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The Nice - Nice [Aka: Everything As Nice As Mother Makes It] CD (album) cover

NICE [AKA: EVERYTHING AS NICE AS MOTHER MAKES IT]

The Nice

 

Symphonic Prog

3.39 | 79 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Self-titled albums, especially mid-career self-titled albums (though some debuts qualify as well), are generally treated as an opportunity for a band to make a confident "statement of purpose," indicating that they believe that they are firmly at the peak of their powers and they have established their own unique style. While I believe that The Nice absolutely felt this way when they recorded and released this half-studio/half-live album, I instead find myself listening to this as, in essence, an odd dress rehearsal for Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Unfortunately, there are two main problems with this: Lee Jackson isn't Greg Lake, and Brian Davison isn't Carl Palmer. Jackson's voice continues to be a serious problem, and while he has songwriting credits, he doesn't come across as having the same genuine songwriting gift and ability to counter Emerson that Greg Lake would soon be showing. As players, Jackson and Davison are fine, but they're not electric in the same way that Lake and Palmer would be in regards to making the technical prowess of ELP into the stuff of legend. Overall, this album isn't exactly bad (though it is in parts), but it's weirdly bland for having so much stuff going on.

It's a little disconcerting that the best material on the album by a good distance comes from recycling earlier classics. "Azrael Revisited" is indeed a reworking of "Azrial," only without the great guitar playing of the original (the initial riff is played by piano), and the tune is still quite entertaining, and the long piano-centric jam that occupies much of the second half of the song is pretty rousing. The opener of the live half is "Rondo (69)," and it's basically exactly what you'd expect from a live version of "Rondo" with no guitar. It's a blast, of course, and the rhythm section is still awfully tight, but it seems pretty soon to be getting into releasing stuff like this.

The other studio tracks all leave me with the strong nagging wish to hear them redone by ELP (in their prime). "Hang On to a Dream," a cover of a Tim Hardin number, is utterly beautiful when centered around Emerson's majestic piano parts, and is flat-out abysmal when centered on the vocals. Jackson decided to go the route of using a timid whimper, and the attempts to prop him up with angelic female backing vocals are awfully tacky. Lake probably could have made this into something rivaling "Take a Pebble" if he'd sung it in the early 70s, but this doesn't come close. It should be noted that ELP actually did do a version of this eventually, but this was in the early 90s after Lake had largely lost his voice and Emerson had glommed onto digital synths for all they're worth, so it's not really worth hearing. "Diary of an Empty Day" is worth it for all of the playful and energetic organ/piano work, but it would have done better as an instrumental; the sung parts go in one ear and out the other for me. Finally, the nine-minute "For Example" is an interesting horn-laced mix of blues, jazz and classical, with silly quotes of "Norwegian Wood" and "America" stuck near the end, but the sung parts are pretty unbearable. The first portion is mostly hurt by the unintentional comedy of the whispered "pianissimo" backing vocals, but the mid-section is primarily obliterated by Jackson's hoarse voice bellowing out at full force. Emerson is a blast, though.

On the live side, the concluding track, immediately following "Rondo (69)," is a 12-minute cover of Bob Dylan's "She Belongs to Me," and oh this is not good. I'm not offended in principal by the idea of a jammy expansion of a short Dylan song, but this particular jam is all kinds of tedious, and not at all on the level of, say, the extended versions of "Aquatarkus" that ELP would be playing in a few years. Maybe Emerson suddenly made a big leap between this point and when he joined ELP, but it seems more likely to me that the big leap came solely from his collaborators.

I had a harder time acquiring this particular Nice album than any other, and while it's got its good qualities, it has enough bad qualities that I can't especially recommend that anybody else go through the same trouble. This was the final studio recording from the band, and it's just as well; it's just as likely that the band was only going to get less interesting from here on out. If you can get "Azrael Revisited" and "Rondo (69)" without too much difficulty, though, be sure to give them a listen.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |

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