on December 11, 2011
Each song of this album is somewhat like the re-creation of some old songs from their past albums. From the first piece to the last, if you have listened to their past ones, you will immediately get a feeling like this part is evolved from this song or that song. I can't agree with some of the reviews here noting that this is addition to the white stone. Actually it has no similarities to that album, instead quite a few melodies were inherited from the last album, earth songs. Rolf is definitely running out of his inspiration, and deeply trapped into his own past composition and formulas, that's why this group has gradually added vocals to their old songs to make money. If you never heard their past albums before, you might find this one is good and haunting. But if you compare it to their past classic ones, this one only deserves one-time listening, and 2 stars is the best rating I could give.
on December 13, 2011
People do seem to have a problem categorizing Secret Garden. I've found them filed over the years under Rock, Pop, Folk, World, New Age, Easy Listening and Classical. Wikipedia has them listed under Neoclassical performers, a type of New Age, but they are certainly Easy to Listen to, and the music is definitely influenced by Irish and (more recently) Chinese Folk music, and, I imagine, Norwegian too. It certainly isn't Rock, and it isn't Ambient in the way I understand Ambient. It is composed and structured; and it is sometimes played in stores and lifts. That puts many people off.
This review is really for those people like me who appreciated the early Neoclassical approach but found it steadily eroded as each album came out. 'Earthsongs', the last 'real' SG release, seemed to be pushing a specifically Christian message in the place of the 'World peace and love' of previous works (The Christianity in 'You Raise Me Up', from the album before it, is very subtly limited to the St Francis imagery in the line 'I am strong when I am on your shoulders', a reference that few non-Christians would recognize); as a non-practising Christian I felt I was being preached to, and avoided Earthsongs' songs in favour of the instrumental tracks. In that area there was also a very deliberate broadening of style, far removed from the first album's uniformity: remove 'The Rap' from 'Songs From a Secret Garden' and you have 40 minutes or so of some of the most beautiful chill out music I know. I understand the need to diversify, but even apart from the lyrics, 'Earthsongs' didn't quite do it for me. (See my review, 'Not their best, but...' on amazon.co.uk).
That was 2005 and I thought I would find out by 2007 if the muse had gone; but here we are, six years after Earthsongs, with 'Inside I'm Singing' the only official SG release in the interim; and if your opinion of SG's career isn't too different from mine, you'll join me in passing over that particular project. I checked out the SG website from time to time, but was caught out by the release of 'Winter Poem'. (In the Northern hemisphere. Those below the equator have to wait until their winter to get it!) I've bought every SG release so far, but I was far from sure I wouldn't be throwing my money away on this one, and the reviews didn't inspire me: it isn't a criticism of the 4 and 5 star reviewers to date to say that I suspect many of them like SG for different reasons to me. Also, the group's website states that the new album was "arranged for symphony", which suggested that it might not have the simplicity of their best work. So I spun it up, and...
...liked it from the opening notes!
It's a very clear production, it's very well played, and it's a clear return to an earlier style: I would agree with another reviewer and say it strongly recalls 'White Stones'. Based on a couple of plays, it doesn't reach the highs of 'White Stones', but it is the first SG release since that album to hit the button right on the nose, on several tracks, first time. This might even have been a conscious decision: compare the titles, 'Winter Poem', 'White Stones'. Pretty similar, with the vowels - ie oe - identical. Probably a coincidence, but a telling one.
The downside? The lyrics of some of the songs remain explicitly Christian, one of them is preachingly ecological, and I just don't like any of them. I love Irish airs and ballads (Planxty, The Bothy Band etc), and like all of the singers' voices on this disc, but these songs just grate on me. I've found that with repeated plays the same effect on some of SG's songs on the last 2 or 3 releases has worn off a little, and I've even got to be a little fond of one or two of them, but on this album I'm more inclined to play the six more traditional 'Songs From Secret Garden' - the instrumentals. So one star off.
And that leaves the album's last track, 'Suite: Prelude, Intermezzo, Polka'. Say what? A suite? Fourteen and a half minutes long? SG rarely step outside of 5 mins; their longest to date has been the title track from 'Dawn Of A New Century', at 6:33, so in length at least, this is something of a departure. And otherwise? Well, no, it even references 'Nocturne' from the first album. After a couple of plays it seems a bit fuller than the rest of the album, and obviously longer, but in style very much trademark SG.
As per my comment under Q. Zhao "silentwings" review, I disagree that this is formula music. The arrangement, strings, piano, violin, is common to much of their work, but Chopin based most of his career on just one of those instruments, and Satie wrote more than one Gymnopedie. Self-reference is commonplace in art, and I've always felt that much of SG's work is just that, 'art'. Simple, polished, (usually) unpretentious, art. 'Winter Poem' is more of the same. Enjoy!