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Abacus - Midway CD (album) cover

MIDWAY

Abacus

 

Crossover Prog

2.45 | 24 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
2 stars 'Midway' - Abacus (4/10)

Since the release of their self-titled debut, Abacus turned their backs towards the overt style of prog they had somewhat kindled, going instead for a psychedelic pop hybrid. From their beginnings onward, the relative quality of their material has been inconsistent at best, but they were always just enough ideas and developments to keep me interested to hear the next album. By Abacus' fourth album Midway, Abacus feel far more comfortable playing pop than they ever did with prog rock. There has been some welcome evolution over the course of their history, but there are still problems that have bogged down Abacus since the debut, not least of all their uninvolved performance and shallow songwriting.

Although I'm far from enthusiastic about Abacus' post-debut direction, it was clear from the start where their loyalties lay. Ever since their proggy side was reduced to a side-dish, Abacus sound more confident and comfortable in their sound. Midway continues to distance Abacus away from progressive rock, and save for a few notable moments (including the instrumental "Revalations" and a ten minute title track) you wouldn't be able to guess they had been flirting with symphonic prog only a couple of years back. The biggest surprise on Midway is the turn their pop approach has taken. The psychedelia has begun to finally filter out, leaving overt sounds of country rock, not unlike The Band from Canada. For what it's worth, it's cool to hear a ban explore such a wide range of sounds and style within the space of a few years, even if they haven't been altogether successful with it.

Chris Williams' nasally voice has always been problematic for me, but it's the band's songwriting itself that comes out most empty. "Let's Face the Voices and Dance" is an ample demonstration of Abacus' biggest weaknesses. The songwriting is flimsy and forgettable, and the performance feels rushed and disengaged. When Chris Williams isn't spoiling his performance with awkward inflections (he seems to love putting the suffix "ah" at the end of each vocal line IE: "know-ah"- it's as irritating a tic as any!) his voice is generally thin, although his lower register has some potential to it. The horrid baroque-pop warble "11 Farden" is the only truly bad song on the album; as for the rest, Abacus keep it to a listenable standard, but their songwriting is generally thin and restrained. Barring the ten minute title track (which I'll get to), Abacus' only occasion of demonstrating greater scope in their music is "Be Beholding", a weird track with sporadic pianos. This too, sadly, is held back by Williams' voice. "Herman the German" is another track that stands out, although less for the writing and performance (both of which are mediocre) than the live and seemingly-spontaneous style of production.

Between "Everything You Need" and this, I'm starting to get the impression that Abacus think they can get away with being called a progressive band, so long as they include a longer track at the end. At least with the former, Abacus had tried to shoot for a full-fledged prog suite; the result of course was nothing special and poorly arranged, but it was a well-intended effort with the occasional flash of brilliance. "Midway" is a far-better structured piece and arguably stronger than Abacus' previous epic, if only because the scope of it has been widdled down to a manageable level. The ten minutes are slow, and Chris Williams' vocal inflections are as annoying as ever and the instrumentation is generally uninvolved, at least until the song's finale, where a female choral section is layered upon it. By the end, "Midway" sounds the soundtrack to some pulpy space opera, and I mean that in a good way. It's better structured, but even for all of its rockiness, "Everything You Need" felt more engaging.

Midway, true to its name, is middling, if even that. To be honest, the coolest things they do here are drawn from country rock twang. The rest- progressive rock residue included- is poorly devised and executed. It's not a horrible album (and Abacus aren't a horrible band either), but there's honestly nothing here I would return for or recommend to another.

Conor Fynes | 2/5 |

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