Review Summary: A bit of a downfall compared to the first two albums of Pierre Moerlen's Gong, but which is more than made up for by a still creative force.Downwind
is the third album from the Pierre Moerlen incarnation of Gong, and like its two predecessors, was heading in a more or less different direction. The album was the first without signature guitarist Allan Holdsworth, who admittedly made many of the songs from the previous two albums so exceptional to listen to. That's not to say that the band didn't recover from his absence however, because Downwind
has its own stylistic quirks, just like Gazeuse!
and Expresso II
The first two things you'll notice about Downwind
's change in direction is 1) the inclusion of vocals (though only in three of the seven songs here) and 2) the decision to head slightly further towards a more pop/rock-oriented musical style. The former is more obvious than the latter, yet both of these aspects seemed to take away slightly from the over-bearing jazz fusion elements and progressive rock influences which were inherent in previous releases. Of course, only three of the seven tracks here are really affected, and as a result aren't quite so bothersome to the listener either. By far the weakest tracks are opener "Aeroplane" and "What You Know", which are so simplistic in style you'd be forgiven for thinking Pierre Moerlen had decided to go the way of Jeff Lynne and ELO. Yet as soon as you believe that, songs like the excellent "Crosscurrents" and the title track shock you into thinking it's still the same group, but with different ideas. Indeed, "Crosscurrents" and the title track are placed in the album so that they almost make up for the sometimes bland nature of "Aeroplane", and the same can be said for the final two songs after "What You Know".
Another unfortunate flaw here is that the vocals simply aren't good enough to keep listeners engaged-and that essentially also affected Shamal
, though to a slightly lesser extent. Whilst the vocal delivery isn't exactly well-refined (the sometimes nasally vocal range threatens to put listeners off going through the rest of the album), the instrumentation more than makes up for it. The title track is by far the best example of this, channelling a beautiful, symphonic overture which progressively becomes more and more prominent towards the end of its gargantuan (slightly less than) 13-minute runtime. Violins, timpani, xylophones and more complement the main percussion rhythms as the band perform excessively experimental and unique instrumentation-it's with songs like this that you understand Gong never really leave the best aspects of former albums behind them. There's even a guest appearance from Mike Oldfield himself on the title track, contributing a memorable, beautiful performance of the solina strings and consequently making us all wish he was with Gong full time.
Nevertheless, the album has other similarly outstanding tracks such as "Jin-Go-Lo-Ba" and closer "Xtasea", but which also seem as if they lack something some of the time. It's not an obvious flaw, but for those who have listened to the first two albums of Pierre Moerlen's Gong, you will understand that Gazeuse!
and Expresso II
seem stronger and more coherent in comparison. That said, Downwind
represents the still beating heart of a band who were, at the time, still firing on all cylinders.