In 2011, the Dutch progressive rock group PBII was a support act for Sylvan (see review) and Arena (see review). During these concerts they performed a fantastic brand new song called Never Old. This track sounded differently from the style of their penultimate album Plastic Soup (2010, see review), and marked the start of a new project: a rock opera named 1000Wishes. They intended to record this new album with The Hague Youth Symphony Orchestra consisting of eighty boys and girls. Furthermore this project should coincide with a fantasy thriller written by Ronald van der Pol about children's cancer. The proceeds of this project should go to the Dutch foundation KiKa, an abbreviation of Kinderen Kankervrij (Children Free Of Cancer). KiKas goal is to increase the recovery from cancer from 75% to 95% in 2025. For that purpose they raise funds for research. It took the band about three years to accomplish this ambitious project.
When I got hold of the final product of 1000Wishes it appeared to be worth waiting that long. Ronald van der Pol wrote a highly entertaining book in Dutch called Eric En Het Land Van 1000 Wensen meaning Eric And The Land Of 1,000 Wishes. It's a heroic adventure of the young boy Eric describing his struggle to overcome cancer. His grandfather's tales of the knight Lorian help him to look at the bright side of life where there's always hope. With reference to this book PBII wrote the music that coincides with the story. After listening to this 75-minute album I was left speechless. Alex van Elswijk (bass guitar, bass pedals), Tom van der Meulen (drums, percussion), Michel van Wassem (keyboards, backing vocals), Ronald Brautigam (electric and acoustic guitars) and Ruud Slakhorst (lead and backing vocals) succeeded in writing and recording a great album.
During the fifteen tracks you'll enjoy a perfect mixture of different musical styles. Thanks to the contribution of conductor Marcel Geraeds and The Hague Youth Symphony Orchestra you sometimes step into the world of classical music. Good examples are A Perfect Day, Land Of 1000 Wishes, Reflections and Parental Thoughts. Sometimes the orchestral contributions made me think of the American musical West Side Story written by Leonard Bernstein. This is especially the case during A Perfect Day and Lorian. At other times opera-like music can be heard thanks to the strong soprano voice of Nathalie Mees. Listen for example to pieces like Land Of 1000 Wishes, Reflections and Parental Thoughts and you'll catch my drift.
However, sometimes the combination of the orchestra and PBII creates the progressive rock sound of Time And A Word (1970), the second album recorded by the famous British band Yes. On that album Yes also blended classical influences with prog rock by using a small orchestra. Without the voice of lead singer Ruud Slakhorst this would have been less evident, because his voice is quite similar to that of Jon Anderson, Yes's former singer. Good examples are Never Old, White and A Perfect Day, but in fact most of the songs with male vocals meet this element. At other times the bombastic music which Rick Wakeman presented on albums like Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (1974) and The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table (1975) came to mind, not only because of the perfect blend of classical music and prog rock, but also by using narrator Roger Watson and Eric's voice done by James Potter. However, don't think that everything sounds retro; that isn't the case at all. Listen for example to the modern ballad Eric's Dream or the more heavy approach on Lorian and Into The Light. There's one guest musician who deserves a special mention: guitarist Steve Hackett (ex- Genesis) performs an amazing guitar solo on Evil Weed.
After listening several times to 1000Wishes I have to conclude that the album doesn't contain any weak compositions. All pieces are of a high standard and of an international quality level. The album can easily compete with the aforementioned titles, although the names of Rick Wakeman or Yes are not on the cover! One of the people who made this all possible is producer Chris Muller. He perfectly recorded all tracks, all the instruments, the singers and the orchestra. They all sound crisp and clear throughout the album, which is packed in a brilliant looking digipack including a fine booklet with many pictures of the contributors. The lyrics are included as well for a better understanding of this rock opera.
Although I receive hundreds of CDs to review on an annual base, I don't call an album a true masterpiece that often. Only occasionally a masterpiece is recorded and 1000Wishes is such an album! While listening to the amazing musical performances I got goose bumps all over many times! The music of this beautiful rock opera grabbed me by the throat more than once! Like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle everything felt in place by mixing those different styles into one beautiful musical concept! So thumbs up to all the people involved who made this album possible. The five-star rating is well deserved! 1000Wishes is highly recommended and it will almost certainly turn out to be one of the highlights of 2013!
See also our review of the live performance on March 16, 2013
***** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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