Reviewed by Claes Johansen (alias the Tanskalainen)
Rumours of a Rekku Rechardt solo album have been around since the late 1970s, but if he really had material for such an LP around that time it has probably been used up long ago through other projects. This current CD is definitely modern in its sound and approach, not a ‘great lost album’ revived after three decades.
Followers of Wigwam may have noticed on the group’s latest CD, Some Several Moons, that Rechardt’s style of playing has become sharper, leaning somewhat towards Heavy Rock. Snakecharm continues that trend; in fact the entire lay-out and overall sound of the album might give the uninitiated the impression that this is a Goth Metal album, or something in that vein. But those who already know Rekku Rechardt and his unmistakable style of playing will immediately sense that there is something quite different and unique going on.
It has been said before that Rechardt has a very personal style of playing. His rhythm guitar work in Wigwam – often stuck between two keyboards – would mainly be built around simple but beautiful and efficient riffs played on single strings, rather than bashing out chords. His solos were characterised by long sustained notes, a lot of bending strings and – particularly – sudden outbursts featuring an abundance of triplets. Many Wigwam songs moved along a mid-tempo rhythm, chopped out by Ronnie Österberg on a heavy cymbal, often eight or six beats to the bar depending on the time signature. That is a difficult mode for a guitarist to solo in, as you typically end up playing either too slow or too fast, a problem Rechardt solved by creating a style full of the aforementioned features. Also worth mentioning is his distinct vibrato (courtesy of his training as a cellist), sometimes combined with feedback.
All these trademarks are still alive and well in his playing today, but this new album also features quite a lot of chord chopping, Heavy Rock style, the kind that seem to be forever borne out of endless variations on the guitar riff invented by the Kinks on their 1964 classic single ‘You Really Got Me’. You sometimes wonder if Heavy Rock would ever have happened if not for that one song!
There is a motto printed on the sheet behind the tray inside the CD box where Rechardt makes the following statement: ‘This album is uncompromisingly based on monotony, repetition and simplicity.’ Well, I have to say there are records in this world, which are considerably more monotone, repetitious and based on simplicity than this one – for instance anything by U2. I suppose Rechardt is referring to the fact that quite a few of the tracks are based around repetitive chord riffs, but that is hardly a unique feature for a set of rock songs. I do hear certain solo phrases repeated throughout the album that are so typically Rechardt that I can’t help feeling he used them up years ago, but that is hardly the kind of repetition he wants to turn our attention to.
What Rechardt has created with this CD is almost an entirely new musical blend that mixes his own well-established style of playing with a heavier, more modern sound. Still, it is far from being a standard Heavy Rock or Progressive Goth album. The lyrics are more leaning towards New Age themes, sometimes mantra-like or even reminiscent of the so-called ‘relaxation CDs’ you can buy in health food shops etc. On the track ‘Prayer Arising’ we even get the inevitable encouragement to ‘calm down.’
The backing is performed by Rechardt’s current touring band, consisting of drummer Sami Järvinen, Mikko Vuorela on bass, Marika Liuski on vocals and Timo Pratskin on keyboards. They are all highly accomplished musicians. The interaction between Järvinen and Vuorela is wonderful, reminding you of classical rhythm sections such as Roger Glover/Ian Paice or Dave Marquee/Henry Spinetti. There is a really juicy groove going on between them. Marika Liuski is an excellent songstress, whose creative use of multi-tracking is reminiscent of Paavo Maijanen at his best. Her faint Finnish accent sounds quite sweet to me but may annoy some of her own countrymen (personally, I have a big problem with people singing English with Danish accents – anything else is okay with me if it isn’t too strong). Timo Pratskin’s job is mainly to create huge, dark, spacey soundscapes behind and around the songs and he does that perfectly.
Going back to the lyrics for a moment, they are all written by Rechardt and based around short sentences, often just single words. As already mentioned there is a mantra-like feel to this which may have grown out of necessity, but I wouldn’t hold that against him as necessity turned into a virtue is an essential feature in all artistic endeavour.
The sound quality was my biggest worry with this disc before I got it, because Some Several Moons was so badly mastered I can hardly listen to it. Luckily, this CD sounds a lot better. It is a digital soundscape, but it isn’t hard or piercing. Petri Majuri has not only co-produced (with Rechardt) and engineered the recordings but also mixed and even mastered the CD, making for a solid and consistent sound. I also note that the release has the lyrics printed inside the insert, unlike the Wigwam release of two years ago.
The overall concept is presented quite ambitiously, with a Prologue and an Epilogue. While the first is driven by a solo guitar, the latter features a short text read by Marika Liuski. I have to say this part of the release seems a bit like an afterthought and it lets down the overall concept slightly, particularly if aiming at a UK audience who would probably find it unnecessarily pretentious in this day and age.
I don’t think the idea with this CD has been to appeal particularly to Wigwam followers, and I don’t think it will do that in general (although they will probably buy it just to see what Rechardt is up to at the moment). It is simply too removed from that group stylistically. Furthermore, a main feature of Wigwam was always Jim Pembroke’s lyrics. Instead the audience for this CD would probably be found in the camp of newer Progressive Heavy Rock fans, who will not be disappointed with this remarkably fine band lead by an ingenious guitar legend. Who knows, it may even lead them on to the prolific production of Wigwam and other associated artists. We can only hope.
Snakecharm is available on mail order from jukeboxshop.net at 22 Euros (postage is free in Finland, 3 Euros for Europe, 6 Euros for the rest of the world).