Reviewer : Rob Birtley
Firstly, hands up here Ben Craven is a new name on my radar. Hailing from Brisbane, Australia. Ben describes himself as Prog-rock singer-songwriter from Australia. Cinema for the ears. Growing up with the grand era of Prog Rock he is a self-taught guitarist and keyboard player who after playing with a series of bands none of whom played the kind of music that turned him on decided to plough his own furrow. Producing music with stated influences ranging from Pink Floyd and Brian Wilson to the likes of Bernard Herrmann and John Barry. So I expected Prog with cinematic influences that was also heavy on melody. A further complication is The Single Edits is a digital-only collection of single edits from three albums, compiled especially for streaming. Each track is a shortened version of longer originals the idea being to act as a gateway into the Ben Craven Musicverse. Tasters if you like. The edited tracks are also meant to stand alone so for the purpose of this review and as Im not familiar with the source material that’s exactly how I’m going to approach them.
The album begins with the instrumental Critical Mass Part 2 which is deeply reminiscent of a number of 60s/70s movie soundtracks. Cinematographic in scale like something from a sinister Sci-Fi film full of alien menace with thriller Film Noir overtones. You could say The Andromeda Strain meets The Ipcress File and interesting start. Showcasing some superb playing and tempo changes. Next up is This Remarkable Man which also paints on a huge canvas. The Cinematic stylings of John Barry are all over this one. Taking you right back to The Quiller Memorandum with the added flourish of a superb guitar solo but you know its going to finish with a Brass fanfare and the last note hanging in mid-air. The point when in your local fleapit the title sequence would end and the movie proper would start. Track 3 is Ready To Loose. This is more straightforward Prog fair right from the opening keyboards and it is based firmly in Hogarth era Marillion especially the vocal including Rothery like guitar ornamentation. Aquamarine starts with a keyboard counterpoint inspired Isao Tomita counter balanced by an interweaving electric guitar lead invoking the spirit of Pink Floyd. This instrumental has some inspired acoustic guitar interplay reminding me of Steve Howe closing precedings. Track 5 Spy In the Sky features a vocal delivered by none other than Captain Kirk himself AKA William Shatner which can best be described as interesting. The original track is some 18 minutes long so this is just a snippet of it. This track definitely steers back to the Movie soundtrack theme, opening like something from The Italian Job borrowing this time from John Powell and not John Barry but still that late 60s flavour. Great Divide is a slightly poppy Prog ballad. Invoking moments of Yes and early Genesis in equal measure. Once again the acoustic guitar section is a treat and played off against a fine electric guitar foil. Nobody Dies Forever starts like the opening of a Sellers Pink Panther movie especially the bass line and adds a sixties Bond veneer invoked by the lines Shaking and Stirring, Franchise is nearing the end and of course in the word play of the title. This song could have been plucked off the soundtrack of the David Niven spoof version of Casino Royale and is as musically clever as the word play in the lyrics. No Specific Harm has the Prog angst of Pink Floyds Another Brick In The Wall. The use of a megaphone for part of the vocals builds the level of malice and adds sinister overtones fleshed out by the moody guitar solo raising the Threat Level to Critical with every note. Reinforced by a brutal bass line menace weighed down like a lead pipe lurking in the background. Captain Caper heads into the movie realm once again and is a tongue in cheek homage to the Super Hero phenomena with an edge that reminds you of the dark humour of the recent release DEADPOOL. Golden Band is a straight ahead Prog track with a flavour of Supertramp in the catchy upbeat arrangement that has a psychedelic subplot just below the surface and is one of my highlights of the album. How to sum up and overall score this album. Well its difficult but if it was easy everyone would write reviews. You can tell this is a compilation and on certain tracks the editing is more obvious than others. The playing is always of a remarkably high standard as are the clever lyrics and even though you know its a solo project it still sounds like a band. As Ben Craven has alluded to this album is a Taster into his complex musical world pulling together many strands from 3 different albums which to use an old Liverpool term could have turned into a real Dogs Dinner in fact from my musical palates point of view the taste is good and Ill be investigating a second and third course. If you want to learn more about Ben check out this excellent review done by my colleague Olav Martin Bjornsen of Ben Cravens last full album.
Rating: 7.5/10 Record Label: Desert Comb Music.
Release date: Available now Digital only
Highlight tracks: Nobody Dies Forever/ No Specific Harm/Golden Band