Review Summary: A progressive diamond in a commercial rough...
The year is 1973: Morgan is once again is back in the studio record their follow-up to the massively under-rated prog classic, “Nova Solis”. With four new songs to play, and using the same formula as before, the group recorded what came to be their best album. This is known as “Brown Out” or on the U.K. release in 1978 on Cherry Red Records, as “The Sleeper Wakes”.
Unlike “Nova Solis”, this is not space-themed, with the concept of this album being simple. With its thought-provoking themes, “Brown Out” makes for an interesting listen.
“Fire in the Head”, like “War Games” from the previous album, is heavily focused on the use of the VCS3 synthesizer, and it is highly evident that Tim Staffell’s voice has gotten better since the previous album, making it a high point of the album. In fact, the entire band sounds much better and works great as a unit, a necessity when it comes to playing in a band, especially a progressive-rock group. On “Fire in the Head”, it definitely takes you on a trip, as it did when played live. Inspired by Frank Zappa, “Fire in the Head” has a hint of psychedelia in it, and it shows. And with that, this is absolutely nothing like any of Morgan’s other tracks on both “Nova Solis” and “Brown Out”.
“The Sleeper Wakes” (or Queen goes Prog) is heavily focused on the use of Morgan Fisher’s use of the ivory keys, and at first, is reminiscent of Freddie Mercury’s piano work with Queen. Had Queen embraced their progressive roots, this is what they’d sound like. A highlight has to be the introduction, which would be used (in variations) on Fisher’s 1972 album, “Ivories”. Along with that, the rhythm section in “The Sleeper Wakes” is one of the best I’ve heard in progressive rock, and also another necessity in progressive rock. As my favorite on the album, I urge to listen to this track before the album just to get a taste of how this band is like.
“The Right”, inspired by King Crimson’s “Cat Food”, (I don’t see it, do you?) is their most “progressive” song, with it going into a story midway through the song over a repeated bass note and Staffell’s voice being transmitted through a VCS3. “The Right” is just flat out weird, but that is what makes it work. The use of tape loops (some in reverse) and a unique function of Fisher’s VCS3, which used a built-in joystick to “bow” the instrument, incorporated a string ensemble to be used. The history behind the weird story is an unfortunate one, with Staffell with a tone of restrained anger telling of how he and the band were fed up with their label and their situation at the time. Although it’s the weakest song on the album, it’s not too bad.
Ending the album is another twenty minute-long epic. (Like on “Nova Solis”) “What Is-Is What” is just confusing, and requires several readings of the lyrics. (That is if it would ever be posted online or if I can just snag a copy) Like “Alone” and “Nova Solis”, “What Is-Is What” is respectively, a Tim Staffell/Morgan Fisher showcase, or a showcase of the band like on “Nova Solis”. Listening to the track will be boring and tedious at first, and takes time to get accustomed to.
Like “Fire in the Head” and “The Right”, this is another weird and quirky piece. Fourteen minutes in, the chorus finally shows up and is a relief, but is not without its cheesy parts: “What Is-Is What/If you think that you can hear, you’re deaf/If you’re deaf, you’ve must’ve heard.” Around the seventeen minute mark, a guitar solo by Staffell (the only one on both albums) marks the climax of the track, and with a repetition of the chorus, ends the track. And with that, came the fall of Morgan.
“Brown Out” would not be released by RCA, and would go unreleased for three years until released in 1976 by Passport Records. This, along with Morgan Fisher’s debut album, would be rejected for being too “left-field” and being too complex. Adding to that problem, the group planned to “moon” the record buyer as an insert for the record, causing the change of the name of “Brown Out” to “The Sleeper Wakes”. Later that year, the group would disband after a malfunction of Fisher’s keyboards during a sound check at the Marquee Club, all this being at the culmination of his frustration surrounding the current issues concerning the band. Morgan was no more.
Fisher would go one to play with Third Ear Band and Mott the Hoople, later going on to a successful solo career, one of them being the cult-classic album “Miniatures”, released in 1980. Staffell would go on to craft models for “Thomas the Tank Engine” and founded “aMIGO” in 2003, releasing only one album. Mo Bacon would work and manage John Otway and other artists. Bob Sapsed would continue his career until his untimely death in 1985 in a car accident.
To this day, “Morgan” has a limited cult-following, appreciated by those who discover the group. For me, it from listening to Queen and Mott the Hoople. How will you, the reader, discover this band? Will it be from reading my review of this and “Nova Solis”, or will it be from reading my prog lists? That’s up to you.