After a six year stretch between studio albums, Jadis has returned! It feels good to say those words, as I've been following this band's career path since the early 1990s.
For the un-initiated, Jadis were a late entry in the progressive rock revival (AKA neo-prog) movement of 1980's England, coming a few years after the debut albums of Marillion, IQ and Pendragon. However, over the years I feel like Jadis has become a distinctive musical entity that does't fit completely into any one 'movement'. I once heard their music described as "prog meets power pop", and that's a fairly good assessment. With most songs in the five to seven minute range, Jadis have crafted an unusual style of composition which can sometimes be quite lush, theatrical and adventurous, while somehow still remaining tuneful, concise & accessible. Attentive prog fans will no doubt hear the little traces of Camel, Rush & Pink Floyd in their music, but the band also acknowledge The Tubes, Crowded House & The Foo Fighters as influences. As for me, I just tend to hear a whole lot of Jadis in their music. Whatever the musical roots may be, the way in which they interpret & execute those influences is really quite unique.
As for a bit of history - Jadis' earliest efforts were a series of cassette-only releases between 1984 and 1988, followed by an independent, self-titled vinyl LP in 1989. However, they didn't come to the attention of most listeners (including myself) until their first CD release, "More Than Meets the Eye", issued by IQ's Giant Electric Pea label in 1992. In the years that followed, they released a consistently good string of studio albums; "Across the Water" (1994), "Somersault" (1997), "Understand" (2000), "Fanatic" (2003), and "Photoplay" (2006). But after '06 things seemed to go mostly silent in the Jadis camp, apart from occasional gig announcements and a brief 2010 tour with neo-prog comrades Shadowland.
Since we last heard from them on "Photoplay" there have been some changes within the band. Gone are long time members Martin Orford (IQ, John Wetton Band) and John Jowitt (IQ, Arena). Replacing them are Arman Vardanyan on keyboards and Andy Marlow on bass. The current line-up is completed by Steve Christey, their steady drummer for just about 20 years now, and, of course, the band's stalwart lead guitarist, lead vocalist, songwriter, guiding light & founding member, Gary Chandler. The band's overall sound & style on "See Right Through You" remains more or less consistent with that of previous albums, though the production seems more full-bodied than ever, and the infusion of new blood brings some subtly different flavors to the proceedings.
"You Wonder Why" kicks the album off in a blaze of melodic hooks and shimmering guitar/keyboard textures, as if announcing that Jadis is back. The song has an uplifting, joyous feel to it, with Chandler's warm, mid-range voice sounding like an old friend that you haven't heard from in a while. Certainly not the proggiest song on the album, but melodically strong and satisfying.
"Try My Behavior" features a chorus sung in a stabbing staccato style, and includes many of the familiar sonic hallmarks that Jadis fans love - the twisting turning rhythms, the well-shaded arrangements and, of course, the ever-colorful guitar work. I've always felt that it's Chandler's vast array of guitar sounds & tones (ranging from the headbanging, to the ethereal, to the majestic) that gives Jadis much of it's instantly-recognizable sound. I guess others have noticed, too, as he has often placed highly as "best guitarist" in the yearly readers polls of the Classic Rock Society.
"What If I Could Be There" is another track which is strong in hooks, melody & rhythm. It sticks in the brain long after the album has ended. I really love the wide pallet of new agey and electronica-style sounds that new keyboardist Arman Vardanyan brings to the table on this song, and to the album as a whole. By mostly staying clear of the popular 70's Moog and Hammmond-type sounds, Vardanyan has creates an intriguing, modern 'wall-of-sound' approach that stands in contrast to some of the more "retro" acts on the current prog scene.
"All Is Not Equal" is probably the most straight-forward song on the album, though an interesting chord sequence and an unexpected Rush-like guitar/bass riff (heard twice) keep the song with at least one toe in prog territory. "Learning Curve" is another track that would probably be pretty straight-forward in lesser hands, but the band keep things interesting with some good arranging, rhythmic variations, and a rare bit of acoustic guitar from Chandler - playing the solo no less! Chandler's rich vocals are also quite impressive on this one.
The next track, "More Than Ever", begins somewhat gently, with a resonant, emotional lead vocal sung over piano chords and soft drums...but then it soon explodes into some unexpectedly heavy guitar riffage, a jazz-fusion inflected solo from Vardanyan, and, finally, a climactic, majestic guitar melody that's guaranteed to get stuck in your head. This is one of my favorites from this album, if not one of my favorite Jadis songs, period.
Another favorite is the dynamic and theatrical instrumental "Nowhere Near the Truth". All four musicians get a workout on this one. Chandler's guitar leaps flawlessly between heavy and soft tones, there's a wonderfully atmospheric keyboard/drum section about a minute and a half in, and the rhythm section of Christey and Marlow hold all the twists and turns together perfectly. Actually, I've always felt that Steve Christey is vastly underrated among modern prog drummers. While he may not always be as 'busy' or in-your-face as some drummers, over the years I think he's created a recognizable style and sound - which is probably tougher to pull off. I love the way in which Christey intermingles natural, unadorned drum sounds with trippy electronic sounds and ambient effects - and his unique sound has never been more in evidence than it is on this newest album.
The album closes with the 8 minute title track, "See Right Through You". The opening strummed guitar chords actually sound quite reminiscent of a previous Jadis track ("All You've Ever Known" from "Photoplay"), But the song soon evolves into slower-tempoed rocker with a beefy rhythm guitar sound and slightly off-kilter drum pattern. An instrumental break in the middle provides a brief atmospheric detour, before leading into a killer Chandler guitar solo, and finally, back to the rockin' main chorus.
Produced & mixed by Gary Chandler and mastered by Rob Aubrey, the disc's sound quality is crisp and clear throughout, with all the instruments being well represented in the mix. And continuing a long-time Jadis tradition, the simple but striking cover art (as well as all the inner CD booklet art) were created by Gary's brother, Geoff Chandler. For those who have followed the band since the early days, Geoff's imaginative artwork is as closely identified with Jadis' music as Roger Dean is to Yes' or Asia's.
All in all, "See Right Through You" is a strong comeback for Jadis, and easily takes a place in my personal Top 10 releases of 2012 . The album should be quite satisfying to long-time followers, but may also provide a good jumping-on point for those who are new to the band. Some may criticize Jadis for not changing their sound & approach more drastically from album to album. But I think that there's also a good argument to be made in favor of mastering and perfecting one's craft - building a career on consistency, rather than a perpetual reinvention of the wheel. It might not work for every band...but I think it's still working well for Jadis.
Reviewed by Jeff Matheus on November 29th, 2012