ALAN STIVELL: THE MIST OF AVALON (1991)
1) La Dame Du Lac; 2) Morgan; 3) Camaalot (Hymn 1); 4) Guenievre; 5) Le Chant De Taliesin; 6) La Blessure D'Arthur; 7) Le Val Sans Retour; 8) Belenton; 9) Olwen; 10) Quest; 11) An Advod; 12) Horses On The Hills; 13) Strink Ar Graal; 14) From Avallac'h; 15) Gaelic Tribes Gathering; 16) The Return (Hymn 2).
If you have some tiny suspicion that a title like The Mist Of Avalon did not come by accident, but could be targeted at the medium-mass-buyer who mistily remembers the word «Avalon», but cannot be bothered to look with reverence or interest at the bizarre intricacies of Breton orthography... well, you might be onto something. By all means this is Stivell not just at his most accessible, ever, but also at his most aggressively accessible. Sixty minutes of Celtic-style arena-rock, dance-pop, and somber, but rhythmical, New Age noodling.
There may also be some connection here with Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists Of Avalon, of course, all the more fitting given how her most humane of all humane retellings of King Arthur's story was such a popular success in itself a decade before. But this is rather irrelevant to the traditional Stivell fan, who may probably think of the whole thing as a sick cheapening of the typical Stivell experience.
Synthesizers. Big electronic drums. Simplified melodies with improved catchiness (sometimes) and dissipated mystery. Bombastic vocals. Listen to the first fifteen seconds of 'Le Chant De Taliesin' — is this Stivell or Black Oak Arkansas when, after several bars of big ol' boozy drum pounding, the arrival of the main melody is announced by a "YEEEAAAAAH!" that should typically be followed with a HOUSTON, ARE YOU READY TO ROCK kind of thing?
Not that it isn't at least curious to see Stivell sell out — the man does it with class, enough to ensure that the album will never sell. Lots of singing in French and Breton anyway, too many bagpipes and harps for the common ear, and if you want to headbang to 'Guenievre' or 'Chant De Taliesin', you still have to endorse the serious medieval agenda. In fact, once you listen to the tunes really closely, there will be little details (such as the angelic choir on 'Le Val Sans Retour') that suggest Alan did actually put some care and some heart into the album. But then you fall upon the silly-sounding synth loops of 'Gaelic Tribes Gathering' (Around The Mighty Synth, no doubt), and you begin to wish he didn't.
I cannot bring myself to give this stuff a thumbs down: even in the grip of strange rock hero delusions and modern technology, Alan still manages to keep most of the songs in relatively good taste. But this is definitely not the kind of album that could ever explain why in the world anybody would want to review the man in the first place. Not that parts of it wouldn't work fine as a soundtrack for the likes of Excalibur — oddly murky, dated, cheap-thrilling music for an oddly murky, dated, cheap-thrilling movie.