Fo­cus 11 in and Out OF FO­CUS

Prog - - The Musical Box - CHRIS ROBERTS


Sax­on­dale favourites re­turn with re­silient charm.

It’s six years since Fo­cus X, which saw the ven­er­a­ble Dutch mas­ters re­dis­cov­er­ing a sense of play­ful­ness. It felt then as if they’d re­mem­bered what peo­ple love about them: their un­de­ni­able vir­tu­os­ity mixed with a ten­dency towards the truly bonkers.

Ever since Ho­cus Po­cus and Sylvia be­came un­likely early 70s hits (the use of the for­mer in a 2010 Nike ad brought the band new ad­mir­ers), and al­bums like Ham­burger Con­certo hit on in­trigu­ing in­ter­faces of fun and form, we as­so­ciate Fo­cus with a glee­ful, jaunty twist on the tropes of jazz, clas­si­cal and long and wind­ing prog. It ap­pears that main­stay Thijs van Leer is aware of this, a re­cent poem declar­ing: ‘Wow my joy could not in­crease/To see this new re­lease/Both an­gelic and a beast/It’s Fo­cus, to say the least!’ Okay, TS Eliot wouldn’t feel threat­ened, but then he couldn’t play key­boards and flute like the 70-year-old Thijs.

The eleventh stu­dio al­bum since their 1970 de­but (bear in mind that the name lay fal­low be­tween 1985 and 2002) is a brighter, more pri­mary-coloured cousin to X, which was it­self pretty up­beat. Roger Dean’s art­work closely echoes its pre­de­ces­sor’s. Van Leer’s step­son has now left, but the line-up re­tains daz­zling gui­tarist Menno Goot­jes, who does a great job of mak­ing you for­get Jan Akker­man isn’t there, and orig­i­nal drum­mer Pierre van der Lin­den. Udo Pan­nekeet joins on bass. They’re a tight, in­fec­tiously happy unit, un­bur­dened by over­fa­mil­iar­ity, who you can al­most imag­ine smil­ing in en­cour­age­ment when­ever van Leer or Goot­jes un­der­take a solo noo­dle. These so­los are al­ways lively and ef­fec­tive, and noth­ing waf­fles on too long: it’s un­usual for a track here to out­last five min­utes.

From the crunchy guitar riff and per­cus­sive rush and rum­ble of opener Who’s Call­ing? (which has a dash of Jeff

Beck play­ing Love Is Blue) into the jazz funk chord­ing of Heaven, the al­bum starts with hunger and en­ergy. While van Leer is al­ways im­pres­sive, Goot­jes all but steals the show with his sleight-of-hand switch­ing be­tween rhythm and lead flour­ishes.

How Many Miles? al­lows a rare vo­cal of­fer­ing, which bangs on about ec­stasy and har­mony rather gauchely but won’t scare the horses, and Win­nie, where ev­ery­thing slows down and al­lows Goot­jes to get a bit Mark Knopfler, is a warm­hearted win­ner. Palin­drome, dis­ap­point­ingly, does not play the same back­wards as for­wards, un­less it con­tains some clever tech­ni­cal mu­si­cal phras­ings be­yond the lay­man’s ken. The ti­tle track turns the house lights on and ush­ers us out with del­i­cate whimsy. Fo­cus still ex­ude a cheer­ful clar­ity.

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