(All Album Reviews by Reginod)
Observations and ruminations and opinions concerning Wigwam's Light Ages:
This was Wigwam's "comeback" album, released in 1993, 16 years after Dark Album and the ensuing band breakup. Perhaps it had seemed like light ages since the band had worked together, hence the title.
There were two new band members: Mikko Rintanen sat at the keyboards, and Jan Noponen took the drum seat, after the passing in 1980 of original drummer Ronnie Osterberg. Rintanen especially was a good choice at the time, because he turned in some brief but excellent soloing which gives a proper nod to the enormous legacy of Jukka Gustavson. Check out his turn on "Talking Brought Me Here" for an example of his abilities.
The production was fully modernized, with a digital clarity replacing the analog glow that had (obviously) been the hallmark of the earlier albums. The sound is louder and cleaner, but thankfully not overly slick, and it contains some subtle touches which reveal themselves upon close listening. For example, the album begins and ends with the slight crackle that was common with LPs. It was an effect that many artists used in the era of the CD, and Wigwam used it here to provide bookends to the album.
Wigwam's sound was streamlined in the mid-to-late 1970s, after keyboardist Jukka Gustavson and bassist Pekka Pohjola left the band. The ensuing albums Nuclear Nightclub and The Lucky Golden Stripes And Starpose did not contain the complex compositions and soloing of the preceding albums Fairyport and Being, but the band still pulsated with a progressive vibe and a rich harmonic and melodic sensibility, alongside singer Jim Pembroke's penchant for quirky, Beatles-and-The Band-influenced songwriting. 1977's Dark Album made a small step in a more conventional rock direction, and Light Ages went a full stride further in that direction.
Pembroke's voice had changed quite a bit over the years. His singing is deeper and gruff, very different from the smooth, higher-register quality that it had during most of Wigwam's 1970s heyday. On "Talking Brought Me Here" and parts of "Absalom," he recites the lyrics as opposed to singing them.
The opening track "Borders To Be Crossed" sounds more like a Van Morrison song than anything Wigwam had ever recorded, featuring some saxophone accents from Heikki Keskinen. For better or for worse it would set something of a precedent for Wigwam albums to come; it was one of many Pembroke-only tunes that would be featured over the course of Light Ages, Titan's Wheel and Some Several Moons. "Pleasure Street" also features Keskinen on saxophone, and is also quite Van Morrison-esque.
The better pieces here tend to be the ones that Pembroke and guitarist Pekka Rechardt wrote together. "Absalom" is a minor gem in Wigwam's catalogue; "The Next Breakfast" is more of a straightforward mid-tempo rock tune, albeit steeped in melancholy and mysticism.
Rechardt's playing follows in the tradition electric blues that came of age in the 1960s. His choice of notes is similar to Eric Clapton, but his tone is closer to that of Jimmy Page. He turns in a nimble blues solo on the otherwise forgettable "False Alarm," but his playing reaches another level altogether when he plays more adventurous chord structures. A good example is "Crystal Ball," where Rechardt's ascending progression adds some welcome substance to an otherwise average tune.
Three songs on Light Ages are mostly pointless remakes of earlier Wigwam (or Pembroke solo) classics. "No New Games" was a Pembroke solo tune that Wigwam often played live, alongside "Grass For Blades." Originally featured on the album of the same name, "Tombstone Valentine" is played here with a bouncy, carnivalesque vibe, and it is louder but lacks the folkish mystique of the original. "Friend From The Fields" is also given a more in-your-face reading, but its power is heightened by Rintanen's organ and piano accents. It ends with a beautiful crescendo fadeout, before fading back in with "A Day In The Life"-style sustained piano chord and some cryptic backwards speaking amidst the slight LP crackle.
Overall, not a bad rock album. Not a great album, either. The playing and production are excellent, and Pembroke's lyrics are still keen. Light Ages is worth it for long-haul Wigwam-heads, but it will probably be a disappointment for anyone expecting even second or third-tier progressive rock. For Wigwam, those days are done.