I was really hoping that the return of the legendary 70's band Nektar would live up to all the anticipated expectations. While The Prodigal Son is a decent rock album, it falls way short of the standards that this band set in its prime over 25 years ago.
Basically this CD sounds like a solo album for guitarist and vocalist Roye Albrighton. There is no doubt that Roye is still a talented guitar player and a fine singer, but one of the many things that made Nektar so great in the past was their diversity. Here, we have nine guitar based rock songs, with a few of them being ballads, and only a handful of the tracks are really memorable and noteworthy. The only other original member who participated in this recording is keyboard player Taff Freeman, whose work is all but invisible. Many may remember Taff's raging Hammond organ work, Mellotron, and piano playing on the classic Nektar albums, but on The Prodigal Son he is relegated to smatterings of light synth and piano textures. This is really a shame as I think a larger contribution from Freeman would have helped matters greatly. As it stands, songs like "I Can't Help You", "Be Tonight" and "Now" sound like generic Eric Clapton tunes. There's really nothing much that can be labeled as progressive rock here, save for the Strawbs-ish "The Drinking Mans Wine", which has a neat folky flavor featuring alluring acoustic guitars, synths, melodic bass, and a catchy chorus. This is the closest the band gets to their original sound on this CD. "Salt and Vinegar and Rhythm and Blues" is a blistering blues rocker, in the style of classic ZZ Top meets AC/DC, but hardly what you would expect from Nektar. It also contains the only organ solo from Freeman, although so brief if you sneeze you might miss it.
Those who have never had any experience to Nektar and their 70's output might actually enjoy this as a good hard rock album. Die-hard fans will no doubt be a bit let down by the generic arrangements, slide guitars, and lack of keyboards on this reunion release. On a positive note, all the original Nektar members have been signed to headline NearFest 2002, so maybe once the band performs many of the older favorites the urge to write and record more challenging material might strike them.