CD REVIEW – Kayak – Out of this World

Kayak formed in Hilversum (Netherlands) in 1972, keyboard player Ton Scherpenzeel and drummer Pim Koopman friends who committed themselves to writing original material. With loads of melodic, symphonic songs in their pocket they recruited fellow music conservatory student Max Werner (vocals) and Johan Slager (guitar). After bass player Cees van Leeuwen joined, the first line-up was complete and they were signed by EMI Records. Debut album “See See The Sun” (1973) featured a minor hit single , “Lyrics”, with “Mammoth” and the title track also reaching the top 40. The album sold well in Holland, earning critical acclaim and a fanbase.

After a series of successful albums and several hit singles in their homeland they were on the verge of an international breakthrough in 1977 when the single “Want you to be Mine”, from “Starlight Dancer” achieved chart success in the U.S, peaking at #55 in the Billboard Charts. Band line-up changes prevented a follow-up American tour. Adverts were placed in the Melody Maker and Edward Reekers became new front man, adding two female singers on their 6th album, the award winning ‘Phantom of the Night’, which turned out to be their commercial peak. The blend of progressive rock and immaculate pop brought them success, number one on the charts, platinum status and “Ruthless Queen” their highest charting single. The next album, ‘Periscope Life’ (1980), was similar in style and consolidated their position as one of Holland’s most popular bands.

‘Merlin’ (1981), saw Kayak return to its original progressive and symphonic rock roots, with a suite about the legendary medieval magician on side one. Many music fans considered this a milestone in the band’s career but personal and musical struggles within the band led to a break up in 1982 after the release of the semi-live album “Eyewitness”.

Fast forward to 2006 and ‘Kayakoustic’, presenting the now seven-piece band in an intimate setting. After an 18 year pause they were back with the strong symphonic crossover album ‘Close to the Fire’ (2000), Pim Koopman on drums and Max Werner on vocals. Unfortunately, ill health forced Max to leave, with ex-Vandenberg singer Bert Heerink taking over. Three studio albums were recorded with Heerink including the rock operas ‘Merlin – Bard of the Unseen’ and ‘Nostradamus – The Fate of Man’, their most ambitious efforts yet. The rock operas, dominated by longer, prog-based compositions, showed Kayak’s theatrical side with an extended cast of singers and dancers contributing to an impressive first rate live experience. It also marked the return of Edward Reekers and introduced Cindy Oudshoorn as first female lead singer.

2008 saw their 35th anniversary and a large tour with ‘The Anniversary Box’, a DVD containing the Paradiso concert as well as a collection of fan chosen tracks released. The tragic, unexpected death of drummer and composer Pim Koopman one year later in the middle of the ‘Letters From Utopia’ tour almost led to KAYAK’s end, but two years later the group re- emerged with Hans Eijkenaar on drums and the album ‘Anywhere But Here’, dedicated to Koopman. After a period of two years preparation, the new rock opera ‘Cleopatra – The Crown of Isis’ was released in 2014. Shortly before the tour, lead singers Reekers and Oudshoorn unexpectedly and inconveniently announced their departure but in 2018 the band were back with a vengeance and with ‘Seventeen’. The new line up, with only Ton as remaining member, now consisted of singer Bart Schwertmann, guitarist/singer Marcel Singor, and bass player Kristoffer Gildenlöw (Pain of Salvation). Drummer Collin Leijenaar played with the band on the tour but not album and later that same year Collin was replaced by the returning Hans Eijkenaar.

And so this is “Out Of This World”, the band’s eighteenth studio album, 15 new tracks spanning 70 minutes of energetic and incredibly diverse material – though still very much recognizable as Kayak. Yet more ups and downs, with energy gained through Eijkenaar rejoining, a brief pause as Ton Scherpenzeel suffered a heart attack at the end of 2019, and then came the you-know-what…pandemic.

Besides main vocalist Bart Schwertmann this new album also features no less than three other lead singers. Schwertmann is on most of the tracks, Marcel Singor is lead on three songs, and Kristoffer Gildenlöw and Ton Scherpenzeel both have one song to offer. Drummer Hans Eijkenaar debuts as composer and frankly the band sound extremely tight, together, balanced and motivated. As Scherpenzeel puts it: “This band hosts so much talent, it would be silly not to use what we can….All songs get the best possible interpretation. What luxury! It also shows what kind of a band we are. A rare combination of great talents and teamplayers.”

If you are like me and have a broad musical palette that embraces progressive-rock but also a melodic and almost AOR side, one that embraces big melodic and anthemic gestures, you’ll like this. If you delight in musical talent but also the song itself, particularly those with compositional cleverness built in, you’ll like this. Overall I can’t help but think of the likes of Camel when I hear this. You’ll like that too.

With such a variety, there’ll be something for everyone to enjoy. You’ll get lots of references – A.C.T/Trans Siberian Orchestra (‘Out of this World’). You’ll get nice blended combis – Camel/Pain of Salvation (‘Under a Scar’). Or direct likenesses such as the instrumental ‘Kaja’ – Camel. ‘Mystery’ has Moon Safari elements for me. Or the Toto-ish ‘Traitor’s Gate’. Or ever so slightly ELO/Beatles ‘Distance to Your Heart’. Or even the Arena-like ‘Red Rag to a Bull’. You get the idea.

You cannot fail to be impressed at their chameleonic abilities, from tight rockers, thoughtful ballads and compact art-rock pieces, all created and delivered with overblown but not overplayed bombast and an instrumental prog-rock swagger they let loose at times. It is a great cross-genre listen that doesn’t jar, but gels. ‘Waiting’ or ‘As the Crow Flies’ have such infectious grooves and tunes, it’s difficult to dislike these art-pop tendencies. ‘Critical Mass’ is a seven minute progstravaganza, ‘A Writer’s Tale’ nine minutes of majestic prog enjoyment. ‘The Way She Said Goodbye’ and ‘One by One’ are such out and out epic ballads, they can’t be faulted.

With such a tight band, and such top-notch performances, it can sometimes be forgotten to give credit where credit is due, and credit is due to the whole band, but I’d like to single out the crafsmanship of the songwriters providing the performances of Ton Scherpenzeel (Keys) and Marcel Singor (Guitar) plenty of opportunity to shine. And also for their songwriting ability to recognise when to hold back and when to let loose. This is a gorgeous union of classic, progressive and straight-forward, hook-laden rock, ridiculously melodic, well constructed and produced, the myriad mix of keyboard and guitar interplay matched with immensely enjoyable tunes and choruses. If you are missing new music from maestro Latimer, then this band’s Camel-esque tendencies will surely appeal.

Band

Ton Scherpenzeel – Keyboards, lead and backing vocals 
Bart Schwertmann – Lead and backing vocals 
Marcel Singor – Guitar, lead and backing vocals 
Kristoffer Gildenlöw – Bass, lead and backing vocals
Hans Eijkenaar- Drums

Track Listing

1. Out Of This World
2. Waiting
3. Under A Scar
4. Kaja
5. Mystery
6. Critical Mass
7. As The Crow Flies
8. The Way She Said Goodbye
9. Traitor’s Gate
10. Distance To Your Heart
11. Red Rag To A Bull
12. One By One
13. A Writer’s Tale
14. Cary
15. Ship Of Theseus

Watch a short teaser for the album here: https://youtu.be/zo-YUX4RbWM

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