SARACEN – Marilyn [CD version] (2011)
British pomp-rock veterans Saracen are back with a brand new CD album, their fifth to date, five years past their previous full-length effort.
Since their reformation in 2003, Saracen seem comfortable in crafting their releases into concept albums; much like its predecessor, “Marilyn” is indeed a concept album based in none other than cultural icon Marilyn Monroe.
Saracen’s late ‘70s / early ‘80s pomp rock style has not changed in order to better accommodate the new concept chosen to explore: the upfront-epic keyboards of Paul Brabber are ever present, complemented by thick guitar riffs and melodies courtesy of Rob Bendelow, all topped by the hymn-like vocals of Steve Bettney.
They are helped in this adventure by, appropriately, some female singers including newcomer Issa Overseen (solo album, ‘Sign of Angels’), but mostly by American singer Robin Beck. FM vocalist Steve Overland duets with her on one track as well.
Robin in particular, performs part of the vocals on a total of five songs out of eleven, effectively becoming a key contributor to this project.
Typical of Saracen, the album begins grandiose with the epic instrumental “Norma Jeane”, a grand and lush arrangement with big keyboards which includes saxophone. The use of sax in hard rock can add marvelous character and flavor to a song (which I totally love in this album), returns on many tracks.
What follows on this work is varied, but marked always by Saracen’s deft use of melody, harmony and hooks in every arrangement.
“Whither The Wind Blows” has some prog elements, with a strong vocal arrangements and a dense pompy instrumentation.
I do like the acoustic guitar Celtic-oriented “Hold On”, warmly performed by Issa. A sweet melody, including again a very good sax solo.
“Make This Body Work” is a solid hard rocker with Robin Beck securely at the helm, while “Break the Spell” and “Unfinished Life” also rocks hard, but linked to the band’s NWoBHM roots, adding more epic to these songs.
“Love Like a Razorblade” tones things down a bit, yet offers strong guitar and blues feel.
“Who Am I” is one of the highlights of the album, this duet between Robin Beck and Steve Overland start as a soulful ballad but after a couple of minutes explodes into a catchy melodicrocker and then slows again at the end. Really good one.
The more prog-folky “Not For Sure” gives me goosebumps because of the vocal performance by Robin Beck and the overall melancholic atmosphere of the whole song.
The cover of “Feel Like Going Home” offers Beck’s soaring vocals again over lush keyboards, bass and drums with a moderate pace and a sad feel (certainly reflecting the lyrics). Strangely, the production and sound on this track is a bit low-fi.
A final mention to the last song, “Marilyn” finds Robin Beck lighting over in which seems to be an AOR friendly melodicrocker, but later turns to Saracen’s signature pomp rock.
There’s also a hidden (untitled) track (Marilyn II?), one of the best of the entire recording, a beautiful semi-ballad featuring all vocalists together: Steve Bettney, Overland, Issa and Beck, all providing wonderful harmony vocals through the emotive lyrics.
“Marilyn” is a very well structured album, musically varied and cleverly written.
While having chosen this original concept to build their new album, Saracen have not made any compromises in their musical approach (apart from the inclusion of the female singers).
The main music direction on “Marilyn” is melodic hard rock, with prog and strong pomp elements, where ballads and tempo breaks abound.
Lyrically, the concept is rather one-sided, concentrating mainly on tragedy, neglecting glamor and success which were arguably equally large parts of Marilyn’s social statue.
Never the less, guest appearances by Issa Overseen and Robin Beck establish a female presence that is absolutely essential to the character of the album, being the main point of differentiation for “Marilyn”. Production could be better, also the mastering.
There is no denying that the musicianship is high on this album, very well arranged and with some stellar vocal performances.
01. The Girl: Norma Jeane
02. The Orphan: Whither the Wind Blows
03. The Dreamer: Hold On (ft. Issa)
04. The Model: Make This Body Work (ft. Robin Beck)
05. The Actress: Who Am I (Robin Beck & Steve Overland)
06. The Wife: Love Like A Razorblade
07. The Patient: Break the Spell
08. The Mistress: Not For Sure (ft. Robin Beck)
09. The Forsaken: Feel Like Going Home (ft. Robin Beck)
10. The Witness: Unfinished Life
11. The Woman: Marilyn (ft. Robin Beck)
12. Hidden Track (ft. Robin Beck, Issa, Steve Overland)
Steve Bettney – Vocals
Paul Bradder – Keyboards
Rob Bendelow – Guitar
Richard Bendelow – Bass, Vocals
Paul Gibson – Drums
Snake Davis – Sax
Issa – Vocals
Robin Beck – Vocals
Steve Overland – Vocals
BUY IT !