Prologue Esoteric Remastered early album recalls roads not taken.
Prologue felt – and still feels – like the Renaissance debut album, even though it was technically their third. They’d formed at the tail end of the 1960s with ex-Yardbirds Keith Relf and Jim McCarty introducing what they called “the classical element”, but by 1972 the personnel – literally under new management – had changed radically. Annie Haslam’s voice and John Tout’s keyboards were nudged forth, leading to the folk pomp sound with which they’re most associated.
Yet here they’ve not quite located that niche: the material’s written by McCarty or member-on-sabbatical Michael Dunford, with lyrics by Betty Thatcher, the band’s wordsmith (from a distance) for many more years.
As such, it’s a transitional work, with the outfit tentatively moving away from conventional rock tropes, though reluctant to abandon them altogether. Rob Hendry’s electric guitar parts are very much present behind Haslam’s skyhigh vocals, which Renaissance hadn’t fully committed to yet. In fact, on Kiev she doesn’t sing lead, the boys in the band moving that along with an incongruous (for this group) muscle.
On more light-footed material, we discern the distinctive evolution they soon embraced. Spare Some Love, the single version of which (never on CD before) is included as a bonus track, bundles along with an acoustic guitar doing sufficient heavy lifting, and Sounds Of The Sea waves Haslam through as she embarks on her unapologetic lofty tones. From this ocean view, the first sparks of Ashes Are Burning – the subsequent album, which greatly boosted their profile – can be sighted.
The presciently titled Prologue has a unique charm, as if teasing a different path the ensemble might have taken. Until, that is, you come to the 11-minute finale Rajah Khan, a one-off that fuses raga-referencing sitar-like sounds and a squalling synth solo by Curved Air’s Francis Monkman. It’s a child of psychedelia that’s a misfit regarding Renaissance’s past or future and, a captivating puzzle, remains so.