Wednesday, April 11, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1125: Prism

I have a 45 minute walk home and today as I left the office, the bus pulled up at the perfect time. I resisted however, and got a little exercise in. I also got an extra listen to this next album!

Disc 1125 is… Prism (Self-Titled)
Artist: Prism

Year of Release: 1977

What’s up with the Cover? It’s a prismatic spray coming out of a diamond held by a hand in the sky, depicted within a mirror also being held by a hand in the sky! The mind is overwhelmed with the awesomeness of it all.

How I Came To Know It: I grew up with Prism, so all this stuff is pretty familiar. Half these songs were on a greatest hits package I owned until I realized I might as well just own the studio album.

How It Stacks Up:  I have three Prism albums, which isn’t nearly all of them, but I think is plenty. Of those three, I put their self-titled debut right in the middle at number two. Since this is the last of their albums for me to review, here’s a recap:

  1. Armageddon: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 269)
  2. Prism: 3 stars (reviewed right here)
  3. Young & Restless: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 817)
Ratings: 3 stars

Revel in the first moments in the career of Prism, the band that never met a synthesizer hook they didn’t love. Or have a bit of a laugh if you want, but at least admit these guys wrote some good songs.

Prism may sound a little dated today, but they were Canadian icons in the day. From the very beginning they weren’t afraid to mess with the tired old rock arrangements of vocal, bass, guitar and drum. The first five songs feature: 1) synthesizer and cowbell; 2) guitar and cowbell; 3) organ and synthesizer (double organ…?); 4) handclaps and a horn section and then 5) back to guitar and…more cowbell. Glorious.

With three of the first five songs featuring cowbell, Prism demonstrates a true understanding that the only thing better than cowbell, is more cowbell. These guys had a fever for cowbell that Blue Oyster Cult could only dream of.

As for the synthesizer, it is a dangerous instrument in the wrong hands and can make a perfectly ordinary song cheesy and fake. However, Prism show how to do it right, making everything feel futuristic and anthemic. Some of it now feels like the past imagining the future, but has still somehow aged well.

The opening track is “Spaceship Superstar” which was a minor hit in Canada (a bit bigger here in my home province of British Columbia). This song was my earliest introduction to the mysteries of stereo sound. It opens with some bells twinkling like stars, first in your right ear, then your left, then back again, followed by a low synth hum and rumble that feels like Darth Vader’s star destroyer is flying through your skull. I remember the moment my brother put the headphones on me, and watched my face light up with the glory of it all.

As for the song, it is a catchy tune about a band touring the solar system. Ron Tabak’s vocals are high and airy (as was the style at the time) and he knows how to make camp sound convincing. When he sings “the fans swarm like meteorites/to our concerts on the moon” he says “meteorites” with such manic excitement that you can’t help but have a good time. Also, did I mention the cowbell?

The next song “Open Soul Surgery” is merely OK, but it is buoyed by more cowbell, and a passable bit of guitar from lead guitarist Lindsay Mitchell. As individuals I didn’t find Prism the best rock musicians ever, but they play well as a group and know how to stay restrained and serve the song.

My favourite song on the record is the break-up ballad “It’s Over”. This song starts with some genuinely soulful work on the piano, and when (this being Prism) it morphs into the techno-haunted tones of synthesizer it still works. Tabak’s vocals are pure and real and when I was a kid I was sure I understood heartache just hearing this guy sing it. Nowadays I probably find myself singing “we shouldn’t be surprised to know…it’s over, it’s over, it’s o..ver!” at least once a month at the end of a hard work week. I probably love this song more than it deserves but I can’t help myself; it’s in my DNA at this point.

Take Me to the Kaptin” is another minor hit and once again sings about space flight. It is fun to sing along with, featuring both handclaps and…cowbell. The guitar work is good on this track as well, and it has a solo that actually serves the melody – something that should be obvious but is often overlooked in rock and metal.

It isn’t all great, but even the weaker tracks have their moments. The notable exception is “Vladivostok” which has the band trying to get their prog but it doesn’t suit their vibe. It also features a Frampton-like talk box guitar solo that is…unfortunate.

The album then cuts to two songs about women; “Amelia” and then “Julie.” The latter of these feels heavily inspired by late sixties Beach Boys. These are OK, but could have used more synthesizer…or cowbell. Just do what you do, Prism.

Prism gets a lot of laughs these days, but this is a solid rock album from a band not afraid to do their own thing, and who know how to write a melody. I’m not only going to continue to enjoy this album, I’m going to keep sneaking my favourites onto party mixes.

Best tracks: Spaceship Superstar, It’s Over, Take Me to the Kaptin

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