Review Summary: Moving music.
Dutch Progressive Rock band Focus always did sound like they were in a world of their own. Arguably the best example of this is in the band's most famous song, 'Hocus Pocus', introducing the madness and mayhem that cloaks the body of the band's second album, “Moving Waves”. But let's not forget that they produced other masterpieces of well constructed song structures and well executed musicianship, in particular the monumental “Focus III” and “Hamburger Concerto”.
Although the band really only had a Dutch fanbase to rely on for even the slightest bit of musical fame, their first album was indeed a significant release in their legacy. However, the band's second album proved that they could get a whole lot better when making music, and it never fails to astound the listener even to this day. After all, you know you've done something right when your album peaks at #2 on the UK album charts, #8 on the US charts and even #9 on the Dutch Top 40 charts. With a song as instantly recognizable as 'Hocus Pocus', a mammoth 23-minute epic based on an opera in the very aptly titled 'Eruption', and four songs in between that each grasp different moods and emotions, “Moving Waves” automatically looks like its going to be far from a musical disappointment.
The album is opened up in arguably the best way possible. 'Hocus Pocus' has so much going on in its six and a half minutes that its pretty much impossible to take in every little detail the first time round. Introduced by one of the heaviest riffs produced by any band bar Black Sabbath or Blue Oyster Cult in 1971, 'Hocus Pocus' thrusts forward like a stampede of rhinos before hitting you on the head as hard as a sledgehammer by incorporating those battering, rumbling drum rhythms and consequently creating a new level of excellence with those creepy, incomprehensibly sung vocals. Those vocals pretty much encapsulate what 'Hocus Pocus' really is. Of course, the two albums that followed “Moving Waves” did have 'Harem Scarem' and 'Round goes the Gossip', which work as well as 'Hocus Pocus' in setting the bar so high for other songs to follow, but 'Hocus Pocus' instantly forces itself upon you in a way that you just can't simply ignore it. This isn't all. The consistent use of flute solos, hammond organ interludes, epic piano pieces and even at times a mellotron that seems to hum soothingly to the willing listener is like magic. They are all placed in appropriate parts of the song as well, and as a result the overall structure of the song succeeds in not becoming too predictable or indeed not going in all sorts of directions, for that driving guitar riff and those ecstatic drum rhythms appear after each and every interlude, giving the song even more consistency than ever before.
The four songs that follow 'Hocus Pocus' are equally as impressive in terms of musicianship and songwriting. Although the instrumental 'Le Clochard' and 'Janis' act more as mere interludes as opposed to actual songs, the moods and emotions created by each particular instrument largely complements the nature of the other songs on the album. In 'Le Clochard' and 'Janis' we hear a soothing mellotron interlude backed by a very harmonic tune from the Hammond organ, before adding even more flute solos than ever before to make the songs themselves prove worthwhile. Obviously, because they follow 'Hocus Pocus', they don't seem all that impressive, but when a song as monumental as that is used to introduce an album as monumental as “Moving Waves”, what is to be expected? The title track (or both title tracks, for the album is known by two names) and “Focus II” follow in the same way, yet add so much more in terms of diversity and creativity. Whereas the former, this time round actually featuring comprehensible lyrics, seeks to impress the listener with its charging Hammond organ and menacing mellotron adding to the intensity, the latter is dominated by a sweeping guitar solo courtesy of Jan Akkerman, who himself sounds like he's having as much fun as a fat kid in a candy store. The title track features Thijs Van Leer singing with soul and heartfelt melody as the listener is almost sung to sleep, when that harmonic voice hums “Moving Waves, the wind has left you/And you are now in commotion”. Even though this song is only two and a half minutes long, the lyrics themselves seem to add effect to the general atmosphere.
The album is concluded in fine fashion, and 'Eruption' could almost be the soundtrack to Mount Fuji erupting for all its menacing music and explosive excellence. Split into sixteen tracks, and with input from each member of the band, 'Eruption' appears as more of a backing sound to a theatrical play than it does a mere twenty three minute song. The inclusion of each and every instrument available proves to be very consistent regarding the musicianship and songwriting on offer here. Yet again, Van Leer's harmonic vocals add stunning effects to each and every part of the song, as well as creating an extra layer of beautiful sound to the atmosphere. There are also numerous drum solos to be found throughout the song, and Pierre van der Linden comes across as an adult octopus for all his ecstatic drum rhythms, and when these flow beautifully with Cyril Havermans' well executed bass work, it all sounds very coherent and, as usual, very consistent.
What more can be said of an album as successful as “Moving Waves”? Although the band's next two albums would offer even more in terms of musical diversity and exquisite songwriting and musicianship, Focus' second album may well have set the bar so high that it could have posed a challenge to even the most popular bands of the genre, such as Van der Graaf Generator and even Yes. Focus have always been a band fully established in a world of their own, untouched by any other musical entity lauded within the same genre, and with songs such as 'Hocus Pocus', it's hard not to believe it. If you're even the slightest bit interested in Progressive Rock, you would be well advised to go and buy this album, if you haven't already got it.