After the death of founding member Roye Albrighton back in 2016, the future of legendary prog/hard rock/space rock outfit Nektar looked to be all but finished. With a career that started in 1969 and included more than 13 studio albums and plenty of live albums, it appeared the journey was over for this longstanding group. However, some of the surviving members decided to keep the flames going, which has resulted now in two factions of Nektar, one calling themselves the 'New Nektar' and basing themselves in Germany, and one calling home to the USA and going by the original name Nektar. This latter faction is the one featured on this new album The Other Side, which includes the line-up of founding members Ron Howden (drums) & Derek 'Mo' Moore (bass, keyboards, vocals), long time lighting & special effects master Mick Brockett (who was also there from the beginning), plus guitarist/vocalist Ryche Chlanda (from obscure '70s US prog act Fireballet), bassist Randy Dembo, and keyboard player Kendall Scott.
My first thought when I heard of this new Nektar album is that it would he hard for the band to continue on without Albrighton, who had such a commanding presence in the band for so many years. Sure, the band did it without Roye briefly for 1977's Magic is a Child album, but it was clear that things just weren't the same without him. So, expectations for The Other Side were clearly pretty low. Well, it's always nice to be pleasantly surprised! First, much of this new release is very 'Nektar-ish', things kicking off in grand, proggy fashion on the stellar opener "I'm on Fire", a potent song filled with plenty of tasty keyboards and guitar work. The compelling "SkyWriter" follows, an early pick for song of the album, with a hook to die for and a wealth of intricate, classic prog embellishments, including a scorching solo from Chlanda and Scott's layer upon layer of keyboards, topped off by velvety bass courtesy of Moore and Dembo. Up next is the near 18-minute epic "Love Is/The Other Side", a memorable journey complete with some visible Yes-styled passages that will thrill lovers of vintage sounding '70s prog, Chlanda & Moore also contributing some very strong vocals throughout the piece. Guitar solos? Check. Piano, organ, and synths? Check! This one has it all folks. 'Drifting" is a darker, more ominous track, cascading synths, bass pedals, piano, and haunting vocals eventually giving way to hazy, vintage styled Hammond organ (early Nektar or Pink Floyd) and a blazing wah-wah soaked guitar solo from Chlanda, which is followed by the hard prog of "Devil's Door", another old-school styled Nektar track that pushes all the right buttons...crisp guitars, catchy hooks, spacey keys, booming bass...yep, it's all there. This tune is actually an old piece from 1974 that the band performed live but never used on a studio album, and they use Roye's original guitar intro here on this new recording. "The Light Beyond" is The Other Side's lone short piece, a vehicle for Scott's fine synth arrangements, which leads into the emotional acoustic guitar & Mellotron drenched "Look Through Me", with a blazing synth solo helping out at the end. The album concludes with "Y Can't I B More Like U", starting off with some fine acoustic guitar before slowly morphing into a quirky prog-rock thumper complete with hefty bass lines, smoldering organ, nimble guitar & drums, and emotional vocals. The last half of the song kicks some serious butt, commanding Hammond organ solos & biting guitar (love the Todd Rundgren styled tones!) abound, making for a great ending to this surprisingly strong album.
As I've often said, sometimes the a band doesn't just cave in and disappear with the loss of an integral member, and Nektar have proven that here with The Other Side. I was skeptical, I'll admit, when hearing they would try to carry on without Roye Albrighton after his passing, but this new album has made me a believer, and these songs come across as a fitting tribute to his memory.
1. I'm on Fire
3. Love Is / The Other Side
5. Devil's Door
6. The Light Beyond
7. Look Through Me
8. Y Can't I B More Like U