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Focus - Focus 8

Focus - Focus 8Few 70’s prog bands managed to keep the momentum going after 1980.  It is widely believed that Punk was the nail in prog’s coffin but the bitter truth was often once great bands became stale and bereft of ideas resulting in a slump in sales and cancelled record company contracts not to mention fatal disagreements within bands.  The last decade of the 20th century saw something of a prog revival and some well-loved bands of the 70’s reformed with varying degrees of success with a small ‘s’.

And hereby lies the problem; the reformed bands have moved on to a degree but the fans find it hard to do the same. Caravan fans hope that their next album will be along the lines of In The Grey And Pink; ELP fans wanted not Black Moon but another Brain Salad Surgery.  Bands that have always been there over the last thirty odd years are not immune to this; what Tull fan would not like to see them produce another Passion Play or Thick As A Brick?  Many fans recall the heyday of prog, arguably the early to mid 70’s, and choose to forget much of the questionably weaker material that ‘their bands’ produced in the late 70’s and 80’s.  Not a problem if you have followed a band for the duration and, therefore, have grown with the band.  More of a problem when a band reforms after twenty years.

There can’t be many people over 35 who don’t recall Focus, if only for their hit singles, Sylvia and Hocus Pocus, and House Of The King which was used as the theme tune for more than one television programme in the UK.  Focus had a distinctive sound with Hammond, flute, and yodelling, offbeat handclap and of course the amazing Jan Akkerman’s guitar.  Two of their finest albums, Moving Waves and Hamburger Concerto are currently gracing the CD player in my car and have done for 18 months, so I am personally delighted the band have reformed and released Focus 8.  Hang on, what do we mean by ‘reformed’?  Well, back at the helm is father Focus, Thijs van Leer but the remainder of the band are newcomers in the form of Jan Dumée (guitars), Bert Smaak (drums) and Bobby Jacobs (bass), so the line-up has changed to put it mildly.

Focus 8 does a good job of maintaining the overall old Focus sound and thus keeps the territory relatively familiar.  The eleven tracks on this CD (ten plus a bonus) are varied in style and an odd short passage from 70’s Focus can often be heard to provide comfort to us stuck in the mud old timers.  Rock & Rio opens the album in a ‘fun’ upbeat vein with a surfeit of yodelling, something for the energetic to bop to.  Tamara’s Move (written by Jan Dumée) is surprisingly reminiscent of 70’s Focus with some wonderful flute, handclap and great guitar and Fretless Love (van Leer) has some Moving Waves moments about it.  So far so good.

The new Focus finds a touch of the Santana with Hurkey Turkey and it works.  The title track, Focus 8, uses a similar tempo and bass line as Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross and is a sort of reflective instrumental and not the bombastic epic one would expect.  In fact it is the second shortest track, Neurotika, that is the highlight of the album and that captures the modern Focus at their best.

It took a few listens to this album to get into it.  My first impression was one of slight disappointment but first impressions can be false impressions.  Yes, Jan Akkerman is sometimes missed but Jan Dumée does a good job.  There are some very good tracks (and a few not so good ones) and for the Focus fans it is definitely worth getting.  Not sure if you are a Focus fan?  Have a listen to Moving Waves and Hamburger Concerto then move onto Focus 8, Focus III etc.  Better still, go and see the band in concert and judge for yourselves.

Jem Jedrzejewski


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