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Machiavel: Jester (1977)

Machiavel was apparently one of the best known and most successful progressive rock bands to ever come out of Belgium. From 1976 to 1978 they released three progressive rock albums, Machiavel (1976), Jester (1977), and Mechanical Moonbeams (1978). Most of their reputation lies on the last two mentioned albums. Starting with Urban Games (1979) they went a more mainstream direction (not unlike Genesis), and they actually had a hit with “Fly” off the album New Lines (1980), but for the progressive rock fan (to my understanding), it’s pretty safe to avoid the stuff after Mechanical Moonbeams.

Jester is regarded as their first great album, and apparently the band benefitted greatly with the addition of vocalist Mario Guccio, who also played some flute, sax, and clarinet. Keyboardist Albert Letecheur really steals the show here with lots of electric piano, string synths, Minimoog, Mellotron and piano, while Roland De Greef provides bass, Marc Ysaye provides drums, and Jean Paul Delvaux provides guitars.

The band gets constantly compared with Genesis and Supertramp, and while the Supertramp comparisons might get some running, it mainly lies within Albert Letecheur’s electric piano work, which are much in the same style as what Rick Davies did with “Dreamer” and “The Logical Song”. Machiavel was nowhere as obsessed with studio perfection as Supertramp, neither were they anywhere as mainstream or pop-oriented (Machiavel only started going mainstream by 1979). “Wisdom” starts off with some pulsing synth sounds, then the string synths and guitar kick in. Some rather dramatic vocals kick in. It’s a great piece and a great way to open the album. “Sparkling Jaw” starts off with some spacy synths, in a rather slow manner, but then when the music kicks speed, the Supertramp influence (the electric piano) surfaces. “Moments” is a nice acoustic ballad done prog rock style, this reminds me most of Genesis during their more acoustic moments. The Mellotron rears it’s head for the first time on this album here, and the Mellotron would be heard for the remainder of the album. “In the Reign of Queen Pollution” has lyrics that don’t exactly need a rocket scientist to understand: about pollution and genetic mutation thanks to the consequence of pollution (including how after a thousand years children were born with the face in the shape of a gas mask). The song appropriately starts off in a rather dark and sinster matter with the string synths dominating. But the music starts picking up, Letecheur gives a nice Moog solo, then the music gets upbeat, for some strange reason, but the music is quite catchy. The title track has more of that Supertramp influence, but then at the end more nice synths that end this piece. “Mr. Street Fair” is a nice spacy piece dominated by string synths, with a circus-like atmosphere. “Rock, Sea and Tree” is the ending piece that has more great creative passages. What I admire is Machiavel is they also didn’t forget to create great songs, and make them interesting by including some great creative passages. It’s probably little wonder why they did so well in their native Belgium.

It’s amazing how this album even got released! I’m not referring to the music, of course, it’s the artwork inside the gatefold of the LP. The gatefold has very sexually explicit artwork, with lots of reference to oral sex and masturbation, and even a penis. Even so, the artwork is done surrealistically, as often you would see on many ’70s prog rock albums, just this one is perhaps the most sexually explicit art I ever seen on a prog rock album, even the cover to Frank Zappa’s Over-Nite Sensation is nothing compared to this! EMI (actually its division, Harvest, a label known for acts like Pink Floyd, Eloy, Triumvirat, Barclay James Harvest, etc.) actually released this album despite the artwork. I’m glad they did regardless of how controversial the artwork, at the risk of being banned.

There is no doubt about it, Jester is a great album to start if you don’t know Machiavel. And if you were turned off by them thanks to a later release such as New Lines, you’ll be glad to know Jester is much better. It comes highly recommended!
– Albert Letecheur: Grand piano, Electric piano, Honky tonk piano, Harpsichord, Solina String Ensemble, Mellotron, Synthesizers, Tubular bells, Glockenspiel
– Roland De Greef: Bass, Cellobass, 6 & 12 string acoustic guitar, Carillon, Bells, Whistle, Comb, Tape effects, vocals
– Marc Ysaye: Drums, Vocals, Tambourine, Maracas, Gong, Wood blocks, Glass blocks, Broken glass, Bells tree, Sleigh bells, Flextone, Nutcracker
– Mario Guccio: Vocals, Flute, Sax, Clarinet
– Jean Paul Delvaux: Electric guitar, 6 & 12 string acoustic guitar, Vocals

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