I HAD THE single ‘Astral Man’ from this 1974 album, as a kid. The 45 found its way to my room. I’m not sure if I liked it or not. I was more perplexed by it than anything. But this fifth album by the English but German-formed Nektar is certainly interesting listening now. Its circus concept is a fairly subtle affair, considering Nektar were in the realms of the prog-rockers. Most songs come in at a respectable four to six minutes, and don’t get bogged down in any one tangent for long.
Down To Earth runs the gamut stylewise without being tied down to either a rigid prog rock nor accessible pop framework. I wonder if the early Split Enz had heard these guys. There’s certainly a similarity in places. ‘Astral Man’ brings to mind both early and Time And Tide-era Split Enz, with its frantic hop-on-one-leg style verses moving into a mellow but creepy chorus predicting the Enz’s ‘Giant Heartbeat’.
The influences are myriad. The jam section in ‘Nelly The Elephant’ bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1974-era Frank Zappa band if they had the Chicago horn section playing with them.
The other single ‘Fidgety Queen’, though showing influences, has quite possibly been influential in its own right. The melodic slide guitar intro is almost a total contemporary George Harrison quote, with the cooking horns more Tower Of Power than Chicago.
The intermittent chromatic bass runs suggest Blur were no stranger to this recording either, the song sounding like a pointer towards instrumental hooks that helped make their ‘Country House’ a success in the ‘90s. True or not, that idea provides this unfairly obscure album with a relevant strand stretching to the modern era, which sonically I think of as beginning when CD fidelity became the yardstick and we all turned our bass knobs back a couple of db, whether we were aware of it or not.
So the fidelity of this Down To Earth reissue translates quite nicely to today, if a little harsh in the high-mid, but the lows are tight and present anyway.
The musical style does seem dated in places, but in its defence the sometimes sprechstimme vocal stylings of Roye Albrighton did foreshadow punk by two years, Nektar sometimes providing perhaps the earliest example of pronk – a cross between the arty leanings of lengthy self-conscious progressive rock and the sharp aggressive stabs of punk, but in this case, well before punk happened. Not bad. Well worth hunting down if you like discovering obscurities that always deserved more attention than they ever got in their heyday. It’s on iTunes if you can’t find it elsewhere.
However you think of it, Down To Earth is either an obscure but influential ‘70s nugget or just a damn good listen. PETER KEARNS
Sound = 3.5/5
Music = 3.5/5