REVIEW: KINO – “Radio Voltaire”
It’s not at all uncommon in the modern era for working musicians to be a part of multiple bands, and very often with other leaders of other bands as well. Such a group is Kino from the UK. While not a household name, even within the prog rock community they are a part of, they’re a name most fans of modern prog are probably at least familiar with, even if they haven’t explored their one previous album that was released thirteen years ago. That at least describes what I’ve seen on prog forums, and is what I can say about myself. This was my intro to the band, and I found ‘Radio Voltaire’ to be a very worthy introduction indeed.
As said previously, Kino plays a modern style of prog rock, and with it there is a heavy pop presence as well. The music is very strong on melodies, and tight songwriting takes precedence over flashy technical playing. In this point it is quite similar to bassist Pete Trewavas’s main band Marillion, although musically the two don’t have a lot in common. Pete is the only member of the band whose music I’m familiar with, but guitarist/lead vocalist John Mitchell is a member of several other prog rock/pop bands (It Bites, Lonely Robot) and if this album is any indication, they are likely worthy of being explored. The band is rounded off by returning keyboardist John Beck, who is a guest musician this time around, and drummer Craig Blundell, both of whom give memorable performances.
The album starts off with the title track and the sound of crackling static, similar to a radio being brought into tune. Once the song properly starts it is with a wave of guitar and bass, and a wash of keys. It’s an ideal opening song and sets the musical stage for what will follow; strong melodies, emotive guitar work and solos, and a tight but understated rhythm section. The pop aspect of their music is very apparent in this song especially. It is, however, done in a good way, and is no way reminiscent of the sort of pop one hears on the radio. The title of the song and album reflect this. “Radio Voltaire” embraces the notion of a radio station dedicated to music that reflects the open minded ideas and freedom of expression put forth by the French philosopher whose name graces the title. In many ways the album could be looked at as a 55 minute section of the station’s airtime.
The first track is followed by the heavier and more musically aggressive “The Dead Club.” The guitars are crunchier this time around, and the bass and drumming more muscular as well. Despite the heavier nature the real star of the song is the key work and the textures and lightning fast playing. As is often the case, the higher pitched keyboard cuts through the denseness of everything else and heightens rather than decreases the heavier rock nature of the song. The same approach is taken later with “I Won’t Break So Easy Anymore” which is probably the hardest hitting song on the album, and my favorite.
On the other side of the coin are the lighter, slower placed songs, “Idlewild,” “Temple Tudor,” and “Warmth of the Sun.” These songs are more piano and acoustic based, and sung in slow, low key manner. Honestly I don’t like this side of the band nearly as much, and find a lot of to be rather bland and dull. Not because I have any problem with more quiet and slow music, quite the opposite, those are things I’m drawn to in much of my listening. I just don’t find Kino’s way of doing it to be very interesting. The melodies are still pleasant, and the songs themselves inoffensive and many people will probably get more out of them than I.
The album ends with “The Silent Fighter Pilot” and is one of the more unique songs on the album. I originally found it a lack luster ending, but the more I listened to it the more it grew on me, and its strength and power became more evident. Without the lyrics I can’t be positive what airline or military disaster the song is referencing, but the vocals are grittier than in earlier songs and the anger aimed at the world today is quite apparent. The song starts quietly and piano based for the first half, before descending into a dark, guitar heavy maelstrom of music, pierced by electric keys. It’s extremely effective and really is a perfect ending to the album, it just took me a while to realize it.
‘Radio Voltaire’ is a solid and very worthwhile example of modern prog rock, with heavy leanings towards electro-pop as well. After a 13 year wait, Kino have delivered a follow-up that should not only appeal to fans of their earlier work and the bands the various members are a part of, but draw in prog fans who appreciate strong song writing and memorable melodies while not sacrificing the driving rock nature of much of the music. Recommended.