Band Rating: 3

  • Affinity

    Affinity (1970)
    Page Rating: 10
    Overall Rating: 13

    History can sometimes be forgiving to groups and artists with very small discographies, but this generally requires extenuating circumstances. Blind Faith only had a single album, but its cast of marquee names ensured that the band would not soon be forgotten. Joy Division and Nick Drake produced a mere two and three albums, respectively, but the fact that this was due to suicide in both cases simply added to their mystique.

    When looked at from this perspective, perhaps the best possible career move for Affinity, a long forgotten art-rock outfit who only released a single LP, would have been for one or more of its members to commit suicide.

    It certainly seems that the drab, non-theatrical dissolution of Affinity hasn't earned them a place of importance in rock history. This is understandable, as with only one album and a standard break-up the group were unremarkable in both life and death, with no dramatic career moves to differentiate Affinity from their contemporaries.

    The fact of the matter, however, is that this obscurity is criminal. Affinity may have but a solitary album to their name, but this outing happens to be a brilliant one. The group may not have been given the chance to grow and develop, but one LP is all they need to prove themselves to be one of the best art-rock ensembles of their era.

    Affinity's style of choice is a melting-pot of jazz, blues and art rock. While all five members of the band are gifted, the standouts are clearly singer Linda Hoyle and keyboardist Lynton Naiff.

    Hoyle is a versatile vocalist who can seamlessly shift from banshee-like howling to tender fragility. While there are plenty of singers who can unerringly hit every note, few remain as consistently expressive as Hoyle, whose passion is never diluted no matter what vocal range she explores.

    Naiff tends to dominate the band's arrangements. Many of Affinity's songs hinge upon his catchy organ-riffs, while his fluid keyboard solos are the most striking component of the group's jams.

    The most puzzling aspect of Affinity's self-titled album is the paucity of original compositions. When Hoyle and company pen their own songs, the results are invariably brilliant. Whether it's with the soaring vocal melodies and intricate solos of Night Flight or the irresistible pop hooks on the rocker Three Sisters, the band demonstrate a knack for catchy, well-developed songwriting. Despite this, the album favors covers over Affinity's own handiwork, a strange situation that's close to frustrating.

    Fortunately the band are masterful arrangers as well. This can be seen on their reinvention of the Everly Brothers' I Wonder If I Care As Much, as well as on their cover of Dylan's All Along the Watchtower. On the latter Naiff truly shines, as he uses the song as a springboard for an amazing array of organ solos. Thus even when Affinity don't compose their own music, they still manage to make each song their own.

    It's truly a pity that Affinity didn't last beyond a single album. There are myriad possible explanations for this brevity. Arriving during the heyday of progressive rock, perhaps the band recognized that they couldn't match the immaculate technique and instrumental complexity of the likes of King Crimson. Needless to say, there's also the ever-present possibility that the band-members simply didn't get along with one another. Regardless of the reason, it's unfortunate that a band with the potential of Affinity never got the chance to grow and develop with time.

    Thankfully, this generation of music connoisseurs will have the chance to listen to more than the mere seven songs that audiences in the seventies were exposed to. The CD reissue adds eight new tracks, practically doubling the length of the original album. All eight songs prove worthwhile, especially for listeners who have been starved for more Affinity material for the past forty years.

    Thus I strongly recommend Affinity for virtually any fan of art-rock. While the lack of original songs is both trying and baffling, the band redeem themselves through creative new arrangements. It's doubtless that later albums would have improved the balance between originals and covers, but sadly that possibility was never realized. Nevertheless, Affinity remains a strong album, one that establishes a unique identity for a band whom I feel could have coexisted with their prog-rock contemporaries even without the obligatory technical perfection.