One of the more pleasant surprises from this year has been the release of a new album from the band I suspect we may have to call UK neo-Prog veterans Solstice. The band aren’t exactly prolific, this is only the sixth album in their thirty-odd year career, and the first since Prophecy was released in 2013. It’s also the first with a new singer, Jess Holland, who replaces long-standing vocalist Emma Brown, and although the rest of the line-up remains the same, the new album looks different at least, the comic book superheroes of ‘Prophecy’s’ artwork replaced by an almost Japanese style painting by Sean Blake and a very Roger Dean-like logo designed by Barry Kitson.
Sia (the title is Scottish Gaelic for ‘Six’) opens with the twelve minute ‘Shout’, which has an almost jazz funk opening, with the always excellent Jenny Newman’s violin to the fore, before the vocals come in. The song runs through several moods, not to mention many time signatures, mixes several styles, including rock, folk, a touch of the Canterbury sound, and is that a nod to Tears For Fears at the end? All of which highlights a lot of what makes this band a little special, including Andy Glass’ guitar and the aforementioned violin.
‘Love Is Coming’, the opening single from the album, is a much gentler song, with an almost melancholy acoustic intro, before the song moves to a more hopeful message, and again lifted by the violin. I’m not sure if the vocals are a group effort or a multi tracked Jess Holland, but they give the song life and highlight its message well. There’s another slower opening for ‘Long Gone’, with more lush vocals, while ‘Stand Up’ is a more typical Solstice song, again driven by the guitar and violin, where some of the jazz inflections wouldn’t be out of place on a Camel album, although Andy Glass’ guitar has some real bite. In my humble opinion, he’s one of the best guitarists to come out of those bands that emerged in the 1980s, and it’s always baffled me that he’s so comparatively underrated.
‘Seven Dreams’ takes us back to the more reflective side of the band, although it toughens up towards the end, with the vocals becoming more forceful and the guitar returning for another attack, before the title track reigns things back, with some gentle vocals before Jenny Newman’s soaring violin takes us into the chorus and another fine piece of soloing from Andy Glass. That would have been a fine climax to the album, but there is an additional track, a rerecording of ‘Cheyenne’, a track from the 1984 debut album. This new version fits in well with a lot of the songs on ‘Sia’, reflective and multitracked vocals to the fore, and the chant at the end sounds almost plaintive before the band kick in behind Peter Helmsley’s drums.
Overall, Sia is an album that needs a few listens, at first it seems a quite thoughtful, atmospheric, and not exactly upbeat, album, but the more you listen, the more that atmosphere and its warmth and depth draw you in. It’s superbly played, and as much as I liked Emma Brown’s work, Jess Holland does a fine job on every song. Personally, I would have liked the emphasis to be more on the rockier songs, if that’s the right term, like ‘Shout’ and ‘Stand Up’, where, for me, the band are at their best, even if one of the highlights of this album is the closing passage of the title track. It’s good to see them back, let’s hope there’s a lot more where this came from.
- Reviewed by Paul Quinton
- Released by Giant Electric Pea Records on 23 November 2020
- Solstice’s Website and Facebook Page
- Love is Coming
- Long Gone
- Stand Up
- Seven Dreams
- A New day
- Cheyenne 2020