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Focus 9: New Skin *


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Performer Notes
  • 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 Dum‚e. 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. ~ Alan Severa
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