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Interviurile Muzici si Faze
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Translated and adapted by Vlad Borlea
A few years after having left Romania, Nicu Covaci together with Ovidiu "Tandarica" Lipan and two other musicians, met in Germany, Mani Neumann - violin and Ivan Kopilovic - bass, try to stand out in a concurrent system much stronger than the one they were used to, by recording (and producing) Phoenix - "Transsylvania". We find on it songs and musical themes, which had brought them success in Romania, adapted to the new line-up and the lyrics in English, as well as some new songs. In what concerns the sound processing and the virtuosity, this material outdoes those from the '70s period, but as artistic emotion, the case remains open... "Wanting" (2) developes a theme similar to "Pseudo Morgana" from "Cei Ce Ne-au Dat Nume". The harmonic compartment, however, does not offer ingenious solutions like in the previous case. In "Would You Follow Me"(3), the commercial part is "taken over" by the rhythmic section. Its formulas, over which the majestic guitar line should have "fitted" are expected to deal with the wide public from the concert halls. The violin inserts simply add another song to the first one (it isn't a real secondary theme). "Tamara"(4) is one of the "original" creations of this release, as it doesn't have a previous version. The sound may remind of "Heavy Horses" - Jethro Tull. However, the idea, the vocal lines and the violin parts make it the best song on the album. "Feel The Sound"(5) is another good moment, being a real "Medley" (name given to pretext-songs meant for virtuosity and imagination demonstrations on alert tempos). This type of approach is missing form the repertoires of Romanian bands, which usually go for the classical coordinates.
Phoenix in English, an English with a strong Eastern accent, reminding the "international" songlist Romanian bands had when playing in bars and restaurants during the '70s. The comparison sounds harsh, but this is the key of the problem. One of the band's strong points had been the connection between sound and words. The lyrics (in Romanian), well written, brought that original note that distinguished the band, which didn't anymore have that striking resemblance with Jethro Tull, Yes, Genesis etc. This review is concerned with the album itself, not with the choices made by its authors, nor with the subjective factors that lead to its present form. The '80s were offering a different type of music from what Phoenix had on Transsylvania, whose sound would have "found its place" a decade before.
In the proper and figurative meaning, what Covaci & co. had done in the country, they tried to do it outside the borders. The LP is opened by "Gipsy Storie" (1) - "Mica Tiganiada", where, musically speaking, we deal with a mere readaption of the well-known song, with no cymbalum in the rythmic section and the vocal compartment reduced to the minimum through this new arrangement. You can feel the commercial "attempt", meant to cover the weak points the band was aware of when the recordings were made. The violin line is interesting, as it is on the whole album, still this is not enough to solve the problem.
"Star Dance"(6) is another adaptation of a well-known song: "Mugur De Fluier". This time, the song was considerably modified, a normal thing to do seeing that the Romanian version very much resembles "Christmas Song" by Jethro Tull. Sung in English, it would have drawn attention in an unwanted way. The song is developed towards symphonic rock and the secondary theme tends to impose itself as main theme. The last song, "Wedding"(7), another "Medley", the version for "Nunta" - "Cei Ce Ne-au Dat Nume", is another uninspired combination. I find unbecoming the use of a portion from the traditional "Ciocarlia", which could generate a hora in a group of Balkans, but brings the artistic moment closer to kitsch. A lot of things could be said over this song, as over the whole album, but lack of originality and the ten-year (!) "delay" regarding the sound, conception etc. make it useless.
Phoenix is is the favourite Romanian band of these lines' author. The album Phoenix - Transsylvania is very important through its very release, and, musically speaking, it is at a high level. Keeping a careful position is not due to the limited view, specific to the "nostalgics" who don't understand that times are changing. By the contrary, I notice (critically speaking) the band's inadaptation (which was "aligned" in the '60s) to the new times. Still, this is not the last step made by Phoenix.