(All Album Reviews by Britdude)
Jacques Roman: Keyboards
Victor Bosch: Drums & Percussion
Gilbert Gandil: Guitars & Vocals
Roland Richard: Flute, Piano, String Ensemble
Phillipe Roman: Bass Guitar
The evidence is enticing. Just as the British and German prog scenes had reached their zeniths, the French scene started to heat up. No one seems to want to mention the great prog musician disappearances of the mid-Seventies, but since it is my sworn duty to inform you, dear reader, of The Truth, let me remind our older members of the fact that many prog musicians seemed to return to their studios around '76-'77 with something of their essences having been removed. Some might employ such outlandish theories as alien abduction in an effort to explain this change. Perhaps some musicians even played out their fears of abduction in song ("Me Oh My, There's a Light in the Sky"), while others simply soldiered on in the hopes that they might be spared.
It has now become clear that the abduction theory isn't so outlandish after all. But rather than lay the blame at the hands of mythical aliens, I'm more inclined to point the finger at...the French. Yes, it's true. Through a combination of techniques akin to Vulcan mind-meld, the French abducted and assimilated the creative essences of many of the greatest musicians of the day. In the process, they created their own kind of Frankenstein monster. But OH....what a monster! Indeed the greatest of many strands of progressive rock was strangely merged into a very unique combination of sound and talent that became known as Pulsar.
Meaningless drivel aside, let me state now that it is impossible for me to recommend this band to you highly enough. Nothing that I could put into words here could convey the sheer elegance and beauty of this band's early work. Others may have pioneered much of the territory that Pulsar explored on their debut, but few brought together so many elements with such dignified simplicity, as did this group of Frenchmen.
If forced to categorize Pulsar, I would have to choose the term Symphonic Space Rock. In fact, what was sometimes described as "The French Pink Floyd" started life performing Floyd covers. But the comparison is grossly unfair, since Pulsar had their own personality, taking elements from many sources and merging them together to create their own sound. Take the keyboardists, for instance. Imagine Peter Bardens and Klaus Schulze mind-melding with Tony Banks, and you have Jacques Roman: a master of the symphonic mellotron, spacey sound effects, atmosphere, and driver of melodic harmony in sympathy with the other lead players all in one. Add to that Roland Richard's gorgeous flute and additional keys, a subtly creative rhythm section and wonderfully fuzzed-out guitar, and you are left with a sound which is at once unique and familiar. In all senses of the word, "classic" progressive rock.
The eponymous entitled opening track is a bold statement of intent. Dominated by drum rolls that phase across the channels, the listener is placed squarely in the drummer's stool while being immersed by swathes of soaring fuzz guitar. One is reminded of seeing Nick Mason in the Pompeii concert, and perhaps the closing sounds of the out-of-breath runner exist as a nod towards their heroes' work on DsotM.
The first track merges into one of the most beautiful songs that I have ever heard. Sung entirely in the band's native tongue, “Apaisement” is a stately-paced tour de force of elegant simplicity and romanticism. Steeped in reverb, the vocal conveys a land of dreams as the undulating melody swims through your consciousness like waves gently lapping on a star-lit shore. The simple, laid back vocal melody (think Floyd's “Echoes”) is beautifully picked up by Gilbert Gandil's acoustic guitar before a second verse presages some of the most gorgeous Latimer-like flute and surging mellotron that you will ever hear. The listener is left breathless and in a state of deep meditation by song's end.
Pulsar create a dramatically different mood on “Puzzle/Omen”, with their most grandiose prog chops displayed. Here, fuzz-heavy guitar intertwines with wordless vocals and more of that wonderful flute over a solid and varying backbone provided by a driving rhythm section. What follows is the one piece of English (spoken-word poetry recited by Carmel Williams). It's the kind of thing that was often picked out as openly pretentious by the prog-hating music press, but nevertheless (with the understated piano and wordless backing vocal as accompaniment) works well within the context of the piece. This song takes the listener through many moods: shiver-up-the-spine grandiosity to quiet contemplation...and, MAN! That mellotron/guitar combination!
The first song on the second (think vinyl) side seems to naturally lead on from the closer on side one, and reminds me a little of Ummagumma-era Floyd: atmospheric and with dark underpinnings. Pulsar, nevertheless prove to be more accomplished in the use of various time signatures to create pace and mood. The music itself here seems to tell a story, describing beauty and softness but also confusion and fear. The listener is taken on a roller coaster of emotion throughout, but the underlying tone is one of darkness and dissonance.
The fifth, and closing title track commences with soaring guitar and flute interplay followed by a vocal that describes a slow-paced and beautiful melody that seems almost like a prayer, evoking the most powerful of emotions from the listener. In it's beauty, and with its understated acoustic piano and guitar accompaniment, it may even draw a tear.
The album aptly closes with the sound of the surf lapping on some distant French shore, leaving the listener in a state of deep contemplation, having been shown a window into the finest part of the human soul.
My love of this album is obviously great indeed, but rarely have I come across a band that so perfectly encapsulates so much of what I love about progressive rock. To me, Pollen has given that same sense of discovery that I originally had with Close to the Edge or Foxtrot. Pulsar would go on to make more great (and perhaps even more fully-formed) music on their next album. But there is something about Pollen in which the five pieces flow into one balanced and symmetrical whole that has given it a very special place in my heart...and if this is the result of Franco/Vulcan mind-meld, well...you can count me in!