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Focus 9 / New Skin

Focus

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Album Review

Following on from the 2002 surprise comeback album Focus 8, founding member Thijs Van Leer prolongs this legendary Dutch band's inspired new run with what would, in the '70s, have been called a double-LP's worth of further new material. Moreover, Pierre van der Linden (drummer of the classic '70s Focus lineup) joins him this time, with young partner Bobby Jacobs remaining on bass, but Niels VanDerSteenhoven replacing guitarist Jan Dumée. Not to worry, though, he too captures the sound and quality of original Focus guitarist Jan Akkerman just as perfectly as his predecessor — in tune with the fact that this quartet manages to recapture the original band's sound every bit as well as happened on Focus 8. Mostly instrumental as usual, the listener can delve into the classic sound of a Hammond organ led Baroque rock/jazz-rock mixture (with smatterings of flute), and feel like it's 1972 all over again. Of course, back then Focus was a progressive band — not a trick that they can turn nowadays. What we get here are further variations on their original template, and strict critics could also accuse them of veering toward results that are too close to easy listening. But it would feel a bit churlish to say so, because the overriding feeling one gets listening to this album is one of calm and of good humor, flowing from compositions that are obviously played with care, precision, and enthusiasm, and in no way cheap in spirit. Be they anthemic tunes such as "Black Beauty" or "Curtain Call," humorous outings such as "Aya-Yuppie-Hippie-Yee," elegies like "Focus 7," or nice little tunes such as "Pim." One possible lowlight: "Focus 9" is a composition that should best have been titled "Sisyphus" — it does feel like a musical study in frustration — but on the upside it shows that the guys still are indeed willing to challenge the listener sometimes. Way more fun to follow is the (also lengthy) "European Rap(sody)," which features Thijs van Leer incorporating a fan's lyric composed of various titles of Focus songs and albums, enveloped in an anthemic sweep (preceded by a jaunt through various diversions into European music traditions). All in all, a "mild mannered album" but one that provides an atmosphere of warm, calm elegance in a way that has become pretty rare.

Biography

Formed: 1969 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s

Best remembered for their bizarre chart smash "Hocus Pocus," Dutch progressive rock band Focus was formed in Amsterdam in 1969 by vocalist/keyboardist/flutist Thijs van Leer, bassist Martin Dresden, and drummer Hans Cleuver. With the subsequent addition of guitarist Jan Akkerman, the group issued its debut LP, In and Out of Focus, in 1970, earning a European cult following thanks to the single "House of the King." Dresden and Cleuver were replaced by bassist Cyril Havermanns and drummer Pierre Van...
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Focus 9 / New Skin, Focus
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