by Prog Nick
There is a song on the new Kite Parade album called ‘Wonderful’, and I promise, dear reader, that the following is true and is no play on words: I was giving the album (named ‘Retro’) a first listen and reached the third song, when I declared out loud (to no-one in particular): ‘There’s only one word to describe this – wonderful’. Only then did I look at the track names and realize that the word was eponymous of the song I was listening to.
I will not fill this review with unnecessary hyperbole, but I have to say that this album is indeed wonderful. As did my colleagues at The Prog Report, I made no bones about the fact that I loved the first Kite Parade album, 2022’s ‘The Way Home‘. Yet the band seems to have bettered even that fine offering. Driven by main man Andy Foster (based in Somerset, England), Kite Parade may be a personal passion project for Foster, but it also presents appearances by two of the world’s most celebrated drummers in Nick d’ Virgilio (Big Big Train) and Joe Crabtree (Wishbone Ash), as well as various other guest performances.
The album kicks off with rocket-fuel power in the form of the title track. ‘Retro’ starts with a voice-over and a series of NDV stabs that make a firm statement about what is to follow. Solid rock mayhem ensues in 4/4 timing but with the intricacies that you would expect from the likes of Frost*, It Bites, Lifesigns and even Genesis. Yes – Andy Foster and his friends are that good.
The voice-over (this time about a rocket launch) returns to blast off ‘Speed of Light’. The song is more accented and builds around a Proggy arrangement in 7/8. The bass runs sound like Chris Squire on steroids, and Foster gives us the second in a long line of devastatingly good lead solos. The keyboard parts, which keep up with aplomb, are apparently programmed, but they sound as if they could have been played by Rick Wakeman. As the album progresses, it becomes steadily more apparent how good a musician Foster really is.
‘Wonderful’ could be my favorite song of the year so far. Majestic and sweeping, this track will take you to the highest places of musical gratification. Foster’s voice is especially plaintive, soaring above the most endearing chord progressions imaginable. As I said, I would have been speechless if I had not been compelled to make an out-loud declaration of this song’s quality.
Sounds of nature and the pealing of bells usher in ‘Shadows Fall’. This one is the least unpredictable track, but it is still a service in the gospel of Prog. All about changing direction and analysing why we are here, the song will help renew your musical faith. The sax solo is reminiscent of Pink Floyd circa ‘Wish You Were Here’, and is followed by a keyboard-driven instrumental passage with all sorts of stabs and solos that remind us just how progressive this fine musician is.
Foster’s impressive guitar work permeates the next song ‘Under the Same Sun’. With lyrics such as ‘the politicians haven’t got a clue… it’s up to me and you to make a sacrifice…’ the song has a strong message of unity and positivity, accompanied by suitably ascendant musical performances. Possibly the most poppy song on the album (at least in the vocal sections), this is very uplifting. At this point, it must be mentioned that Foster’s vocals sound uncannily similar to those of fellow Prog legend John Young of Lifesigns. That can only be a good thing.
Closing track ‘Merry-Go-Round’ is a 15-minute epic of the ilk that modern Prog fans have come to expect. Co-written by lyricist Steve Thorne, it is a progressive romp and must have been quite a feat to record. Initially a sombre ballad painted in pastel shades, the first part of the song is heart-wrenching and sad, built on Foster’s groaning guitar strains and vocals. The song delivers its message of rising up and looking up with ethereal soulfulness, and Foster’s searing guitar is ever-present. After the sadness, there is an up-tempo vocal section in the second part of the song that stands in contra-distinction to the opening section. Whilst the change is a little dramatic on first listen, it all makes sense after a few plays, and the song culminates in a triumphant slow march that ends the album. Stellar.
So where is the low point on this record? Well, as hard as I looked and listened for it, there is not one. Even the programmed instrumentals are magnificent (and that is quite a statement, coming from me.) Some may take issue with Foster for delivering lead vocals that sound similar to another contemporary UK Prog band, but as I said, he sounds too good for this to be a genuine criticism.
Rob Aubrey (Big Big Train) mixed and mastered ‘Retro’ to perfection. There is a duality that results when Foster’s compositions are combined with Aubrey’s production. It us a duality that is eminently pleasing, with the closing track being particularly emblematic of it. The artwork is as ‘retro’ as the album’s name would infer, with a 1960’s mannequin in a red frock next to a pile of vinyl LP’s – classic.
Cleverly-arranged songs packed with intellectual yet compact performances, delicate ear-worm melodies, huge choruses, great instrumentation and production of the highest order are all to be heard consistently throughout this album. It also, quite remarkably, gets better with repeated plays.
An absolute must for Melodic Prog fans, ‘Retro’ is a very fine album indeed. Equally good news is that Foster will be assembling a band to tour this excellent music, and rightly so – the world needs to hear it played live. Kite Parade have developed and matured from an exciting sideline recording project into a real contender. For me, this is no afterthought passion project – it is the real thing, and it deserves as much recognition and attention as any major international Prog act out there.
Call it serendipity, call it great timing, call it astounding musicianship, call it boundless talent. Whatever label you want to place on it, ‘Retro’ is the right album, in the right place at the right time. The only word that I can use to end this review is this: ‘Wonderful.’
Released on March 14th, 2o23
Get “Retro” here: https://www.whiteknightshop2.co.uk/home/Kite-Parade-c127214110
2. Speed Of Light
4. Shadows Fall
5. Under The Same Sun