part-classical. Perhaps they sit closest to some of the other jazz-rock bands of the time, but they had their own highly distinctive niche and sound.
'Focus III' is undoubtedly the band at their best. Jan Akkerman had been living in England in 1972 and become enamoured of renaissance lute music, as exemplified on the gorgeous 'Elspeth of Nottingham' here. There is not a single duff track here. There is no yodeling. But Van Leer squeezes in some singing ... in Latin. Any prog-rock album that quotes liberally from Virgil's 'Aeneid' gets my vote!
The MOJO guide calls this a 'luxuriant double set brimming with energy, improvisational brilliance, catchy tunes and exquisite taste'. In the absence of a proper CD remaster -- and there is no sign of one on the horizon -- this is the best CD by one of the 70s' finest rock-jazz bands....
(Gavin Wilson, 2001, Amazon)
Recorded effectively "live" in the studio, this is one of Focus' defining moments. It was not originally intended to be a "double lp" but the recording sessions produced such a wealth of quality music and musicianship that plans were hastily changed. Highlights are Focus III, Answers? Questions! Questions! Answers!, Anonymous II and the worldwide hit single Sylvia. Earlier vinyl versions also contained House of the King now sadly deleted from the CD version. The guitar solos in Answers? Questions! and Anonymous are the best I have ever heard and even now, 26 years later, few guitarists (if any) can match Akkerman for improvisation, feeling and melody. Pure joy !
(Leigh Woolford, Amazon)
Riding on the success of their hit single "Hocus Pocus" from the revolutionary Moving Waves album, Focus got to work on this, their third LP in four years. While the debut album features a style not too dissimilar to the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band, Focus' second LP Moving Waves is purely instrumental and wholly serious-minded. Focus III keeps this same sound, but approaches it with a jollier, more accessible tone. As with its predecessor, Focus III features only one tune that would be in with a chance of being a hit single. The enjoyable rhythm of "Sylvia," partnered with Jan Akkerman's victorious guitar solo, some of Van Leer's finest organ-work, Bert Ruiter's tight bass lines, and Pierre Van Der Linden's mellow drumming assured the track classic status. "Sylvia" found worldwide success and gained the band valuable radio and press exposure. The song remains one of the most loved and best remembered songs from Focus' catalog. The consistence in musical quality throughout Focus III is enough to merit any listeners' respect. To be frank, this LP has it all: diverse songs, astounding musicianship, one of the finest singles ever released — Focus III should unquestionably be ranked alongside the likes of Revolver and Dark Side of the Moon and any others of rock's greatest.
(Ben Davies, All Music Guide)
'Focus III' is IMHO Focus' top achievement.
Not only do these guys deliver some of their most inspired
playing, but also manage to work as a unit with a level of
compenetration that hides the ongoing rivality between van Leer
and Akkerman (sometimes, a not so healthy one). Akkerman
continues to explore new sources of introspective music ('Love
Remembered') and mediaeval tradition ('Elspeth of Nottingham'),
while keeping his ability to turn his guitar on fire with a
polished skill beyond words, in the hardest passages: he really
shines in 'Answers Questions' and 'Anonymus II', and his Hammond
layers on 'Focus III' create an awesome background for
Akkerman's guitar leads. Van Leer is also in a state of
"business as usual", displaying his mastery on both on keyboards
(mostly Hammond organ) and flute, and also some burlesque
vocals. The interplays between van Leer and Akkerman in the
opening track are breathtaking, executed with energy and a touch
of sheer class. Drummer extraordinaire Van der Linden feels at
home here: only one yar had passed since he entered the band,
yet his drumming had become an essential feature of Focus'
musical essence. When the excellent bassist Bert Ruiter made his
entry into the ranks of Holland's masterband Focus, the rhythm
section achieved its highest level of strength and
sophistication; Ruiter proved to be the perfect complement to
van der Linden's top-notch drumming style so far,... and may I
add that this is a difficult task, since van der Linden enjoys
stretching out his role to the point of becoming fundamental for
the band's melodic aspect, with his constant tricky rolling.
Ruiter's penchant for jazz and funky definitely allowed Focus to
keep their own focus on their jazz leaning: the amazing
27-minute 'Anonymus II' only shows you how enthusiastic and
frenzy the foursome were about it (a special mention goes to van
der Linden's tribal oriented drum solo). The same thing could be
noticed on 'Questions Answers'. The lighter side of the album is
present in the latin-jazz/bossanova tinged 'Carnival Fugue' and
the catchy 'Sylvia' (a top ten single in the UK, actually), two
attractive numbers that serve as relaxing motifs, among a
repertoire that tends to sound really aggressive (though not
heavy, remember, the jazz factor is predominant here). This is
the second of a series of three albums that are a testimony of
both Focus' and the prog genre's finest hour. An essential
P.D.: Well, I don't like the inclusion of 'House of the King' here. It belongs more properly in its original album 'In and Out of Focus'. The tour-de-force 'Anonymus II' would make the perfect closure to 'Focus III'.
(Cesar Inca Mendoza Loyola, Progarchives)
Focus followed their wonderful Moving Waves with Focus 3, this time being a double album. The band at this point featured guitarist Jan Akkerman, organist/flutist Thijs van Leer, and drummer Pierre van der Linden with new bassist Bert Ruiter (later a member of Earth & Fire). Although this album still has some fine material, it also suffers with the double album trap. While the album features some great material like the minor hit "Sylvia" (which gave radio listeners a taste of the real Focus, for those who might have been turned off by "Hocus Pocus" - which I happen to really like) as well as the largely acoustic "Love Remembered", the medieval-sounding "Elsbeth of Nottingham" and the Tull-like "House of the King" (only on the LP), the problem occurs when they do those lengthy, extended jams. "Anonymous II" is that example. This song is basically one big wankfest, particularly Akkerman's guitar. The song is so long that it had to conclude on the other side of the LP. It doesn't help when the song is interrupted by a six minute long drum solo. But luckily the rest of the album is better, such as "Answers? Questions! Questions! Answers?" which reminds me a bit of Pink Floyd, and "Focus III" which is Focus at their classic best. I also get a kick off "Carnival Suite". If you own the CD and wonder why "House of the King" is missing, here's the reason why: this song originally appeared only on the European version of their debut, In & Out of Focus (1970), but did not appear on the American LP version. So the LP of Focus 3 included that song so everyone, including Americans get to hear this song. Anyway, this album is prime example of double-album syndrome: a lot of this music degenerates in to a wankfest, but it's still worth having if you don't mind endless solos, but of course, start with Moving Waves first.
(Ben Miller, Hippy)
Live At The Rainbow
The year is 1973 and the technology is nowhere
like what it is now. Prog-Rock was really starting to hit it's
peak and the industry as a whole was far more receptive to
musical creativity of the type shown on this incendiary live
recording by Focus.
Rather than my usual blow-by-blow description, I'll try to hit the highlights (and they are numerous).
With nothing more than the most basic technology (Gibson Les Paul guitar & Marshall amp, Hammond Organ & Flute, Fender Bass and an average size drum kit), no synths or overdubs, these four Dutch maestros wowed a capacity audience at London's Rainbow Theatre with their impressive creativity and good humor! Out of their musical hat, they pulled a ton of wonderful melodies, brooding and introspective passages, jazz-inflected soloing, turn on a dime time changes, manic energy and even yodeling!!
The real standouts here are Jan Akkerman's by turns brittle and soaring plaintive guitar and Van Leer's smoky and regal organ. Akkerman's solo passages on 'Answers? Questions!Questions?Answers!' are particularly arresting and beautiful. The ensemble passages and dynamic shifts on 'Eruption' are a marvel to behold as well. Throughout, Pierre van der Linden and Bert Ruiter provide tireless and driving harmonic and rhythmic force. Of course, there is the obligatory thrashing of their unintentional signature tune 'Hocus Pocus', manic yodeling and all! This would definitely be the throwaway track, as it goes on a bit longer than it should (repetitive ditty this one). But that notwithstanding, this is one beautiful example of how creativity knows no limits, especially technological ones.
Fans of smoking instrumental prog would do well to add this to their collection.
The instrumental rockers of the early '70s never were any good at dulling down their musical expertise; and, indeed, it's only a matter of seconds into their first and only live release — Live at the Rainbow — until one realizes just how talented Focus were. Jan Akkerman, named "World's Best Guitarist" by Melody Maker in 1973 ahead of Eric Clapton and others, was amazingly on form in this performance. Thijs Van Leer, chief songwriter and performer in the band, showcased his talents on flute, vocals, and organ with unparalleled finesse. Bert Ruiter knocked out his bass lines tight to Pierre Van Der Linden's drums, undoubtedly two of the finest players on their respective instruments. It would be so easy to go off on a tangent explaining the mastery that Focus had musically; suffice to say, however, the bands technical proficiency is rarely matched in the world of rock. Live at the Rainbow featured some of the band's best and most well known tracks: "Sylvia," "Hocus Pocus," "Focus II," and so on. Although much of the content sticks closely to its original studio form (12-minute tracks were regular on studio albums), with maybe an extra solo or two thrown in for good measure, a few songs host drastic changes. "Hocus Pocus," for example, is almost unrecognizable. This live version is multiple times faster than its studio counterpart — those familiar with only the studio version are certainly in for a shock! Throughout the album the performance is simply astonishing. Live at the Rainbow is a fine purchase for any Focus fan, or, indeed, anyone looking for a band with a good degree of originality and musical ability.
(Ben Davies, All Music Guide)
Focus' classic live-album recorded at the Rainbow Theatre in London was released at the height of their popularity, and explains all why Focus were such a successful and respected act. The playing here is incredibly tight and energetic. The tracks are usually performed a bit harder and faster than their studio-counterparts; just check the high-octane version of "Hocus Pocus". The selections of tracks are also very carefully done, and makes sure that every side of Focus' music is represented here. You get the ultra-typical, melodic and classic Focus-sound in "Focus III" and "Focus II", the more jam-oriented direction in "Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers", the more commercial and catchy side in "Sylvia" and of course full progressive rock-bliss in an 8-minute excerpt of "Eruption". The sound is excellent for a live-album this old, further making this one of the essential live-albums from a progressive rock band. And try to hunt down the version with the cool gimmick-cover if you can find it, as it's really worth the money!
(Tommy Schonenberg, Vintage Prog)
Focus' most grandiose record ever. Most thanks to the 20-minute title track, which is a very symphonic and elegant piece of progressive rock, with great and very pompous themes. For the first time, moogs were also included, adding new colour to the music. "Harem Scarem" is Focus from their most energetic side, while "Birth" simply is progressive rock from its very best side! Great flute and organ. "La Cathedrale de Strasbourg" is a more atmospheric track, while Akkerman continued to explore medieval-music on the short opening track. This album was Focus last masterpiece, but as I said, it's a masterpiece!
(Tommy Schonenberg, Vintage Prog)
Focus had well proven their ability to write rocking instrumentals by the time of this release. Their catalog, although consisting of four albums, rarely had a dull moment between them. Hamburger Concerto is equally consistent, much of it being prime Focus material. The Akkerman-written "Birth" and "Early Birth" are examples of Focus fully flexing their muscles, featuring superb guitar work and amazing all-round musicianship, as well as sporting some superb riffs. The usual lengthy instrumentals are present also, as well as some manic vocals from the manic but genius Thijs Van Leer. Although Hamburger Concerto is not as unerring as Moving Waves or Focus III, anyone who enjoyed the previous releases would undoubtedly find great satisfaction from this album.
(Ben Davies, All Music Guide)
By far Focus' best and more complete album. Although 'Hamburger Concerto' itself only occupies the second side, the whole album flows beautifully from start to finish. There's nothing like 'Hocus Pocus' here, or the rambling jazz laden indulgences of other offerings. Instead what we have is a classically constructed piece of pure smooth prog rock. Guitar and keyboards share the lead most of the time, with Van Leer's flute and vocals (sounds not lyrics) kept relatively brief.
There really isn't any point in going into individual track details, it's very much an album to hear from start to finish. The closing section of 'Hamburger concerto however is stunning, Akerman's guitar work being reminiscent of their beautiful single 'Sylvia'.
A beautifully constructed and performed album, which surpasses by a country mile anything else by the band. The CD version has one extra track, an early version of 'Birth'. The sleeve notes talk about the album being premastered (not remastered) whatever that means!
(Bob McBeatch, Progarchives)
A brilliant neo-classical rock album and arguably the best from these Dutch masters. When I was taking a music appreciation course in university I showed this work to my prof and she liked it so much that she went out and bought herself a copy! I was to learn a lot more about this unique recording which aspired to levels of musical sophistication that few progressive rock acts of the day could match. The replacement of Pierre van Der Linden on drums by ex-Stone The Crows drummer Colin Allen certainly brought a new feel to the group even if Thijs van Leer and Jan Akkerman were at odds with each other at the time. The album is filled to the brim with classical motifs and begins with a short renaissance-like intro with Van Leer on recorder and Akkerman on lute which was based on a composition from an unknown Belgian composer from sheet music Akkerman had discovered in a music shop in Antwerp. Following this short prelude which sort of sets the stage for what is to come we are all of a sudden transported through time to circa. 1974 where we find our Dutch masters at work on a jazz-rock piece called Harem Scarem with Van Leer doubling on piano and Hammond as well as providing some comedic vocals while Akkerman's graceful guitar lines provide melodic mood changes. Other instruments abound here such as castanets and parisian-style accordian work by Mr. Van Leer.( Wait for it, over 20 different musical instruments were employed on this studio masterpiece!). La Cathedral de Strasbourg evokes images of the majestic cathedral in the French border town complete with church bells, choral arrangements and whistling by Mr. Van Leer (listen carefully to the ending!). Baroque Bach-like harpsichord introduces Birth, a Jan Akkerman composition with Mr. Van Leer stating the theme on flute as well as providing haunting interludes in between Jan's emotive guitar work. Another shorter original single version of this appears at the end of the CD release and alternate solos can be heard on the long version depending on which vinyl release you pick. The Atco solo is what you're going to get if you go for the CD. The main track Hamburger Concerto is just that. A concerto and not a studio jam as it is refered to as by many rock reviewers. In fact the opening section was actually taken from a piece by Brahms entitled "St. Anthoni Chorale: Variations on a theme by Joseph Haydn Opus 56a" which was composed in 1873! Of course, by this time Focus was well known for raiding the classics and classical references can be heard throughout their previous work. The sub-dued intro develops into a more modern context blending in more textures as it builds. We are once again treated to a small section of Mr. Van Leer's inventive vocal abilities which reveal extreme range and control. The piece transitions beautifully into a section which, in the opinion of this reviewer, is Jan Akkerman's finest moments on record which display his superior compositional and technical prowess on the electric guitar. It begins with a contemplative theme which escalates through various moods ending off with some jazz influenced passages and back to the theme. Van Leer then gives us some latin chanting which blows up into the grand finale with a series of organ/synth/voice power chords. It resolves into a happier ARP synthesizer led conclusion which culminates with church bell chiming and a little guitar ditty from Akkerman. A must have album from this highly experimental 1970's group. It's a shame that they began to wane after this release which was perhaps one of the most interesting progressive rock recordings ever, incorporating more musical elements than one might care to shake a proverbial stick at.
(Ian Gledhill, Progarchives)
This is a real confection of an album. Anyone expecting the harder, darker, more demanding pieces like "Eruption" (from "Moving Waves") will be disappointed.
Instead, the band was going for a more mainstream, pseudo-jazzy sound. What they ended up with verges on blandness (sort of elevator music for the prog generation), but is sonically pleasing nonetheless. Just about the only link with past Focus efforts is the tune "Focus IV," which features, as does "Focus II" (also on "Moving Waves") and "Focus III" (on the album of the same name), Jan Akkerman playing a beautiful, lyrical melody on his Les Paul, while Van Leer and co. comps in the background.
The rest of the tunes are based on fairly simple chord progressions, sometimes ("Soft Vanilla," "Bennie Helder") featuring melodies, sometimes ("Mother Focus," "Hard Vanilla," "Someone's Crying") just running through the changes and soloing. Around the same time, Herbie Hancock was doing similar work on the funk side with his later Headhunters albums ("Thrust" and "Man-Child"); the music isn't real challenging, but the grooves are nice, the solos are good, and the arrangements are pleasing. It's not something I'd take to a desert island, but it's hard to beat in the car on a crisp, fall afternoon.
Because these arrangements are very pleasant, very organic-sounding in a fluffy, mid-70's way. They're somewhat reminiscent of Jan Akkerman's immediate post-Focus solo work. Akkerman was using more acoustic guitar than he had previously, and Van Leer largely abandoned his ubiquitous B3 in favor of Rhodes and synth textures (of the "Arp String Ensemble" variety). He does do some nice overdubbed flute stuff, though, particularly on "Tropic Bird."
I loved this album when it came out--I was in the 11th grade, and was a big Focus fan (and a big prog listener in general). I remember playing for my dad, though, who thought it sounded like muzak. Listening to it now, I can see his point. It didn't age as well as "Focus III" or "Hamburger Concerto" has for me. Still, for pre-disco 70's pop instrumentals, it's hard to beat "Bennie Helder" in the 8-track
(David Starns, Amazon)
Focus here featured virtuoso guitarist Jan Akkerman for the last time, not to work with his long-term writing partner Thijs Van Leer for another ten years. Mother Focus also sees Focus' highly skilled bass player Bert Ruiter try his hand in songwriting. The outcome includes the one of the finest funk tracks on the album — the hilarious "I Need a Bathroom." The album begins with quite possibly the finest track on the album — and maybe the most typical Focus — the titular "Mother Focus." The funky theme underlying the number sets the mood for the rest of the LP with aplomb. Indeed, Mother Focus is far from the usual instrumental material. For this reason, Mother Focus may not appeal to the usual fans of the Dutch proggers. The number of feel-good tunes making up the album's core makes up for the lack of a rocking single in the style of "Hocus Pocus." A mellower, happier aura permeates the recording as a whole, particularly noticeable in the soothing "Tropic Bird." Undoubtedly, though, Mother Focus is let down by the lack of Akkerman's and Thijs' presence. The whole album cries out for one of them to jump out and take center stage for a while. Instead each track is filled with numerous melodies and rhythms, with only the occasional jaunt from Akkerman. Mother Focus is a fine album in its own right, but maybe not what one would be expecting when taking into account the progressive rock features of their earlier albums. Funk predominates in the last respectable Focus LP. RIP Focus.
(Ben Davies, All Music Guide)
Disco Focus would have probably been a more suitable title for this last Focus album before Akkerman and Van Leer decided they hated each other`s guts.ABBA could have been easily called in to lay down vocal tracks on this funky one. Although traces of the classical themes which made their earlier work shine are still present on tracks like Bennie Helder and Father Bach this record has absolutely nothing to do with previous work. Guitarist Jan Akkerman`s pre-occupation with more upbeat,simpler and shorter songs undoubtedly had a lot to do with the drastic change in musical direction.This is also reflected on his post Focus solo work.There`s certainly a feeling of tension in the music as Akkerman persists with the funk thing despite Van Leer`s attempts to slip in the odd classical phrasing here and there. Akkerman even makes his singing debut on I Need A Bathroom which was penned by bassist Bert Ruiter. The addition of American drummer Dave Kemper in place of Colin Allen does nothing as Allen was probably fed up with the incessant bickering between Akkerman and Van Leer. Disco Focus is definitely not a happy album from our once happy Dutch Masters and ultimately sounded the death knell for the band. From Masters of Rock to Masters of Shlock, avoid this horrible and tragic way for this once brilliant band to bite the dust.
(Ian Gledhill, Progarchives)
This record is really alive and rhythmic. Not really progressive, the songs are rather short, mostly lasting 2-3 minutes. The keyboards are often floating ("Soft Vanilla", "Someone's Crying", "No Hands Up", "Father Bach"), the kind of floating backgrounds TRIUMVIRAT and Gary Wright used to employ.
The guitarist makes some simple guitar solos, and they are rather sentimental. The Clapton-esque "I need a Bathroom" is a bit surprising and maybe disappointing. "Bennie Helder" is probably the best one: very rhythmic, alive, melodic, loaded and a bit progressive. "All together" sounds maybe a bit country!!! But it is not bad!! "Focus IV" is a good mix of piano and romantic guitar high notes.
I'm sure many FOCUS fans would find this record as bland as shopping center music, but IMO, it is not bad at all, rather well made and non monotonous.
Ship Of Memories
Ship of Memories, a collection of rarities from Focus' catalog, is somewhat more diverse than most of the band's other releases. Starting off with "P's March," a track rooted in the style of Focus' debut album In and Out of Focus, Ship of Memories gradually works its way through the band's many phases to the Mother Focus styled "Crackers." The album ends on a superb song, the U.S. version of "Hocus Pocus." For Europeans, this addition to Ship of Memories ("Hocus Pocus" U.S. was never on the LP version, but was later added to the CD release) comes as an absolute delight. Not only is the song a verified rarity on the continent, but it is also vastly different from the U.K. recording. Akkermans' guitar work, Van Leer's yodeling, and Pierre Van Der Linden's drumming are all given a new lease of life by the inclusion of this track. Despite the songwriting quality not being of the highest caliber, sparks of genius pop up at various places. Collectors will be well-gratified by Ship of Memories, while casual listeners will find enough enjoyable material to merit its purchase.
(Ben Davies, All Music Guide)
Why the silhouette of the World War II German battleship Bismark was selected for the cover of this Focus retrospect album rather than a graceful tall ship is one of those record company mysteries. Containing snippets and unused material spanning their career up to 1976 when Jan Akkerman called it quits, the listener should expect no more and no less although there are a couple of gems to be heard here. First off, there`s the equally dazzling alternate "fast" version of Hocus Pocus which first appeared on Dutch Masters, a compilation album released on Sire records in 1975. Two pieces, Spoke The Lord Creator and P`s March, although recorded four years apart, reflect the true style of the early Focus. Red Sky At Night is by far the highlight track. With heavy moog synthesizer and soloing by both Van Leer and Akkerman it shows a departure from their more classically influenced style of writing found on the first three Focus studio records. Glider was a track which was obviously reworked into what became the title track for the last focus album featuring Akkerman, Mother Focus which was released in 1975. It has a much faster tempo and very raw sound compared to the latter and featured a drum sequencer rather than a live drummer and it is the prefered version for this reviewer. The rest of the album is Akkerman all the way. Out Of Vesuvius and Can`t Believe My Eyes are essentially studio experiments featuring Akkerman`s excellent fret-work. Crackers and the melow Focus V are definitely the odd ones out, crackers being a funk inspired track which was redone yet again on Akkerman`s self titled 1977 album. The album`s b points outweigh the weaker moments by far and is a good representation of the band`s development over 6 years through tracks which would otherwise have been committed to the vaults.
(Ian Gledhill, Progarchives)
Focus Con Proby
This is a quality record; but it's not much like Focus. The new lineup (without Jan Akkerman) was praised as a "great step forward" at the time. But Mike Vernon, in his comments on the CD reissues, is scathing, calling this the "final offering" and reminding us that P.J. Proby split his trousers on TV. This record reminds me very much of In and Out of Focus: it gives the impression of a band trying to establish a sense of direction. Of course, both the production and playing are far better than on In and Out of Focus.
Thijs van Leer, although prominently featured in the publicity, seems to be taking a back seat, only really stepping into the spotlight on "Sneezing Bull" and "Maximum" (though he does contribute a flute/piano introduction to both "Brother" and "Tokyo Rose"). Much of the guitar work reminds me of the sadly departed Jan Akkerman; perhaps his style really is essential to the overall Focus sound. Before I heard the record, I assumed the hiring of P.J. Proby to be a joke, but I was very wrong: he fits in remarkably well, and displays a wide range of vocal styles. An unexpected, adventurous and successful choice here.
Let's start with the best track. "Sneezing Bull" is essentially a delightfully playful duet between TvL and Philip Catherine (who plays a mean guitar). This track feels improvised, with everyone enjoying themselves (complete with cries from TvL), all of which marked the band at its best. If only the rest of the record could have been like this!
"Maximum" is a funk-based track reminiscent of the disappointing Mother Focus. The bonus is that TvL is prominent on keyboards throughout, and some of the melodies have a classical feel. I really am not keen on Mother Focus, but this track does grow on you with repeated listening.
"Orion" and "Night Flight" are both written (and presumably performed) by Eef Albers, guest guitarist. They come over as (good) showpieces for his playing, but the rest of the players are really just providing backing; again, not like the best of Focus.
All the other tracks feature P.J. Proby on vocals, and have have words by (I assume) Rosalie van Leer. These tracks show the best resemblance to In and Out of Focus: this feeling is intensified when the introduction to "How Long" quotes a theme from "Black Beauty", and when many of the tracks fade out on a guitar solo! All the vocal tracks tend to sound much the same somehow, perhaps because either vocal or guitar is always prominent at any one time. The lyrics are the best set Focus have ever used, though this isn't saying that much. The four tracks co-written by TvL form two pairs similar in style: "Wingless"/"How Long" and the piano ballads "Eddy"/"Brother". "Wingless" is by far the best of these tracks, with interesting harmonies and a compelling opening riff. "Brother" and "Tokyo Rose" both share an identical flute/piano introduction, but thereafter go their own ways. TvL clearly contributes a lot to the quality of a piece, because "Tokyo Rose", written by Rosalie alone, is pretty predictable (and rather dire).
The title is misleading, since the pseudo-legendary P.J. Proby doesn't figure prominently in this record. Instead, the starring role goes to guitarist Eef Albers, a flashy guy with a light touch who at his best recalls the most melodic of McLaughlin and the jazziest of Beck. Philip Catherines guitaring, on the other hand, tends to be aimless and frantic. Focus Con Proby is hardly a rocker, but it burns at times with a graceful intensity (Albers) that makes one regret there are so many cooks here.
(Published in Beat Instrumental or International Musician magazine in UK ca. 1988)
Akkerman was gone, and Focus released some rather stinking albums at the end of their career. The guitarist on this album (Focus' last) was Philip Catherine. It's no doubt that he was a good guitarist, just listen to "Night Flight", one of the album's few listenable tracks. "Sneezing Bull" is a incredible track, with some of Leer`s best flute playing ever. The only listenable of the vocal tracks is "Wingless". Vocalist P.J. Proby is a good vocalist, but it just doesn't help when the material sucks. The rest of the album is just crap, and unless you want everything Focus has done, you can stay well away from this one.
(Tommy Schonenberg, Progforest)
Perhaps one of the oddest and most unlikely pairings of musicians that you'll ever find; the addition of P.J. Proby on vocals here is quite strange. That's not a knock to Proby, because he was good in his heyday, often drawing comparisons vocally to Elvis. But he was known more for his onstage antics and attention-grabbing gimmicks, such as the infamous "split pants" routine done live on BBC television in 1966.
Proby's vocals sound completely out of place on this album, and can be a bit grating on the nerves; one listen to "Tokyo Rose" confirms this, with Proby going into a drunken-sounding, rhyming monologue, even inserting a couple of choice expletives for bad measure. The music of Focus here is basically a hit-or-miss affair, at times showing flashes of brilliance ("Night Flight", "Brother"), but other times sounding uninspired and lifeless ("Eddy", "Maximum"). When I first heard this album some years ago, I thought it was Jan Akkerman playing the Talkbox-guitar passages on "Brother" (Akkerman made ample use of the Talkbox on the previous "Mother Focus" album), only to find that Akkerman was replaced by 2 guitarists; jazz/new age greats Philip Catherine and Eef Albers.
The only saving graces here are the presences of Catherine, Albers, and drummer Steve Smith, who later that same year would find greater fame with Journey. Many progressive rock bands of the 70's quickly found themselves and their music falling out of favor after the arrival of punk and disco, and unfortunately, a similar fate fell upon Focus. The group disbanded following the release of this album, but the downward spiral had already begun with the lackluster sales of "Mother Focus" in 1975, "Ship Of Memories" in 1976, and Jan Akkerman's departure being the dagger in the heart for Focus.
This album was not the best way for Focus to end their career, but it does have some interesting moments (that is, once you get past Proby's intrusive vocals). Some people believe that Proby was the real "star" of this CD, but I have to disagree with that; but of course, to each his/her own!
(Chuck Potocki, Amazon)
Although featuring exceptional musicians one has to wonder what was going through Thijs van Leer's brain when he recruited PJ Proby for this mother of all musical mismatches. Thijs van Leer`s classical influence just didn't blend with the jazz minded Philip Catherine and Eef Albers. Ex- Journey drummer Steve Smith and bassist Bert Ruiter were just along for the ride on this one. Smith went on to form the excellent fusion band Vital Information with Albers joning in on a later album.
(Ian Gledhill, Progarchives)
(Tonny Larz, Progarchives)
Focus 8? No!! The return of Thijs van Leer in a Focus context will draw inevitable comparisons with the original concept and earlier incarnations.
It is very easy to sit out this new CD comparing it directly to former glories, so for example, here we have a Hocus Pocus update, there's a House Of The King clone and so forth...This is an easy trap to fall into, and it is a credit to the new band that they do not rest solely on former laurels. Focus 8 marks a return to the true nature of Focus music: tuneful, memorable and a little bit rocky when they want to be.
The immensely likeable 'Tamara's Move' by guitarist Jan Dumee fair rattles along, and like 'House Of The King' would lend itself to an upmarket travel show. Thijs has one of the most distinctive flute tones and whilst comparisons with Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull will always be made, so be it - there's more than enough room for both of 'em. Anyway, these days Ian sounds more like Thijs than he did back in 1973.
'Fretless Love', has an echo of Focus II about it and degenerates to admirable beat combo stuff with fluid figures from Jan Dumee, whilst 'Hurkey Turkey' could be a show-stopper live. Thijs at one point called this 'Alicante' and envisaged Jan Akkerman playing the guitar part. Dumee carries it off admirably. It has a somewhat irrepressible heavy riff with Latin overtones. A winner especially when Dumee lets rip with some judicious axe meltdown towards the end.
Of the other band members, the appropriately-named (for a drummer) Bert Smaak and Bobby Jacobs (Thijs' stepson) lay down a pretty nifty rhythm track, and Jacobs gets his own showcase on 'De Ti O Be Mi' which sounds in places like the soundtrack to some nasty South American movie. It's also a showcase for Dumee's Akkermanesque flourishes, perhaps the most overt references on the whole album. Because of this, the Akker-faithful may find the experience somewhat derivative and slightly painful and may, therefore, reach for track skip.
Yes, Thijs does get to yodel again but it's all very controlled and complementary, as on the inevitable 'Hocus Pocus/Harem Scarem' update 'Neurotika' which appears here as a 'rehearsal take'. This track manages to take in thirty years of Van Leer's recording history (yes, including the ill-fated 'I Hate Myself' album). whilst the return of the Hammond is to be savoured. The bonus track, however, is rubbish.
There is enough here to satisfy all who love the old albums right up to 'Focus con Proby' (note the inclusion of 'Brother') and it has to be said this album has elements of them all. Perhaps in summary, the band could have veered a little from the safety of the Focus blueprint but Focus 9 may yet further develop their own voice. There is no doubt that this offering is going to put a smile back on the faces of prog rockers everywhere. And is Jan Dumee better than Jan Akkerman? Oh, just enjoy!
(Davis Randall, musicsogood)
Based on an idea to form a Focus tribute band as a surprise for Thijs Van Leer, the soon to be launched Hocus Pocus tribute band suddenly got another dimension when Thijs, amazed at what he heard, decided to join the band and, why not, call the band Focus because that's exactly what it was. And because a new album would be the 8th official Focus album why not make it easy and call the shiny silver disc '8' ? Prior to the official release of the album a limited run of 500 numbered copies were pressed in time for the band's performance at the Whitchurch Festival. So will the same eleven tracks finally make it onto the official album ? God only knows ! We can only hope so because every single track on this album (except maybe the bonustrack), breathes, lives and sounds like only Focus can. Whether the song is a Thijs Van Leer original or written by newcomer guitarist Jan Dumée, these guys deliver a sound quality only one band can produce and that's : Focus !
Van Leer still plays the flute, wrestles with the organ, hums and whistles as if we'd find ourselves merely a week after the band's memorable concert at the Rainbow Theatre in London. But that was … 5th may 1973 ! Almost thirty years ago ! So what about the new music ? The yodeling is right in place for the opening track 'Rock & Rio' which illustrates the band's enthusiasm regarding their South-American tour. And boy does that new guitarist smoke ! Who needs Akkerman ? Over the years Van Leer has developed a way of playing the flute which is his very own, as if he's the Hendrix of the flute. It's exactly that distinctive sound which could make 'Tamara's move', the new 'Hocus pocus' in other words a true classic in the making. As it's a song written by Jan Dumée it illustrates how well 'new' Jan is acquainted with the Focus legacy. In fact sometimes he's been listening that good that certain new songs get damn close to some 'older' Focus material. Take the intro for 'Fretless love' which sounds very much like 'Focus II' from the 'Making waves' album.
Based on a rhythmic backbone courtesy of Bobby Jacobs, Thijs' stepson, 'De Ti O De Mi' once again evolves into pure vintage Focus material once organ and guitar step in almost sounding like a 'Hamburger concerto' outtake. In a similar way we can approach what is the core of the album, the titletrack 'Focus 8'. Soft jazzy and acoustic guitar touches govern another Dumée composition : 'Sto Ces Raditi Zivota' where Van Leer adds both organ and flute in order to give it that distinct Focus flavor. As kind of a tribute to drummer Ruben Van Roon who started the whole re-union idea, a rehearsal take of 'Neurotika' is added which is exactly the kind of song which fuses all of the highlights of the entire Focus career into one ball of renewed Focus energy.
During live gigs Thijs Van Leer introduces the track 'Brother' as one of his all time favorite Focus tracks. Originally sung by P.J. Proby on the 'Focus con Proby' album, the band has decided to give the song a second chance this time with the flute replacing the vocal passages (although live it is Thijs who sings the by now immortal lines !). In his own 'Blizu Tébe' (where does he get those names from ?), Jan Dumée illustrates what a great asset to the band he really is. The album closes with a humoristic operetta written and conceived in the shower. 'Flower shower' is indeed a funny thing to listen to maybe hence the wording 'bonustrack' as indeed it has very little to do with the rest of the album. It nevertheless illustrates the enthusiasm which can be found in this younger version of Focus. Maybe not all the material on 'Focus 8' is b enough to be transferred onto disc straight away but that same enthusiasm simply drove these four people into the studio. Growing even closer together after the numerous concerts they have planned no doubt the new Focus is ready for a next chapter in it's already well documented life. For sure 'Focus 9' is already cooking in their little minds, yet for the time being : 'it feels good to have you back guys !'
(John 'Bo Bo' Bollenberg, Prog-nose)
When I was informed about the Focus comeback, I was at the same time intrigued with the possibilities, and careful not to make my great expectations turn into a big deception.
Last weekend I finally had the chance to hear this new album, "Focus 8", appropriately named since it's the 8th official Focus album (if we include the legendary "Live At The Rainbow"). In December I had the opportunity to see Thijs van Leer playing flute with Uriah Heep, as their special guest in a concert in London, so I knew he still had the energy and geniality from the good old days.
With him, three new members who have never played with Focus before: guitarist Jan Dumée, bassist Bobby Jacobs (son of Ruud Jacobs, well known by Focus fans as the bass player and producer on Thijs' series of "Introspection" solo albums), and drummer Bert Smaak.
After listening to the first 2 tracks, it was clear that the classic Focus was back! All the typical elements were there... Thijs singing, shouting, mocking, yodeling... and switching between the swirling Hammond B3 organ and the flute, played sometimes in a very soft and melodical way, and sometimes in an aggressive one!
The similarities between the new and the original guitar players, Jan Dumée and Jan Akkerman, is not only in the name. Dumée's style is frighteningly close to Akkerman's, and I would take the risk to say that nowadays Dumée may sound even closer to the old Akkerman, than Akkerman himself (especially because Akkerman has changed to a more jazz-based sound since the end of the 70s). The rhythm section of Jacobs and Smaak is very precise, and usually adds some flavor to the songs, not only limiting their performance to building the background for the 2 soloists.
But what really stands out on this new album, is the strength of the compositions: there are absolutely no weak tracks, on the contrary, they are all excellent! The balance between fast rockers and slow ballads was done is the old fashion, not following rules other than those established by the group itself in the 70s. This means, no concessions to pop or any modern ingredients. Half of the tracks were written by Van Leer, including an indefectible "Focus 8", keeping the tradition b, and "Hurkey Turkey", a clear reference to old rockers such as "Hocus Pocus" and "Harem Scarem", and featuring Thijs impersonating a wild turkey!
The album's opener, "Rock & Rio", shows that Focus is back in full form; impossible not to bang your head when listening to its melodies, with Thijs playing the Hammond and yodeling, and Dumée playing a heavy guitar. On "Fretless Love", Thijs inserted some beautiful lines resembling "Focus 3" (from the album of the same name, released in 1973), where the melody goes back and forth to the original, "close but not touching". "Neurotika", as the name implies, is an intense musical experience full of some wild yodeling and flute playing, alternated with softer (or not) moments ruled by the guitar. The original drummer of this new incarnation of the band, Ruben van Roon, played on this track only.
"Brother" is an old favorite from the "Focus Con Proby" album, penned to be part of this new CD and nicely re-arranged (hard not to have goosebumps when hearing the guitar on this one!). Jacobs contributes with an excellent track called "De Ti O De Mi", where one of the best and most inspiring guitar solos of the whole album can be heard. All the music contributed by Jan Dumée is also of the highest caliber... "Tamara's Move" features some clapping and singing (similar to what they used on "Hamburger Concerto" in 1974), and a big climax with the Hammond preparing the ground for the stellar arrival of Jan's guitar.
Some songs with strange names allegedly in Croatian, such as "Sto Ces Raditi Zivota" and "Blizu Tébe", the former sounding a bit like a cross between jazz and bossa nova with a Focus treatment, and the latter sounding like a typical "Focus #" instrumental. The bonus track, "Flower Shower", is a funny yet interesting song featuring operatic vocals in a probable traditional Dutch way.
After listening to this CD, it is exciting to imagine what's ahead of us, like a phoenix Focus was able to reinvent themselves and hopefully will be alive for years to come!
(Rodrigo Werneck, Musical Box magazine)
So Focus are back after 25 years! The Dutch quartet have been going down very well as a live act, with their continental eccentricity and good tunes - so a new album is most welcome.
The first thing to ask about 'Focus 8' is how "Focusy" it is? ... after 25 years the band have not tampered unduly with their classic sound. In fact, this album, with its warm Hammond sound and clear, unobtrusive production could easily have been recorded 30 years ago.
That said, there is nothing here, which quite challenges 'Sylvia' or 'Hocus Pocus' as crowd pleasers - though the frenetic 'Neurotika' gets pretty close. As for the band: well, organist / flautist Thijs Van Leer has lost none of his sense of drama or fun, new guitarist Jan Dumee slips easily into the shoes of Jan Akkerman, and the rhythm section of Bert Smaak and Bobby Jacobs are as good as any the band have had.
As for the songs: 'Rock and Rio' is an entertaining piece of hard rock with typical yodeling(!) while 'Tamara's Move' is a melodic, jazzy flute-led piece, and 'Fretless Love' hints at 1971's sublime 'Focus 2'.
After a couple of mediocre pieces, 'Focus 8' is a surreal, swirling piece, while 'Sto Ces Raditi Zivota' showcases Jan's classical guitar in jazzy style. 'Neurotika' is a crowd-pleasing stomper, while 'Brother' is a great tune, in mournful classical style, leading to album closer, the pretty and gentle 'Blizu Tebe'.
The bonus track 'Flower Shower' is nutty fun, but it may not reward repeated listens...
This is a good album for fans, though new listeners might find it just a touch like "lift music". Nonetheless, it makes pleasant, undemanding listening.
Stephen Lambe, New Horizons)
Who would have thought that an album credited to Focus would see the light of day in 2002? Not too many people, though one has to admit that the name is carried by one man alone, Thijs Van Leer. Originally there was talk of a Focus tribute band playing and recording material, though it seems that Van Leer opted to join in and subsequently also lent the name of Focus to the finished material. Technically this is a great album with proficient musicians, though one also has to admit that such a move also exposes all band members and their material to comparisons with any of the material that Focus had recorded in the past.
A limited edition of 500 copies was hurriedly released prior to the band's Whitchurch festival with the same eleven tracks (including the bonus track!) featured on it finding their place on the finalized version. Apart from Thijs Van Leer the new Focus lineup thus features guitarist Jan Dumée, bassist Bobby Jacobs and drummer Bert Smaak. The only member of the band who remotely has some form of connection with the "old" Focus is Bobby Jacobs whose father was bass player and producer on Van Leer's Introspection solo albums.
Admittedly I was slightly hesitant and apprehensive as to what I would find on this album, having heard much of the band's legendary works and being somewhat prejudiced by the name Focus. From the opening number, however, I was pleasantly surprised that even though most of the cogs in the wheel had been changed, the wheel was still turning in the right direction! The introductory Rock & Rio immediately sets the pace with remnants of Hocus Pocus feeding their way through with that characteristic yodel. However what really stands out is the way the band manage to conjure up that ear-friendly backdrop, enriched with b blues roots in true Focus fashion.
Tamara's Move is the right type of piece that allows Van Leer to step forward with his flute playing. The track itself has a number of folk references and is played out in an acoustic vein with the occasional pause via which the warm sound of the Hammond breaks forth. The same happens on Fretless Love which has classic Focus (Focus II to be precise!) written all over it as Van Leers' flute and organ playing combine beautifully with Dumée's guitar work which has a definite presence and feel. In fact one has to admit that the band on the album have stuck to a formula which seems to work well, though it does at times become slightly repetitive as happens on pieces such as Hurkey Turkey
As I said the presence of Jan Akkerman inevitably hangs over the band, and with pieces such as De To O De Mi and Focus 8, Jan Dumée shows all that he is actually more than capable of playing these intricate parts. Furthermore his contribution within the songwriting department does not go unnoticed. The titles are seemingly Croatian (Sto Ces Raditi Ostatac Zivota? and Blizu Tébe) and of course have the guitar as the main featured instrument. The mood is somewhat more jazzier and placid with a pleasant acoustic backdrop.
The rehearsal take of Neurotika has much in common with Rock & Rio, as well as classic Focus and seems to have been included as a tribute to Ruben Van Roon who was the original drummer and it seems was the mastermind behind the original tribute band. Brother, on the other hand, is not new to the Focus faithful having appeared on the Focus Con Proby and is carried off admirably while Tamara's Move has 1974's Hamburger Concerto written all over it. The light-hearted nature of the recordings as well as the mood within the band is apparent when one listens to the bonus track Flower Shower, an undescribable piece of humorous banter that could have almost been attributed to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band! Though not a masterpiece, this album is an impressive return to form for the name Focus. The band are touring and might be one of the last chances to hear classical progressive rock music being played by one of the classical greats. Regarding the album, it is a definite worthy addition to anyone's progressive rock collection.
(Nigel Camilleri, DPRP)
Ok, so this is Focus without being original Focus. The truth is that, like French band Ange, there is only the front man remaining from the original band. In fact, this case is even stranger than that, for it has happened in the reverse way. This means that it was from the joining of Thijs Van Leer to an already existing band (the cover tribute band Hocus Pocus) that this new Focus incarnation was born.
Nevertheless what matters here is the music,
and that is undisputedly recognizable as "old" Focus!
Here you can find the jazzy fusioning into Symphonic passages, the humorous approaches on rock, the emotional instrumental pieces where melody is basing and the soloing is nuclear to that harmony feeling, the energy burst outs and all that has made this Dutch band a success in progressive history.
If there are tracks where the vintage Focus is distinctively rebirth, there are other tracks where the band tries to achieve a more contemporary sound...and those are the ones where the band slightly fails.
Focus 8, Fretless Love, Sto Ces Raditi Zivota and Blizu Tébe perfectly represent that tribute to the past, with the worked out, good mood and precise sounding. These tracks could have been recorded in the 70's and you wouldn't know the difference.
De ti o de mi, Hurkey Turkey and Rock & Rio try to bring some new features to this memorable band but, honestly, with no successful result.
The quality of the players is undisputed. They have learned the soul of the original band and the joining of Thijs must have add the cherry in top of the cake. I find it really awesome to see that new musicians can achieve that task: capturing the essence of the original masters.
Summing, this is an album for the fans of the
band. A tribute to the old days when Focus were delighting
European stages with their refreshing and overwhelming mix of
Symphonic Prog with jazzy tendencies.
Of course it also targets the new progheads, allowing them to discover one of the classic bands from Continental Prog.
Preamble. Certainly, like all of you, I salute Thijs Van Leer (welcome back to the Prog scene!), the founder and permanent leader of Focus, and thank him for reviving this legendary name by joining one of Focus's cover bands. Now however, let's see what the music of Focus MK-VIII is about.
The Album. I don't know why the titles of a few tracks of this album are written in one of the East European Slavonic languages (and not even in Dutch!), but I can try to translate them into English. The meaning of De Ti O De Mi (5) should be the same as that of "I'm there where you are". Sto Ces Raditi Ostatac Zivota (7) sounds most likely equal to "Do everything to survive your life". Finally, Blizu Tebe (10) is nothing else but "Closer to you". And now, I can start to describe the new Focus album and, in addition, put into words my thoughts upon it. Stylistically, the music that is presented here brings to the listener not only the familiar, distinctively original, and immediately recognizable spirit of this Legend, but also a decent dose of something new, which wasn't typical for a 'classic' Focus. Above all, this concerns the sound of today's Focus, which, overall, is heavier than ever before, even though there is only one track on the album, the stylistics of which represents a real fusion of Classic Symphonic Art-Rock and Prog-Metal. This is the album's opener, Rock & Rio, which, at the same time, is much in the vein of Hocus Pocus from "Moving Waves" and, of course, includes inimitable joking vocalizes by maestro Van Leer and highly virtuosi (just brilliant!) arrangements that, moreover, are full of magic. Honest! By the way, all the eleven tracks on the new Focus album are either excellent compositions or masterpieces. No merely good tracks here, not to mention mediocre ones! While created in Focus's best traditions, most of the compositions on the album are, however, richer in the elements of Prog-Metal than in those of Jazz-Fusion. (Whereas before, the elements of Jazz-Fusion were much more typical for Focus than those of Prog-Metal.) In short, "Focus 8" sounds by no means like being the mould of Focus's classic style, but is a really fresh album by the band that is still capable to amaze. Here are the tracks, the contents of which completely conform to the predominant stylistics of the album, which is certainly Classic Art-Rock with elements of Prog-Metal and bits of Jazz-Fusion: Tamara's Move, Fretless Love, Hurkey Turkey, Sto Ces Raditi Ostatac Zivota, Neurotika, and Brother (2, 3, 4, 7, & 9). Two of them, Hurkey Turkey and Neurotica (4 & 7), are, on the whole, much in the vein of the aforementioned Rock & Rio (1) and Hocus Pocus and feature joking vocalizes as well. Structurally though, these two, and especially the second one, are closer to the band's most popular song than the album's opening track. Tamara's Move (2) is the only real song on "Focus 8". However, it features only a few vocal parts, all of which are of a quiet character and are in many ways similar to those on the title track of "Moving Waves". The album's bonus track, Flower Shower (11), is about a pure Classic Art-Rock where, however, everything sounds like being an excellent musical joke, even though the vocals, performed here by the two unknown, male and female, guest singers (lyrics are in German), are clearly operatic. Finally, all three of the following compositions: De Ti O De Mi, Focus 8, and Blizu Tebe (5, 6, & 10), sound like the classic Focus ballads (and these are the Classic Art-Rock ballads), though the second half of the album's title track is both slow and heavy. Also, these three are the only compositions on the album that don't contain any solos of flute. Here, the main soloing 'battles' develop between solos of guitar (that, by the way, are often not unlike those of Jan Akkerman) and those of Hammond organ. It must be said that varied interplay between solos of organ and those of electric guitar (most of which are harsh), along with solos of flute and, rather often, of bass as well, play a prominent role on most of the album's tracks. Unlike those of organ, there is the only bright solo of synthesizer on "Focus 8" - on the album's opening track, while the passages of electric piano are present only on the title track of the album. The solos and passages of acoustic guitar play a very significant role in the arrangements on Fretless Love and Neurotika (3 & 7) and are heard on the bonus track, Flower Shower. While the main 'power' of Flower Shower is Hammond.
Summary. What a wonderful return! The renovated Focus won't remind you of some of one decrepit Prog-Dinosaur decided to get back and make money on the wave of a revived interest to Progressive Rock. So, unlike PFM, Greenslade, and many others, Focus bravely stepped into the 'afterlife' and immediately took the bull by the horns with their truly hard-edged and highly progressive album "Focus 8". I heartily recommend this masterpiece and undoubtedly one of the best Symphonic Art-Rock albums released in the new millennium to all of the true Progressive Rock lovers.
However, the quality of the booklet is, thankfully, not indicative of the music on the CD. Surprisingly, given the tour was in support of the new album, the first with new members Jan Dumée (guitar), Bert Smaak (drums) and Bobby Jacobs (bass), there are no tracks from the excellent Focus 8. Instead we are provided with what could pass as a greatest hits package - all but one track from the definitive Focus Live At The Rainbow are included. But given that the two live albums were recorded the best part of thirty years apart and by essentially different bands, the new release is not simply a clone of the earlier album. Van Leer remains the consummate musician, his advancing years have not dulled his vocal prowess, he still attacks the yodeling so characteristic of the band with gusto. The other band members are also of the highest caliber, Jan Akkerman's shoes are able filled by Dumée, indeed it is fair to say that his playing is every bit as masterful as the original guitarist.
The performance cannot really be faulted either. Yes Eruption is shorter than on the Moving Waves album but is longer than on Live At The Rainbow. On the other hand Harem Scarem is present in a greatly elongated form and doesn't suffer for it either plus it is great to hear one of the earliest Focus tracks (House Of King) resurrected from the vaults.
All in all this is a very reasonable release that shows that the reformed group are as every bit as good as the classic incarnation. Despite that, one is reluctant to consider it an essential purchase. A nice tour memento, good for ardent fans or just for those curious as to how the new band come over live. But the casual fan should concentrate on the back catalogue or, if they haven't yet purchased it yet, Focus 8.
(Mark Hughes, Dutch Progressive Rock Pages)
(Conor Fynes, Progarchives)
Dutch outfit FOCUS are among the veterans of the European rock scene. Initially formed in 1969, it was the first few years of their career that saw them make a big impression with tracks like Hocus Pocus and Sylvia, where the former is a staple on classic rock radio stations even today. Towards the end of the 1970's Focus called it a day, but some 20 odd years later Focus was revived courtesy of Thijs van Leer. X is the tenth studio album by this veteran act, and the third to be released after their revival.
The core style explored on this production is one with half a foot or thereabouts placed inside 70's jazzrock. It's a smooth and melodic variety of the species, with melancholic oriented guitar soloing backed by smooth organ textures and wandering piano motifs as core elements throughout. An often used and effective detail is how the flute and guitar will take turns in providing lead motifs, and even while relatively brief in length the compositions tend to contain multiple themes, or at minimum distinctly different lead motifs. The various themes and motifs are repeated, and the use of recurring elements in general are the main identity providers.
Most pieces have been given additional elements that separates them somewhat from the rest too. Like the spirited, bass riven insert in the otherwise slow melancholy of Victoria, the whimsical lead vocals of All Hens on Deck, the careful rare lead vocals of Le Tango or the spoken words that appear in Hoeratio. And for Talk of the Clown Focus opts for a dramatic shift in style, this brief piece with marching drums and elegant playful flute comes across as a theme tailor made to be used for a 70's children's TV show more than anything else. All of these are well made and well performed items, high quality material if you enjoy music of this kind. On this occasion, while I do hear the jazz and jazzrock orientation, my main impression is that those who enjoy early 80's Camel should find this production to be quite to their taste.
That is, with the exception of the first and last song of this disc. Father Bachus comes across as the perfect opening song for a concert, an energetic romp with 70's driving guitars wandering off into folk-tinged excursions closer to the likes of Jethro Tull as well as standalone driving drum sequences, while concluding piece X Roads does much of the same but now with more of a distinct, energetic jazzrock expression at the core of the proceedings. Standout tracks in style and interest both, and I kind of expect that these two pieces will be used to open and end the regular set of Focus concerts, at least in the near future. These compositions appears to be tailor made for just such purposes.
All in all a well made album, with words like accomplished and solid at the forefront of my mind if I were to describe it briefly. With two pieces of minor magic in the shape of Father Bachus and X Roads. Focus doesn't bring anything new or innovative table however, but if you enjoy bands with a secure and firm grip on endeavours of a more retrospective nature then this most recent production of their should be well worth a visit.
(Peter Swanson, DPRP)