Pendragon - The Window Of Life

Year of Release: 1993
Label: Toff Records
Catalog Number: PEND6CD
Format: CD
Total Time: 54:10:00

I initially planned to review this CD almost exactly 2 years ago to the day, when I was writing about albums that had come out in the wake of the Gulf War and had used the Middle East as a backdrop for a song or album. This is same idea from which a Progression article sprung ... and should be in issue #40 or #41. In comparing what I thought then, when I wasn't really sure what I wanted to say, and now, when I am at least a little more sure, I find that my thoughts are exactly the same.

Pendragon really came into their own with The Window Of Life, though they didn't loose the references to Pink Floyd, Genesis, or Marillion. The first is evident in the atmospheric keys of Clive Nolan and Barrett's guitar intro of "The Walls Of Babylon." Perhaps because I was looking at the back cover, which depicts a starry sky, I couldn't help but think that Nolan's soft-focus keys were painting a pastel-coloured dusk. The sky (or heaven) plays a large role in the various themes of the album; Barrett and Nolan paint the setting quite well. My initial thoughts on this passage were of a bed of atmospheric keys over which a haunting guitar cries out to the sky, filling the air with tension. Something is about to happen, something big, something wonderful, something so spectacular that words may just fail to describe it. Or maybe so fatal it will mean the end of the earth and life as we know it (or as anything knows it). And, as concerns the latter reference, it comes about four minutes later with the throbbing bass of Peter Gee that recalls to me now "Watcher Of The Sky," but earlier I thought of the infamous "Apocalypse In 9/8" section of "Supper's Ready" - though this track goes in a completely different direction. The "Watcher" reference is more correct. I don't find Barrett's gleaming guitar lines like Hackett. The fifth movement of "Ghosts" is where the, um, ghosts of classic Marillion lurk. Anchronistic though it is to say, I also couldn't help thinking of Moulin Rouge with this track's theater setting and tragic bent.

What other observations did I make then that hold true still? That Nick Barrett is one of the most unique vocalists in prog, not so much in style, but in tone. It gives Pendragon an odd combination of English punk-rock toned vocals and neo-prog instrumentation. Maybe it's because like the UK punk bands, Barrett isn't trying to hide his accent (alright, it's an accent to me; to English folk of the same region it isn't). Along the same lines, as I've said elsewhere in reviewing their earlier material, I truly think that Barrett prefers playing the guitar over singing. This is no more apparent than in "Breaking The Spell," which is more instrumental than vocal.

While I liked "Nostradamus (Stargazing)" (the most accessible song here, with a measured and stately opening guitar solo) and liked Pendragon in general, it wasn't really until The Masquerade Overture that I really listened to the band, focusing on something other than Barrett's vocals. Truly, once you get over the Fish experience or expecting vocalists to sound like Fish (or Gabriel, or Anderson, or Anderson, or...whomever), you open yourself to a wider world of progressive rock (or so I felt then). I still believe that. Why I point out that this review was written at two different times, I don't know. It significant of nothing other than that my opinion of this album hasn't changed. It is a more...obscure album than their earlier works, more taken to metaphor and similie. Barrett is creating poetic imagery that is as fluid and impressionistic as his guitar playing. Perhaps, finally, a symbiosis between the lyricism of his guitar and the lyricism of his pen (though sometimes the latter is a little off the target).

This is a more serious and dark work, it's themes a little larger, a little more spiritual in nature. If the The World was about worldly subjects, The Window Of Life is about matters of spirit, of opportunities missed. It was of "The Walls Of Babylon" that I was thinking when I thought to write a survey of those post-Gulf War releases, but I'm still not exactly sure what Barrett was thinking here. There are so many different possibilities that run through my mind, that I'll leave it for another discussion. But, I will say that Babylon (or the words from which it derives) means "Gate Of God," the city-state (and later capital of Babylonia) was a center of conflict and commerce, had been razed. The area that the city encompassed is in what is now Iraq. It's logical to conclude that the still fresh Gulf War plays a part...and honestly, the Gulf War is but one episode in a much longer and broader conflict.

"Breaking The Spell" is full of warm sentiment but I feel misses this mark, a little overly wordy in spots. Here the tension-filled musical buildup seems a little over done ... though the performances are good. It takes a little too long to get where it's going, which is to Gee's bass pulsating beneath a sexy guitar solo (knowingly and coy, but not smutty). This is where this track comes alive, and is, as I said, the point at which you realize that this is where Barrett shines.

Truly moving is the "Skylight" section of the 14-plus minute epic "The Last Man On Earth." It is from this track that the album derives its title. We have captured man and woman at a moment of transition, of her letting go so the he can "cross over." Or rather, in this case, ascend/transcend into some other state. (Musically, the end of this first section, with the soft, harmonized vocals, recalls The Wall "The Thin Ice"). The second segment "Paradise Road" is pulse pounding rock ("Young Lust" and "Run" come to mind) that soon kicks things into an even higher gear. A southern influenced interlude comes in with harmonica like tones, and bango like plucking (does Barrett like the US or what? I hear he's a surfer, too ... dude). Our protagonist has transitioned but he's not certain to where (heaven or hell, I suppose, in a nutshell).

It is in the final track, "Am I Really Losing You?," that we see the underlying theme drawn clearly. Barrett is questioning his faith, exploring the concepts of it up to this point, and then wondering what it all means in general and for him. This is a mellow track, almost lullaby-like at times.

Of the Pendragon albums to date, this having been released in 1993, this was certainly their best. I will have to go back to Masquerade... and see how it compares, but I can certainly tell you that this is highly recommended.

The Walls Of Babylon (10:44) / Ghosts (7:58) / Breaking The Spell (9:12) / Last Man On Earth (14:40) / Nostradamus (Stargazing) (6:19) / Am I Really Losing You? (4:47)

Nick Barrett - guitars, vocals
Clive Nolan - keyboards
Fudge Smith - drums
Peter Gee - bass

Fly High Fall Far (ep) (1984) (OOP)
The Jewel (1985)
9:15 Live (1986)
Kowtow (1989)
The R(B)est Of Pendragon (1991) (incl. Fly High... ep)
The World (1991)
The Very, Very Bootleg - Live In Lille, France 1992 (1993)
The Window Of Life (1993)
Fallen Dreams and Angels (ep) (1994)
Utrecht... The Final Frontier (1995)
The Masquerade Overture (1996)
As Good As Gold ep (1996)
Live In Krakow 96 (1997)
The Masquerade Overture (digi-pack w/bonus trk) (1999)
Once Upon A Time In England Vol 1 (1999)
Once Upon A Time In England Vol 2 (1999)
The Round Table (1985-1998) (1999) (Sth Am. mkt)
The History: 1984-2000 (2000) (Polish mkt)
Not Of This World (2001)
Acoustically Challenged (2002)
The Jewel (remastered) (2005)
Believe (2005)
Pure (2008)
Concerto Maximo (2009)
Passion (2011)
Out Of Order Comes Chaos (2013)
Men Who Climb Mountains (2014)
Masquerade 20 (2017)

Live... At Last! (VID) (1997)
Live...At Last And More (DVD) (2002)
And Now Everybody To The Stage (DVD) (2005)
Past And Presence (DVD) (2007)
Concerto Maximo (DVD) (2009)
Out Of Order Comes Chaos (DVD) (2012)
Masquerade 20 (DVD) (2017)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: April 7th 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 888
Language: english


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