British progressive rock band Renaissance released their ninth studio album, Azure D’Or, in May 1979. This album features what may fans consider to be the band’s ‘classic’ line up of Annie Haslam (lead vocals), John Tout (keyboards), Jon Camp (bass), Michael Dunford (guitar) and Terry Sullivan (drums).
There were a lot of changes following the release of this album, including the departures of Tout and Sullivan as well as the band being dropped from their label Sire (under the Warner Brothers umbrella). In many respects, it is a transitional album for the band.
There was a lot riding on Azure D’Or. The band’s previous album, A Song For All Seasons (1978), was their most successful in the UK and featured “Northern Lights,” their only top ten single and the only charting single in their career.
In terms of music, the band rose above expectations and released one of their best studio albums. The music is still ‘progressive’ and complex, but the songs are shorter and perhaps more accessible than previous albums. Haslam’s voice is in fine form, as is Cam’s, on the stunningly beautiful “Only Angels Have Wings.”
The album opens with the wonderful “Jekyll And Hyde.” Haslam adds just the right flair to the dark lyrics and sets the tone for the album. This is quickly followed by “The Winter Tree,” which is about as far away stylistically and lyrically from the prior track as possible. There’s no dark mystery here, but instead a beautiful song full of musical and lyrical imagery. Unfortunately, neither single charted nor helped raise awareness of the album.
Side two follows the same pattern as side one with five fantastic, shorter-form progressive rock songs. With “Secret Mission” and “Kalynda (A Magical Isle),” bassist Jon Camp continues to demonstrate his ability to compose very distinct and truly original songs. Again, both are beautifully melodic and full of wonderful lyrics that make them a joy to listen to.
There was one other song recorded during the sessions, “Island Of Avalon.” The band reportedly did not feel they finished the song, so it wound up being used as a B-side for “The Winter Tree.” It is included here as a bonus track, along with the seven-inch edit of “Jekyll and Hyde” and an extended version of “Friends.” These additions to the reissue are most welcome.
Audiophiles will likely be most interested in the Blu-Ray disc, which includes Stephen W Tayler’s new stereo & 5.1 mixes of the album in high-resolution. The new stereo mix sounds amazing. Tayler does not meddle with the original production, but rather presents a cleaner, crisper rendition.
However, it is the 5.1 mix that proves to be the more interesting listening experience. Tayler has successfully separated the various instruments and voices in a way that really allows the listener to hear each musician’s contribution. The ambient sounds are there throughout, but really the focus is on the band and Haslam’s singing. Her voice is brought to the forefront and sounds fantastic. Three bonus tracks (“Island Of Avalon,” “Friends (Extended Version),” and “Jekyll and Hyde (Single Edit)”) are also included in 5.1 and sound incredible alongside the original album.
In addition to the new mixes, the Blu-Ray features promo films shot at London’s Bray Studios of the band performing “Jekyll and Hyde,” “Forever Changing,” and “The Winter Tree.” There is also footage of the band at The Mill House performing “Secret Mission” and “Carpet Of The Sun” (from 1973’s Ashes Are Burning).
The set comes packaged in a small, well-put-together box with great liner notes. Fans of the band will definitely enjoy it and the brilliant 5.1 mix might just win over new converts. Although Azure D’Or was not the commercial success the band or label had hoped for at the time, the album has aged well. Esoteric Recordings have put together yet another wonderful box set, no doubt one of their best to date.