A Tab In The Ocean


Eclectic Discs / Dream Nebula Recordings, 1972


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Chances are good that if you were born after 1970, you've never heard of Nektar. But while this British prog-rock group was overshadowed by fellow bands such as Yes, Genesis and Gentle Giant, one can't help but wonder why Nektar's name isn't mentioned in the same breath as other successful prog-rock outfits.

A recent series of re-issues of the group's early albums tries to educate today's schlock-pop generation about groups who dared to do something challenging -- such as make real music -- while refreshing the chemical-laced memories of the generation before. I've got two of these four re-issues in my grimy little hands, and I have to admit, it's been an education for me as well.

A Tab In The Ocean, the second disc from guitarist/vocalist Roye Albrighton and crew, is a challenging listen which doesn't reveal its true colors to the listener until they've had some real time to digest it. The re-issue takes the original German mix from 1972 and compares it to the 1976 mix which American audiences heard -- and something tells me that had Americans heard the original mix when it was first released, Nektar would have become a more revered name.

Before we delve into the review, there are two caveats we need to address. First, I wasn't sent a copy of Nektar's debut CD, Journey To The Centre Of The Eyemy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 , so I can't help but think that I'm missing out on some information which would have helped me go into A Tab In The Ocean with a clearer head. Still, when the label is willing to send you anything hard-copy in this post-Napster world, one can't complain.

Second, making comparisons between the two mixes is sure to leave some raw nerves -- after all, someone who grew up listening to the 1976 mix is going to have a natural bias towards it, and having me pooh-pooh it when compared to the original mix might not endear your faithful reviewer to that person. Still, coming into this with an unbiased ear does help -- and, truth be told, the 1972 mix is far superior to the American mix, which was sped up for some crazy reason.

A Tab In The Ocean is not the kind of album which the listener will warm up to with a cursory listen -- indeed, the first time I heard the title track, I hated it. But if you are willing to devote some time to this album and allow the music to unfold in its own parameters, it turns out to be a trip well worth your time and effort. The title track alone reminds one of early Genesis, circling around Albrighton's guitar and Allan "Taff" Freeman's keyboard work and creating a real musical atmosphere. For a track which clocks in at nearly 17 minutes, it passes very quickly. This, kids, is the sign of a well-written song.

The one track which may be familiar to today's generation (or at least some people my age) is "King Of Twilight," which was covered some time ago by Iron Maiden. It, too, is a highlight of this disc, and is an excellent example of just how influential Nektar was in their prime, even if they didn't have the magnitude of success that other prog-rock bands enjoyed. Maybe -- just maybe -- the quality of their work in this regard is worth more.

The remaining two tracks -- "Desolation Valley / Waves" and "Crying In The Dark" -- have their moments, but are a shade weaker in comparison to the two outstanding tracks. On a typical disc, this wouldn't be a major deal, but A Tab In The Ocean consisted of only four songs, so the small drop is more pronounced.

The other factor which hurts this re-issue is the inclusion of the 1976 mix -- a version which pales to the original German mix. The sped-up version of "A Tab In The Ocean" sounds like the band performed it on helium, and to this reviewer's ears, adds nothing to the legacy. (Again, I admit that if you grew up listening to the US mix, you'll think I'm totally off-base; in that regard, we should agree to disagree.)

Even after spending some time with this disc, I come away with the feeling that I haven't yet experienced all that A Tab In The Ocean has to offer. At least I have the disc to continue experimenting with this sonic world which Nektar created -- and, for the first time in a long time, you all can, too.

Rating: B-

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© 2004 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Eclectic Discs / Dream Nebula Recordings, and is used for informational purposes only.