Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Review: Klaatu - Hope (1977)

The Prog Rock Blog is now proud to present a short dialogue in between a disillusioned hippie in 1976 and myself in the present.

Man From 1976: Hey Dude, check it out! The Beatles are back together.

Me in the Present: No, no they aren't.

Man: Dude! They are! Check out this album. It's the Beatles reunited under the name Klaatu!

Me: Why would the Beatles secretly reunite under the name of a character from the film The Day The Earth Stood Still. Trust me, it's not them.

Man: Ya! It so is! (takes large amount of drugs) I'm telling you man, it's like a conspiracy dude.

Me: Nah, it's just three random dudes from Toronto. I should know, I'm from the future. I went to high school with the drummer's son!

Man: (passes out from all the drugs)

Me: From the perspective of hindsight, you might wonder exactly how desperate people were in the late 70s. Listening to Klaatu's debut album, you would really have to stretch your imaginations just a bit to see where anybody might get the idea that this was the Beatles in disguise. Besides the sugary pop harmonies, these Canadians only kinda sound like Lennon/McCartney. In any case, the lack of any liner notes detailing who exactly was in the band was enough to have most people thinking along these lines. Klaatu may have been trying to milk this illusion when they also released their second album without revealing their true identities. The problem with that was Hope is even farther removed from the Beatle-esque pop of the first album.

The album is a cautionary tale of a civilization on another planet who, despite their arrogance, were lay to waste. The first track is so clearly an attempt to milk the Beatles illusion as far as one could take it. It's so derivative of the kind of sound the Beatles had in the late-sixties that maybe - just maybe, you might have believed the rumours. Unfortunately as the album continues, the band shows much more diversity. Wait, it's not unfortunate at all! In fact, this album turns out to be one of the great examples of late 1970s Canadian Progressive Rock. Klaatu really flex their musical muscles here showing that they can provide the musical chops to back up this ambitious story. In fact, they even employ the London Symphony Orchestra on a few of the more epic tracks.

The plot line appears to me as a sort of condemning of American egotism. It was easy, I suppose, to see just how the American way of life could lead to disastrous consequences from up here in the great white north. Basically Klaatu used the guise of science fiction in much the same way Rush used Trees. I'm not quite sure why this sentiment seemed so rampant amongst Canadian bands at the time. I guess since we're too polite to ever criticize anyone directly, we'll do it through song.

Musically speaking, this album is an absolute joy to listen to. Tracks like Long Live Politzania and Prelude just sparkle from the speakers full of musical ideas and excellent orchestration. As a matter of fact, this album won the Juno (Canada's cheapo imitation Grammy awards) for Best Engineered Album and it's easy to see why. The original vinyl sounds so lush and full, using the full reach of the dynamic range available to the format to dramatic effect. They cram so many ideas into the instrumental track Prelude, yet it never sounds too busy or cluttered. Clearly an example of some of the best production values to come out of Canada in the late 70s. Did I mention that this album is full of catchy melodies? No? Well I should have! It is! You'll be humming the bouncy chorus to The Loneliest of Creatures for days on end after hearing it.

All in all this album is a forgotten classic in my opinion. Klaatu's legacy sadly seems to be nothing more than 'the band everyone thought was the Beatles reunited". It should actually be the achievement of this fantastic Progressive concept album. Coming at the start of the Punk movement this album was sadly ignored. So do yourself a favour and try and hunt this one down in a used record store. It may be worth it for the stunning cover art depicting the crumbling decays of a once mighty civilization, and the lighthouse beam scanning the cosmos.

Sadly, this album would be the first and last masterpiece for Klaatu. They instead went into a more pop-rock generic simple song vein over their next few albums, even putting a picture of themselves on the sleeve or their next LP, thus putting an end to all Beatle rumours once and for all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember buying this album when it first came out.

After I purchased Klaatu's first album (partly because of the "Beatles" rumor), I was eager to see what their second LP was going to be like. I was a teenage budding guitarist and loved good rock/blues music. So imagine what my face was like when I put the stylist needle on the record only to hear horns and violins. "ARRRRRRGH!!!!...scratch"

Well now many years later, I've given this misguided album another listen and I must say this is a great sounding piece of symphonic music. All who appreciate good progressive or pop oriented music should give this a serious listen.