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Shadowland - Mad As A Hatter CD (album) cover

MAD AS A HATTER

Shadowland

 

Neo-Prog

3.27 | 46 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

SouthSideoftheSky
Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
3 stars Playing with shadows in a far darker land

It is very interesting to follow Clive Nolan's development as a songwriter over the three Shadowland albums and the early Arena albums. When Mad As A Hatter, which is the third and last Shadowland album, was released in 1996, Arena was already in full flight and by now releasing their second studio album, Pride, that came out the same year as Mad As A Hatter. Some of the material presented on Mad As A Hatter is distinctively more Arena-like than the previous two Shadowland albums. Mad As A Hatter is, at least partly, darker, harder edged and shows less Pop sensibilities. At this point, Clive Nolan was clearly growing as a songwriter but he seems to have reserved his best songs for Arena. The excellent Songs From The Lion's Cage had come out the previous year and it was clear that Nolan's focus was now on Arena. This gives you the impression that the Mad As A Hatter material are leftovers from the early Arena albums(?).

Karl Groom's focus also lied elsewhere at this point with Threshold also being in full flight since a few years and two albums to their credit already with a third one coming up. Drummer Nick Herradence had also contributed to Threshold's Psychedelicatessen album. But these people were very productive!

The album starts on a high note with U.S.I. (United States Of Insanity) and peaks, in my opinion, with the very good Mephisto Bridge, which is one of my favourite Shadowland songs. Flatline, the two part The Seventh Year and the acoustic Father are also very good songs. Unfortunately, after this the album starts getting weaker. The Burning is more in line with what you find on the band's previous album, Through The Looking Glass, which I think was a rather average album (but with some very good moments).

Zuleika is a disaster and kills any aspirations this album could have had to being an excellent one. It oozes with "romance" and Pop sensibility. It could easily have been a minor radio hit in the 80's! A good guitar solo (that is faded out at the end of the song!) cannot save this song from utter mediocrity. Am I listening to Shadowland or Shallowland?! The title track is inspired by the Alice In Wonderland story and is a bit better, but unfortunately the album never really picks up again and this makes for a severely frontloaded album, with all the best songs in the first half. During the second half of this album the feeling that we are listening to leftovers is even stronger.

Still, Mad As A Hatter is a good album in the end. While Ring Of Roses is a much more consistent album, Mad As A Hatter has some songs that are up to par with that great debut album. Had only the whole album been as good as its first half! I think that Nolan's heart at this time was in Arena and he couldn't give everything he got to two bands at the same time. This is probably why Shadowland faded into darkness while Arena rose to fame.

As with the other two Shadowland albums, Mad As A Hatter is only available as part of a box set encompassing the band's whole discography including the recently filmed live DVD. The Mad As A Hatter disc has two bonus tracks; Phantoms and Edge Of Night. The latter of these is a new song written by Nolan for his Caamora project, but saved for Shadowland because he felt that it "sounded more like a Shadowland song". And he was right, of course. This is a nice tune that fits the rest of the output of this band well.

Good, but not essential

SouthSideoftheSky | 3/5 |

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