AMAZING BLONDEL: ENGLAND (1972)
1) Seascape; 2) Landscape; 3) Afterglow; 4) A Spring Air; 5) Cantus Firmus To Counterpoint; 6) Sinfonia For Guitar And Strings; 7) Doctor Dulcis; 8) Lament To The Earl Of Bottlesford Beck.
England is, quite unquestionably, the Amazing Blondel album. It is quite symbolic that John Gladwin quit the band soon after its release — the direct reason might have been personal and creative disagreements, but in terms of more global thinking, England had simply fulfilled the band's purpose. With their limited ambitions and modest technicality, Amazing Blondel had nowhere left to go after this.
Which does not mean that England is necessarily a «great» album, or even their best. It is very one-sided and monotonous. It also surreptitiously discards with much of the Renaissance flavor: real acoustic guitars are back, big time, and conversely, many of the old-time instruments are gone, replaced by quite «normal» chamber music arrangements. We are quite clearly stepping out of the somber medieval halls and into the sunlit XVIIIth century meadows. To be honest, I am not even entirely sure just how specifically «English» these melodies are and not, say, German, once you really start reshuffling all the influences. But the band says England, and who are we to disagree? Either way, the «England», allegedly recreated and venerated in XXth century folk-prog, has as much to do with the real England of yore as Braveheart has to do with Scotland.
The first side is no longer an interconnected suite of folk-pop ditties, but rather consists of three majestically unfurling «folk-ambient» tracks, grouped together as «Paintings». Funny as it may be, there is not much, if any at all, atmospheric difference between 'Seascape' and 'Landscape'. Both are long, both are propelled forward by gentle flute melodies, both are wrapped in multi-layered guitar, strings and woodwinds arrangements, both should be attributed to the «pastoral» genre if it didn't seem so cooky to call a song named 'Seascape' «pastoral». But, after all, this is a quiet, pleasant, somewhat lazy seascape, not the ninth wave or anything. Then the much more brief 'Afterglow' comes along and wraps things up more or less on the same note.
The somewhat less conceptual second side does have a couple more formulaically beautiful tunes in the same manner. But, for diversity's sake, the band throws in a sterner, somberer church hymn ('Cantus Firmus', quite a tongue-in-cheek performance considering just how many times they ram Alleluia into your head); a purely instrumental number ('Sinfonia For Guitar And Strings'), possibly the most complex composition (and also the most medievalistic) on the album, although still somewhat ambient-sounding; and yet another instrumental, 'Lament To The Earl Of Bottesford Beck', which starts off as a church organ piece and then merges quasi-psychedelic sound effects with more of that pastoral melodicity.
Today, with music audiences in a state of permanent fracturing, I am not sure how many people would even want to bother with England — it is not proggy enough, not folksy enough, not poppy enough, not ambient enough, not authentic enough to merit the appraisal of any of the «core groups». Were it just a half-hearted surrogate of any of these directions, I wouldn't even want to recommend it. But it's really a synthesis, an attempt to tack together a special kind of «naive beauty» from lots of simple, but not entirely obvious elements. Evensong may be more memorable, after all, but this puppy is more adventurous, all the while staying true to the conventions of good taste (for one thing, they never ever go overboard with the sweetness of the strings), and, at the very least, it is a magnificent alternative to the generic boredom of early 1970s soft-rock — if you want some wimpy music for breakfast, take Amazing Blondel in their prime, don't take, oh, I dunno — America? Thumbs up.
Check "England" (CD) on Amazon