Moving Waves

Focus

Red Bullet, 1971

http://www.focustheband.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/21/2017

You know how sometimes you hear a hit song and then pick up the album, hoping the rest of it is just as good? This is not one of the times where that happened.

Sure, “Hocus Pocus” was a novelty hit for this Dutch prog-rock band in 1971, propelling them to semi-fame for a little while. Most people heard the abbreviated single version, which gets the point across just as well as the six-minute full length, but I would recommend the full length for the full madcap energy of piece. In case you forgot, this is the instrumental with the yodeling, the song that alternates between full-bore hard rock guitar solos and wacky interludes. The single version had two yodels and a demonic flute solo; the longer take includes a polka breakdown with some whistling, some scat singing, and a third off-the-charts yodel that had to shatter a window somewhere.

It's hilarious fun, even all these years later, a throwback to when music could do something like this on purpose and people went along with the joke. It’s also not at all representative of the rest of the disc, which is by-the-numbers ‘70s prog, and not necessarily the good kind.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Once “Hocus Pocus” is out of the way and you’ve caught your breath, the disc slides instantly into the shimmering flamenco guitar/Mellotron duo “Le Clochard,” a gorgeous instrumental that would not have sounded out of place on a Moody Blues album from the same time period. But “Moving Waves” is embarrassingly awful, a rare vocal track with cringe-inducing words, some tinkling piano here and there and an air of preciousness at odds with the guitar muscle of “Hocus Pocus.” “Janis” is much the same but without words. Both can be skipped.

“Focus II” is also bad but in an interesting way, a heroic guitar showcase sounding like the theme from a cheesy sports movie where the Hero Overcomes the Odds, with a variety of short instrumental sections that follow but keep the same central theme. I spent the four minutes of the song visualizing an actor in slow-motion running for a touchdown or sprinting up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, head held high. To be fair, this wasn’t really a cliché in 1971, but it’s tough to listen to in modern times, and not least because it’s so disjointed.

But all of that pales to the utter hopelessness that is “Eruption,” the 20-minute piece that takes up the second side, which as we all know was the rage in 1971 (“Echoes,” “Tarkus,” “Supper’s Ready,” etc.). It’s a good five minutes of noodling – including a drum solo four minutes in, which is way too early to run out of ideas – before the piece actually starts going somewhere. What follows are a number of shorter pieces that all sound like things Yes, Genesis, and ELP had already recorded between 1970-71, but without vocals. There’s a three-minute section about nine minutes in that actually locks into a rock groove and Jan Akkerman solos for all he’s worth; outside of “Hocus Pocus,” it’s the most exciting part of the album, enough to make you wonder what Focus could have accomplished without all the cloying horseshit like “Moving Waves.”

Other than the gonzo “Hocus Pocus,” the brief midsection of “Eruption,” and the beautiful “Le Clochard,” there’s nothing else to recommend on Focus’ second album. The band has the ability, clearly, and a sense of humor, but they just don’t have the songs or consistency.

Rating: C-

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