Pendragon - Love Over Fear
Pendragon are one of the neo-progressive bands along with IQ, Marillion, Pallas, Solstice and Twelfth Night who started in the late 1970s in medium-sized British towns and cities. In Pendragon’s case, it was 1978 and Stroud in Gloucestershire. Apart from a change of drummers, they have had the same lineup of guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Nick Barrett, bassist Peter Gee and keyboardist Clive Nolan since 1986. The drummer on this album is Jan-Vincent Velazco (Vinnie) and this is the first one he plays on (though he has been a member for about six years). ‘Love Over Fear’ (LOF) is the band’s eleventh studio album and released in February 2020. The album has three compact discs with the main album on the first disc, acoustic versions on the second disc and instrumental versions on the third disc. I shall be reviewing the first disc with maybe one or two references to the instrumental versions. It has ten songs, a running time of around sixty-four minutes and was recorded at two studios in both Cornwall and Surrey from March-August 2019.
Album opener “Everything” starts with a Hammond organ line and fast drumming before the tempo and time signature changes slightly for the verses. There are some wonderful soaring guitar lines and some beautiful acoustic guitar. A very uplifting song.
“Starfish And The Moon” is about the loss of a loved one. It has a delicate piano sound with no drums and very little bass. The slowest and shortest song on the album. I think it fits in perfectly between two fast songs.
“Truth And Lies” is about social media and how too many people jump to conclusions without knowing all the facts. It starts off quite slow and mellow with electric arpeggio and strummed acoustic guitars mixed with synth strings that makes it sound a lot like a Moody Blues song (I can hear some flute in there too). About half-way through the drums kick in and the song becomes more epic and faster with a soaring guitar solo. One of the highlights on the album.
“360 Degrees” is the song on the album with the biggest influence from Celtic folk music and American country music. Inspired by moving down to Cornwall, it uses banjo, fiddle and mandolin but still has that distinct Pendragon sound. Something for fans of The Levellers.
“Soul And The Sea” starts with wonderful guitar arpeggios and violin. Toms are featured heavily on the song at this point. About halfway through and after a short piano flourish, the sound changes and it gets a bit heavier before going back to the piano again before a fast guitar arpeggio leads the song to the coda. Listen closely and you can hear seagulls.
“Eternal Light” is the third longest song. The lyrics are very inspiring and uplifting and give you a lot of hope, but I also love the instrumental version just as much. One line that stands out is telling us to turn the television off and read a book. Musically, there is a synth riff that is very simple but fits the song perfectly. I also love the strummed acoustic guitar and the electric guitar intro with flanger and phaser. It is probably my favourite song on the album.
“Water” is about Nick’s love of surfing in Cornwall. The arpeggio at the beginning is treated with reverb to give it a sound as though waves are crashing inside a cave. After a short but fast drum solo from Vinnie, the tempo slows and there is some nice acoustic guitar playing throughout the song. It is a beautiful soothing oceanic song that is as calm as the ocean it describes with a wonderful guitar solo.
“Whirlwind” is slow, mellow jazz and built around piano and Nick’s voice. It has a Las Vegas lounge room vibe and a song that Dean Martin or Sammy Davis Jr. could sing. You can imagine the band recording it in front of a roaring fire and I love the saxophone solo.
“Who Really Are We?” is the longest song on the album. It is fast and probably the heaviest song on the album with a similar style to the Passion and Pure albums. There is still a lot of acoustic guitar on the song, fits in perfectly with the rest of the album and is one of the highlights. “Look deep within and find love over fear.”
“Afraid Of Everything” closes out the album with touching guitar arpeggio (Nick does love his arpeggios). The guitar solo is sweet, but it is the Moog synth sound that brings the song to a close and fades out while it repeats that gives me goosebumps. The lyrics are short and sweet and encourage you to stop thinking about the past, believe in yourself and make the most of everyday you have. A beautiful song to finish on.
I have not heard many Pendragon albums but that is slowly changing. I enjoyed ‘Not Of This World’ (2001) even though it was quite melancholic, both ‘Passion’ (2011) and ‘Pure’ (2008) were superb and ‘The Window Of Life’ (1993) has some fine songs. Pendragon in 2020 has a lot of variety and upbeat but also quite moody without the progressive metal influences found on the last few albums. I especially love the folk influences and it is great to hear acoustic guitar enhancing but not taking over the songs. It is not a coincidence that the three longest songs are also the three best. While the songs are long, none are longer than just over eight and a half minutes so do not outstay their welcome but allow time to build and to breathe. The guitar playing both on electric and acoustic guitars are superb and all the solos are stunning. I love the Hammond organ sounds but it is the synth pads and strings that stand out for me on all the songs (I can hear a lot of Mellotron). As a rhythm section, Peter and Vinnie work extremely well together. While Peter’s bass playing is subtle it is effective, and you would not think that it is Vinnie’s first album with the band. Pendragon have created something very important and this may well be one of the albums of the year.