Jon Anderson – Olias of Sunhillow
Out-bloody-rageous! Not only the title of a track on Soft Machine’s Third album, but also a fair summation of Jon Anderson’s 1976 solo excursion to the inner reaches of his own mind, Olias of Sunhillow. In both concept and execution it layers on the degrees of ostentatiousness with a whopping great trowel, the size of which would’ve given Percy Thrower a crippling hernia had he attempted to brandish it.
If it’s subtlety you’re after, look elsewhere.
But then, nobody’s ever going to arrive at a mid-seventies album from the lead singer of Yes, expecting restraint and delicately nuanced, musical refinement. Nor would you want such a thing. It’s 1976. It’s Jon Anderson. It’s out-bloody-rageous!
Not outrageously good, nor, thankfully, outrageously bad. Olias of Sunhillow is just… outrageous. It’s also rather enjoyable, so long as the dosage is prescribed with a generous pinch of salt. Indeed, one might think that this album is a carefully constructed piss-take of the progressive rock genre. But it’s not. It’s 1976. It’s Jon Anderson. The man largely responsible for 1973′s Tales from Topographic Oceans, which is as daft as it is dull.
The sincerity of the high-pitched, musical polymath is never in question, you’ll be glad to hear, and the scope of Olias of Sunhillow is pretty much in keeping with Topographic Oceans, yet considerably more listenable… which, to be honest, isn’t quite the compliment it may initially seem.
Taking its concept from the Roger Dean artwork to Yes’s excellent 1972 album, Fragile, Jon Anderson tells the tale of the flight from a devastated alien world by Olias and the four tribes of Sunhillow, courtesy of the airborne galleon that he has built. A sort of Moorcockian Noah and the Ark, without the animals. There’s a lot of story crammed into its 44 minute running time, with a disparate cast of characters providing the focus on different songs.
Cinematic in vision, this is the musical equivalent of James Cameron’s Avatar, resplendent in all its unbridled gaudiness. That film demonstrated a complete lack of both self-awareness and control through its relentless tide of visual chintz, Olias of Sunhillow follows a similar path via the medium of music.
Tribal rhythms throw elements of world music into this particular prog pot, along with a decidely luscious array of keyboard textures that are often provided by Anderson himself, in addition to guitars, harp and assorted percussion. As I said, a musical polymath. The trademark double-tracked vocals feature, ensuring his unique voice ties in with what a man expects from Yes, and, indeed, this sounds very much like an early-70s Yes album, right down to the fact that it would be derided by humourless wankers as the antithesis of what music should be. It’s not perfect and it’s probably not suited to anybody who takes Paul Morley’s word as gospel, but it’s the kind of album a man can put on when he’s in need of a fix of lush, unapologetic pomp and grandeur, manifested in a package that refuses to entertain the idea of minimalist snobbery.
Plus, the fact that this is not Jon Anderson’s 1988 Album, In the City of Angels, is surely a recommendation in itself.
Olias of Sunhillow by Jon Anderson is available to buy from Amazon.co.uk
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