Spectrum – Part One

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Spectrum emerged from the Australian Progressive rock scene in 1969, Melbourne, where they performed mostly covers by the likes of Pink Floyd and Soft Machine. Although it wasn’t long until lead singer and guitarist Mike Rudd began writing his own material, which was a mixture of many of the English prog bands he had been listening to at the time. Originally issued on EMI’s progressive label Harvest in 1971, Spectrum Part One was one of the most unique and significant local rock albums of its day, one that is remembered mostly for “I’ll Be Gone”, the group’s first and only #1 hit in Australia. But there is so much more to the LP than just that song, as anyone already familiar with their debut will be well aware of.

“Make Your Stash” (written by Ross Wilson, of Daddy Cool fame) is the stoner friendly opener, full of Lee Neale’s moody keyboard/organ and plenty of paranoid time changes, to the extent that it could be three or four songs all rolled into one (no pun intended). The twelve minute “Fiddling Fool” borrows heavily from the aforementioned Pink Floyd, with perhaps a slight nod to Traffic also, which means we get lots of atmospheric solos a la Rick Wright and Roger Waters, 100% guaranteed to put any pothead into a deep trance, but be careful, because a bit of astral travel might not be out of the question either. Towards the end, the song builds in a similar way to The Doors’ “The End” (clearly Neale must have been an admirer of Ray Manzarek), before returning to the song’s beginning.

“Super Boy” could be an extension of the previous piece, on which Neale’s keyboards dominate for the most part, until the band drift off into a hypnotic mid section along with some lovely trippy flute for added texture (what, no guitar solo!). Now Rudd may not have been in the same league as Robert Fripp or David Gilmour, yet his technique is extremely fluid and melodic, a style put to good effect on “Drifting”, the shortest song here and a well constructed one at that. The arrangement is tight although one which might have allowed the band to extend it by at least another ten minutes or more, and probably would have were it not for the limitations of vinyl.

On the strangely titled “Mumbles I Wonder Why” the listener can practically smell the weed emanating through the speakers. Rudd’s distinctive vocals rise and fall, like a nasally Peter Gabriel, while both organ and flute ethereally float and intertwine with eachother, creating a wonderful nebulosity of sound all its own.

The 2002 remastered edition (there is a 2007 deluxe release by Aztec Music for the completist) has two bonus tracks attached to the end, the rocking “Launching Place Part 2”, and of course the classic “I’ll Be Gone”, a blues song apparently recorded as an “afterthought” according to Rudd (who also wrote it). It remains the band’s most well known tune, and one the listener will likely find difficult to erase from their memory after hearing. However the success of “I’ll Be Gone” would prove to be a fluke, since nothing they recorded over the next few years would come close in terms of popularity (it’s the song Rudd still performs to this day in front of adoring baby boomers). But that didn’t mean they were in any way short of followers – a fan base that was as faithful as it was solid.

As progressive rock bands went in the early ‘70s, Spectrum was one of the finest. Their blend of clever arrangements and sophisticated playing has meant that Part One has managed to weather the ravages of over four decades of musical trends better than most. For fans of Ummagumma era Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, early Genesis, or progressive rock in general, then Spectrum are probably right up your alley.