ALAN STIVELL: TERRE DES VIVANTS (1981)
1) Terre Des Vivants; 2) Rentrer En Bretagne; 3) Beg Ar Van; 4) M. J.; 5) Raog Mont D'Ar Skol; 6) Androides (parties 1-2-3); 7) Ideas; 8) Androides (partie 4); 9) Hidden Through The Hills; 10) Cameronian Rant; 11) Q-Celts Fiesta; 12) L'Ere Du Verseau.
Stivell's first album of the musically cursed decade (granted, in 1981 it had not yet been cursed strong enough) is a relative oddity — quite curious, but not clearly successful. It leans a bit too heavily on the «rock» side of the business, and on Stivell's own terms almost plays out as his biggest concession to popular tastes up to date: the harp is either neutralized or hidden behind the bombast, and the musical structures are generally simpler and more repetitive. Not that there are any explicit nods to New Wave or anything, but at least there certainly are nods to the courses that progressive rock was taking in the late 1970s: distorted arena-rock guitars, electronic keyboards, thick, bombastic drumming, dense echoes, all of this responsible for a drabby, morose, and ultimately generic sound that threatens to replace the mystique of the Celtic forest with pictures of post-apocalyptic technocratic worlds ruled by the people in gray. Not pretty.
Nevertheless, it is still worth a listen, if only for hosting one of the man's most gorgeous ballads: 'Rentrer En Bretagne' is simple (and catchy), but he selects his most seductive vocal tone to pass along the message, and there is something doggone right about the distribution of the melody between the acoustic guitar, the harp, the bass, the pipes, and whatever else there is in the background (Mellotron?); a calm, classy chamber piece that every Breton should feel happy about, because that's the proper way in which one's own country should be advertised.
As for the rest, it ranges from the okay to the bizarre. The four-part 'Androides' suite could not have been intended as anything other than a little «shocker» — why would a master of Celtic music suddenly turn to sci-fi, be it only in the title (the entire suite is instrumental, apart from the interrupting 'Ideas'), and, furthermore, dress it up in jazz-fusion overtones? Meanwhile, the nine minutes of 'Beg Ar Van' are the first time ever when it is possible for me to say that a lengthy composition of Alan's clearly overstays its welcome (with the exception of 'Hommes Liges Des Talus', of course, but at least that one never pretended to being anything other than a music-accompanied recitation of Breton poetry). A slow, overproduced, cluttery dirge with one verse melody chanted over and over again — so perhaps Dylan could sometimes get away with this, but at least he didn't sing in a language that no one except the singer could understand (sorry, all my little friends down in Armorica, but this guy is working for the international market). And that saxophone backing — bland fusion territory again.
In short, this may be curious, but not very interesting. It takes some time to warm up to Stivell's magic, and now here is an album that almost intentionally cuts down on the magic in favour of finding new types of arrangements that are clearly not his forté: not so much a «sellout» as a little bit of self-betrayal, inevitably followed by self-loss. On the other hand, it would have been a miracle to see the man able to come up with another great whopper right after the big punch of Symphonie Celtique, so there is no need to be extra harsh.