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Spence, Merv: Phenomena Recovered

Those of us long enough in the tooth to remember the Galley brothers (Mel, who would go on to play in Whitesnake and this endeavour’s main man, Tom) also recall being shocked back in 1985 when due to the big names involved (Glenn Hughes, Neil Murray, Cozy Powell, Ted McKenna, Don Airey etc) their Phenomena Project gained the front page of the then rock bible KERRANG!, even though basically no one knew who they were. Those of us then interested enough to follow the stop start future of the ‘band’ will know that a further 5 albums appeared under the Phenomena banner, with bassist and backing singer Merv Spence appearing on Phenomena III: Inner Vision. Now from there a very twisty turn of events led to Merv becoming the owner of the rights to the whole Phenomena project, with the ex-Trapeze and Wishbone Ash man seeing fit to rework a selection of the project’s song on his 1995 Initiate album.

Now the tenuous link (but rightful ownership) Merv holds to these songs might have made one stab at putting his name on the front of an album of this music something of a stretch, but here with Phenomena Recovered, which also boasts cover-art that holds similar themes to the original Phenomena albums, we have a second. Ten of the twelve recordings that appeared on Initiate resurface here but also included is a 1993 version of “Slave” and two 2023 further recordings of Phenomena tracks, “Dance With The Devil” and “Rock My Soul”.

At the risk of being harsh, my first thought when I looked into exactly why this Merv Spence album looks like a Phenomena release, was ‘what’s the point in all this then?’ and I must admit that I still haven’t shaken that notion off. I mean, the versions here are all perfectly good - give or take some uncomfortable drum machine tippy-tappy - and Merv, it has to be said, is a good singer. Admittedly, that doesn’t mean that he’d come out on top if you went and compared his vocals against say, Glenn Hughes, Ray Gillen, Max Bacon or John Wetton, who are some of the vocalists who have previously fronted this project, but in truth, that’s exalted company and without that prior knowledge you’d just accept that Spence genuinely does a great job. However, you have to guess that this whole endeavour is aimed squarely at existing Phenomena fans, and as such, well, we do know the backstory and are almost duty bound to think of the originals as “Believe”, “Still The Night” or “A Whole Lot Of Love” swing by - the latter of which is one of the worst drum sound sufferers.

It’s maybe a little unfair to focus more on history and process in this review than the music itself, but it’s difficult to see this album in much of a different light. Released through Cherry Red Records, who being honest, do really like to wring the neck out of any catalogue they get behind, you know that the packaging is top notch and the sound is as good as can be. However, neither of those things make the songs here compare favourably with the original versions recorded by the actual Phenomena project. Long term fans may well want this curio for that contrast and compare experience, but once those novelties wear off, it’s difficult to see this CD as anything other than a shelf warmer.

Track Listing
1. Still The Night

2. What About Love?

3. Phoenix Rising

4. A Whole Lot of Love

5. Believe

6. Did It All For Love

7. Stop!

8. It Must Be Love

9. No Retreat, No Surrender

10. Shape It Up

11. Slave (1993 Version)

12. Dance With The Devil (2023 Recording)

13. Rock My Soul (2023 Recording)

Added: February 16th 2024
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Phenomena Recovered @ Cherry Red
Hits: 203
Language: english

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