Since things are usually pretty quiet on the new music release front at the beginning of the year, it seems like a good time to take a look back at 2013 and see if there was anything I may have initially overlooked. For this proud fan of progressive rock, the great Nektar revival of 2013 is the most glaring of these. Thanks to the Purple Pyramid record label, Nektar’s classic ‘70s albums have been reissued in deluxe packages, along with their latest release, Time Machine. Forget Miley Cyrus, Daft Punk and all the rest, Nektar were the real story of the year.
You say you have never heard of Nektar? For shame. In the primordial prog days of 1969, British bands like Yes, Genesis and King Crimson were just getting started, and Nektar were part of the scene. But for some reason they settled in Frankfort, Germany. I have always felt that this move hurt them, because the Brits owned progressive rock, and Nektar would have been in on the ground floor. Nevertheless, the deed was done.
Their first album was Journey to the Centre of the Eye (1972). The cover features a close-up of a bloodshot eye, and is very creepy. Nektar were still working out their identity at this point, and had not yet fully embraced the prog. The album was a 13-song affair, with the longest clocking in at just 6:35. The Purple Pyramid edition adds a second “Official Bootleg” disc of the album being performed live in 1971.
Nektar found their groove with their second long player, A Tab in the Ocean (1972). Side one is the 16:33-long title track, and it is great. They broke things up a bit on the second side, which features a whopping three songs. At the time, an imported copy of A Tab in the Ocean was a must for every discerning progger’s turntable.
Unfortunately, those imports cost a lot of money, and not too many people bought them. Had Nektar lived in England, they might have been signed to a label like Atlantic, the home of Yes and ELP. But they were signed to the German Bellaphon label, and their first three albums were only released in Europe. When A Tab was released in the U.S. four years later, the record company commissioned a controversial new mix for it. The first CD of the Purple Pyramid set contains both the original and the 1976 mix, for us to compare and contrast.
The second disc of A Tab is another “Official Bootleg,” recorded live in Germany on November 13, 1971. This is pretty cool. The sound quality is very good, and the set features three of A Tab’s four songs, including a 17:46 version of the title cut. The fourth song on the CD is “Desolation Valley/Waves,” and was recorded live in the studio in 1973.
The two-CD Purple Pyramid edition of A Tab in the Ocean comes in a four-panel gatefold cover, and is a real treat. This is the place to start for anyone who is curious about the band. As far as longtime fans are concerned, I think that all of those great extras speak for themselves.
Embracing the prog meant branching out, and for Nektar this meant releasing a double LP next, titled …Sounds Like This (1973). The CD reissue includes a second disc of bonus features. Next up was the one most people call the band’s finest, Remember the Future (1973), which became the group’s first U.S. release. Nektar hit prog-nirvana by filling both vinyl sides with the title song. The combined length of “Remember the Future” is an impressive 35:13. There is a second disc of bonus tracks as well.
Having taken progressive rock about as far as it could go with Remember, the next logical step was a rock opera. The subject matter? The circus! Down to Earth (1974) has one of the greatest bad covers of all time, with the band dressed as clowns in front of a garish old double-decker bus. With 10 songs of average length, the extended musical interludes were out, but tracks like “Nelly the Elephant,” and “Fidgety Queen” bring the weirdness quotient to a whole new level. The enlistment of Hawkwind’s Robert Calvert as “Ringmaster” was an inspired touch. The reissue adds seven tracks.
As a fair-weather progger, my interest waned after the circus album, but there would be more Nektar as the years wore on. In fact, they released Time Machine in July 2013. Only Roye Albrighton and Ron Howden remain of the original lineup, but they did manage to come up with a credible 2013 version of prog. Time Machine is pretty good, for what it is, but it will never be confused with A Tab in the Ocean.
The first four or five Nektar albums are classics of the genre, and Purple Pyramid have done an outstanding job with the reissues. The extras and beautiful packaging really add value, and the music is great. Although I got to it in the waning days of the year, the great Nektar revival of 2013 lives on!