First up, Renaissance, a band that, even in the twisty world of prog rock, have a complicated history.
Formed from the ashes of The Yardbirds, the original lineup featured Keith Relf and Jim McCarty (as well as Keith’s sister), but the band started disintegrating before completing its second album, Illusion.
The then-keyboardist, John Hawken, brought in a couple musicians, including Michael Dunford, from his previous group, Nashville Teens to try and finish that album
And then the original band, without Hawken, regrouped to do more work on it.
By the third album, Prologue, there were no original members at all, although McCarty contributed material.
As did Dunford, who would rejoin the band a couple of years later.
Well, the original Renaissance, except for Keith Relf, who had passed away, reunited in the mid 70s as Illusion.
If the story of the band is very much like that of any prog rock band, the sound was somewhat unique.
Unlike pretty much every prog rock band, Renaissance was not entirely dominated by men.
Annie Haslam was their vocalist.
And many of their lyrics were written by Betty Thatcher, and that combination made their best material stand out from, say, Genesis or Yes.
Azure d’Or was their ninth album, and their last for Sire.
You could be forgiven for thinkng that they are some kind of sketch comedy group based on that photo.
Azure d’Or was released in 1979, but apart from some synthesizer colorations, you’d never know it.
And it certainly doesn’t sound like anything you’d expect from the label that signed or licensed artists like The Ramones, The Replacements, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Smiths, and Madonna.
Azure d’Or is the sound of a band trapped in amber.
But not like Lark’s Tongue in Aspic.
There is a quaintness about it.
A sense that it was recorded half a decade earlier, unearthed, tatted out with some synths, and sent out in the world with fingers crossed.
But between the production and the material, it didn’t connect with me.
It’s pretty, but it doesn’t really have that otherness that defined other prog bands like King Crimson, Genesis, and Yes.
It’s all smooth, pretty, and it settles comfortably into the background.
The only thing tactile about it is the cover, which has raised textures.
Otherwise, it doesn’t seem like what you’d associated with Sire Records.
Of course, Sire had been around for several years before it filled its roster with artists like Talking Heads, Madness, and The (English) Beat, and for much of its early years, it had licensed a bunch of odd UK artists, including Renaissance, so there is a whole other history that, if you followed that, would make its punk and new wave titles seem odd.
I played this a few times and I cannot remember any aspects of it a few days on, except that it was a bit too well produced, a bit too pretty, a bit too elegant to resonate with me.
Don’t get me wrong, Annie’s singing is exemplary, the musicians are accomplished, and so there is clear talent on display.
But the songs are a bit too ethereal.
And the band sounds like it has tapped out it’s creative potential a bit.
In fact, the band splintered following the album’s release.
There have been subsequent Renaissance albums by various combinations of members, but I haven’t heard them.
I do have a few albums that precede this one, so now I want to revisit those and see how they sound.
At some point.
I have thousands of others to choose from.
And I add more regularly.
So this will be a long ongoing project.
But the verdict on this one is to cull it.