Roger Hadden / drums, piano, pipes organ
Tony Hill / guitar, vocals, acoustic guitar, organ
Simon House / electric violin, organ, piano
Peter Pavli / bass guitar
If it was a bit longer, High Tide's self-titled, sophomore effort would fully deserve masterpiece status. As things are, though none of the three original tracks is shorter than 8 minutes (the longest clocking in at almost 15), it is hardly more than a glorified EP. The sound quality, however, is miles ahead of their debut, the near-legendary Sea Shanties; it is also more accomplished on the compositional level, relying less on the rawer, wall-of-sound effects of the previous album, and more on clarity and complexity of sound textures. The overall effect is not just one of dark intensity, but also of intriguing sophistication, coupled with a vaguely oriental tinge and a definitely greater ear for melody.
Album opener, "Blankman Cries Again", provides a link with the previous record's heavier, darker sound, though without Sea Shanties' distinctive harshness. The band's trademark interplay between violin and guitar is still very much present, though along clearer, more elegant lines. The sheer electric aggression of the debut is toned down, as in "The Joker", featuring an acoustic coda in which the sound of Simon House's violin assumes an almost lyrical quality. Album closer, the epic "Saneonymous", is also its highpoint, starting with a stunningly virtuosic dialogue between guitar and violin, underpinned by pounding, intricate bass lines, before Tony Hill's evocative vocals kick in, wistful and almost romantic. Then, it is time for an extended, distorted guitar solo, which stops almost abruptly and morphs into a reprise of the main theme. The final duel between the melodious tone of the violin and the harshness of the guitar is nothing short of magnificent.
Though the four band members are all very accomplished, the violin is still the undisputed protagonist of the band's sound. It is a pity that Simon House gets way too easily overlooked (in favour of more famous names, such as Eddie Jobson or David Cross) whenever prog violinists are discussed - even without considering his achievements of the following years, the first two High Tide albums show the quality of his musicianship. Tony Hill's voice also sounds much cleaner on this album, its low-pitched tones still reminiscent of Jim Morrison, but with a stronger personal touch.
The album's stunning cover artwork is pure '70s, a perfect foil for its musical content: a riot of colours and crazy shapes spelling the band's name on a black background. Whether you want to consider it proto-prog, psychedelic prog, or even proto-prog-metal, this fantastic slice of music may fall short of a true masterpiece, but it is nonetheless almost essential listening to any dedicated prog fan. 4.5 stars out of 5.
N.B. High Tide's 2006 remastered edition contains four bonus tracks, including alternative versions of "The Joke" and "Blankman Cries Again". The above review, however, refers to the original 1970 edition