A new album from these US veterans is always worth waiting for.
As our favourite bands reach their twilight years it’s hard to resist viewing new music though rose-tinted spectacles. Even a mediocre record is better than no record at all, right? Well, fear not… no such lowering of the bar is required for Prodigal Dreamer. Eight long years may have elapsed since Echo & Boo, the second album released since Pavlov’s Dog reunited back in 1990. Frontman David Surkamp has now reached his mid-60s but that remarkable heliumtinged voice – once described as a “choirboy on speed” – shows no sign of packing up, and Prodigal Dreamer is full of material that feels like it belongs in another century.
Hailed as America’s first prog band back in the 1970s, Pavlov’s Dog couldn’t hold things together and fragmented after two quite extraordinary albums full of violin-charged, elaborate song structures and mystical, olde worlde lyrics. Though fame eluded them, the St Louis band attained cult status, something they have maintained during a second spell of existence.
The mystique that surrounds them is well-earned.
Limiting their output to an album a decade maintains the feverish appetite of the fans and reduces the risk of tarnishing an estimable legacy. With one eye fixed on the past, Prodigal Dreamer arrives in a sleeve featuring a sombre-looking hound, just like the one that adorned their debut, Pampered Menial, back in 1975.
Their eloquence matched by gravitas, each of these 13 songs feels more than usual like a piece of poetry set to music. With its reference to ‘Rembrandt-painted smiles’, opening track Paris shimmers courtesy of a deliciously mournful violin refrain by Abbie Steiling. Hard Times boasts the most immediate chorus, though it’s the laid-back simplicity of Easter Day and Hurting Kind that will intoxicate, soothing their weariness.
For those unaccustomed to its unorthodoxy, Surkamp’s delivery might be a little hard to swallow at first, though it soon becomes an instrument like all the rest. Along with his colourful use of words, David’s storytelling is formidable. Crying Forever documents an unhappy break-up (‘The whole dream’s shattered/Gone, gone, gone/Still I put a piece of you in this song’) but it’s the final three songs – Being In Love, Shaking Me Down and the entrancingly beautiful The Winds Wild Early that confirm the true greatness of Prodigal Dreamer.
Pavlov’s Dog overlooked the UK on their recently completed run though continental Europe, most likely due to sparse attendances here back in 2016. We can only hope for another record in eight years’ time, and that next time they see fit to reverse that decision.
ELOQUENCE MATCHED BY GRAVITAS, POETRY SET