CAPTAIN BEYOND: SUFFICIENTLY BREATHLESS (1973)
1) Sufficiently Breathless; 2) Bright Blue Tango; 3) Drifting In Space; 4) Evil Men; 5) Starglow Energy; 6) Distant Sun; 7) Voyages Of Past Travellers; 8) Everything's A Circle.
Although the band's second album was recorded less than a year after the debut, it already reflected some serious changes in the lineup: keyboard player Reese Wynans was brought in, along with Guille Garcia on various (mostly Latin/African) percussion, and original drummer Bobby Caldwell was replaced by the much less known Marty Rodriguez. Additionally, Lee Dorman emerged as the only active songwriter , pretty much responsible for the entire structure and sound of the record. The result is fairly obvious: they drift farther away into the direction of symphonic-progressive rock, «cosmic conscience» and stuff, leaving much of the hard rock baggage behind, so there's just no way one could call Sufficiently Breathless a balanced mix of hard-rock and art-rock, and this is probably why the album usually tends to get a bad rap compared to its predecessor (even if there's still plenty of heaviness drifting about).
As somebody who likes the heavy-prog sound of Captain Beyond without being floored by it, I must say that from such a standpoint, the two records, although sounding quite different, are just about equal in overall quality. This here is pleasantly melodic, modestly catchy, adequately vocalized, intelligently composed rock music, already a little outdated even for 1973 (but perhaps more easily appreciated in retrospect, as our perspective of time becomes more and more flattened and distorted), but totally inoffensive and occasionally charming in its hippie idealism. Its only real problem is contextual — everything that you hear here, you can hear done a little (or a lot) better by other acts (some of them already defunct by the year 1973).
Thus, the title track is an acoustic anthem in the vein of Crosby, Stills & Nash (except for the distorted psychedelic guitar solo that combines real nice with the acoustic rhythm track), a clever enough opener to pour some sunshine into your living room, but neither the instrumental exuberance nor the chirpy vocal harmonies are on the required level to push the whole thing off the ground. ʽDrifting In Spaceʼ is a potentially great Latin rocker with a cool «exploding fireworks» lead guitar riff introducing each sung verse, but none of the verses is even resolved properly — they build up the tension all right, but they never explode it! And what's up with the quiet jazzy electric piano solo? It's nice, but in a song like this, it could only serve as a taster for a kick-ass guitar extravaganza, which never comes — it's like this whole song was thought of as a counter-example for aspiring songwriters: «here's what happens if you have some cool ideas but fail to bring them up to logical conclusions».
Pretty much every song offers something, but the something is never enough. Kick-ass guitar extravangzas finally arrive on ʽEvil Menʼ, a slow funk-rocker with Rhino milking the wah-wah for all it's worth, but the song's potentially fabulous heavy riff is inexplicably kept in the faraway background most of the time (maybe they thought that if they put it up front, they'd be sued by Deep Purple for ripping off ʽSpace Truckin'ʼ which it somehow resembles, but come on). ʽStarglow Energyʼ has a great moody start, with probably Rod Evans' finest vocal performance on the album, but despite all the soulfulness that they try to muster, the song still never finds a proper climactic peak — the guitar solos are too quiet, the mix is too muddy and preoccupied with psychedelic sound effects, the fadeout arrives unexpectedly and again leaves the impression of something unaccomplished and unsatisfactory.
And yet, I am still surprised at how every song here sounds organic, warm, and tasteful — few things are easier than being embarrassed and angered at the unimaginative, derivative, inadequate pretense of a second-/third-generation art-prog outfit, but maybe it is precisely because Captain Beyond take so few risks that they consistently deliver this very decent vibe, almost free of corniness even when they tackle formulaic lyrical subjects (maybe it's just that Rod Evans, whose voice is not strong enough for operatic behavior, sounds like an honestly concerned human rather than a cocky showman even when he asks you "what is wrong with this world of mine, falling in a spiral?"). This way, although I'm pretty sure that in a week from now, I will not be able to remember a single note from this album, the overall impression will still remain as a vague cloud of positive vibrations, and so, here is a thumbs up rating while that cloud is still holding together, nice, juicy, and thick.