What initially sets Aphrodite's Child apart from their contemporaries on the psychedelic art rock scene is largely the product of their personal history, as opposed to any revolutionary musical techniques they developed or attempts at making groundbreaking advances within the confines of their genre. Rather, the fact that the band stand out is attributable to their origins, a phenomenon brought about by their place of birth and not any monumental strides in the field of rock and roll.
Aphrodite's Child are a trio of young Greek musicians; their heritage may not have a profound impact upon their style, but it's this very fact that made them a unique commodity in 1968. While myriad bands of the late sixties rock scene were producing music with psychedelic flourishes and deep artistic pretensions, such could not be said of their Greek equivalents, and thus by embracing these decidedly foreign elements Aphrodite's Child forged their own identity without doing anything radically different from what everyone else was doing at the time.
There is one other factor that differentiates them from their rock and roll brethren, however, and it's a crucial one, namely the presence of their leader and future renowned aural alchemist extraordinaire Vangelis Papathanassiou. While he wouldn't attain true fame until the group disbanded and he shed his last name, he was the primary creative force behind Aphrodite's Child and the sole true virtuoso of the trio.
It's Vangelis' keyboards that are at the forefront of nearly every song, and his technique is quite impressive even at such an early stage of his development. While he employs a plethora of experimental tricks to modify the sound of his keyboards, he doesn't hide behind his gimmicks or use them to mask deficiencies in his musicianship. He may not indulge in finger flashing solos a la Keith Emmerson, nor is he 'immaculate' on a technical level, but he's still a tremendous asset to the band and his performance on the album is beyond reproach.
It's certainly intriguing to chart Vangelis' progression from his early days in Aphrodite's Child to his subsequent solo career, but that doesn't mean that his development as a musician is the only object of interest on End Of The World. On the contrary, the songwriting throughout the album is already quite accomplished, and catchy melodies and hooks abound. In some respects the Aphrodite's Child depicted on End Of The World recall Peter Gabriel and company circa From Genesis To Revelation, a band of young and enthusiastic musicians overflowing with creativity, eager to prove their skill and intelligence at the cost of a few notable lapses of taste in the pretentiousness department but otherwise incredibly impressive on all fronts.
While ballads like the title track and the band's solitary hit Rain And Tears (a loose adaptation of a classical piece dramatically rearranged by Vangelis) could be dismissed as sappy or saccharine, they're sufficiently well crafted and executed that one should enjoy them without reservations. Demis Roussos' voice may take time to grow acclimated to given the perpetual sweetness of his delivery (a sweetness that's actually far more of an obstacle than his accent), but ultimately it's quite effective, to the point where most of the group's ballads are genuinely moving.
There's far more to the album than ballads, however. Don't Try To Catch A River is a fabulous pop song with a stupendous vocal melody, while the rocker You Always Stand In My Way proves that Aphrodite's Child can handle rougher material.
Even the much maligned Mister Thomas is not without its charms, a carnivalesque attempt at Brit-pop and music-hall that's worthwhile if only for the novelty of a Greek band even trying their hand at the genre.
Aphrodite's Child are very much an art rock ensemble, so more ambitious and adventurous content is inevitable. The dark psychedelia of The Grass Is No Green is a calculated risk that pays off, as everything from the menacing atmosphere to the multipart structure to the unforgettable macabre intonations of the refrain work to perfection. Such can't be said of the album's other epic, the tender Day Of The Fool, though while that track can be grating at times thanks to the vocal approach that Roussos assumes the song remains consistently entertaining for its full duration.
While The Shepherd And The Moon is too short to achieve epic status it's also one of the album's most experimental moments, from its exotic melody to its spoken-word passages; the latter's thankfully kept to a minimum, and thus one should focus on its immensely catchy refrain.
The reissue features myriad bonus tracks, and most of them are quite strong. Plastics Nevermore and Magic Mirror are stellar pop rockers, while The Other People is easily on par with any track from the album proper.
Thus End Of The World is a superb album that sadly enough will never achieve anything even vaguely reminiscent of mainstream exposure. Vangelis, despite his multitude of accolades, is still very much a cult figure, and thus Aphrodite's Child have largely been consigned to total obscurity.
One shouldn't be warded off by the stigma of the band's anonymity, however, as End Of The World is a hugely entertaining listen. Despite the album's undeniable artistic pretensions it's still not terribly deep or complex, but its brilliant songwriting adroitly compensates for these shortcomings, making for an album that's far more than a showcase for Vangelis' humble beginnings.
Aphrodite's Child's very existence is a defiance of many preconceptions pertaining to rock music, as a Greek ensemble indulging in psychedelia and rampant experimentalism hardly corresponds to most common notions about what constitutes a rock group in the late sixties. Therefore, given that the band actively flaunt their failure to conform to these preconceived notions, it's natural that they're exempt from adhering to the standard course of development for sixties art-rock outfits as well.
Most art-rock groups, after delivering their first album, would proceed to focus more intently on their unique artistic vision, harboring lofty ambitions for musical revolutions. Aphrodite's Child elect to abstain from this template, however, instead choosing to branch out into more and more diverse styles. While balladry, pop and psychedelic rock are hardly new territory for Vangelis and company, the band's oeuvre now encompasses everything from country to funk, as the band toy with a plethora of genres at the expense of any greater artistic statements.
Thus the risk that Aphrodite's Child take is born not from elevated artistic ambitions, but rather from a predilection for stylistic mimicry, embracing diversity as their chief aim where most groups would have aspired to sublime profundity.
What becomes abundantly clear as one listens to It's Five O'Clock is that Aphrodite's Child's conscious decision to reign in their ambitions on this outing is by no means a liability. Rather, this series of genre exercises affords the band the perfect opportunity to hone and refine their craft before tackling greater goals, providing a model that many art-rock groups would be well-served to emulate.
The product of this calculated hesitation is a superb sophomore effort in a similar vein to the band's previous album, albeit with a greater level of variety. The songwriting is comparably strong, while the performances are as impressive as ever. Roussos' vocals are profoundly expressive, and while at times they veer dangerously close to bombast he tends to negotiate the balance between emoting and over-emoting with deftness and precision.
While Vangelis essentially hijacked the group's creative direction on the subsequent album, It's Five O'Clock is still very much a band effort, complete with a greater amount of guitarwork when compared to its predecessor. This doesn't change the fact, however, that Vangelis' keyboards are still at the forefront of nearly song, and his mastery of his craft grows with each passing album.
The album opens on a high note with the gorgeous title track, a tender ballad that recalls the fragile beauty of Rain And Tears. While tracks like Wake Up, Take Your Time and Let Me Love, Let Me Live could all be labeled pop-rockers, this simply proves the inadequacy of an overly nebulous term, as Take Your Time incorporates elements of country into the mix, while Let Me Love, Let Me Live is a rousing, anthemic number that erupts into a rock and roll jam featuring wah-wah guitars and an extensive keyboard workout.
Elsewhere Annabella seems like an unassuming ballad at first until it explodes into its fiery crescendos, a standard soft/hard contrast used to perfection. Funky Mary emphasizes percussion to the near-exclusion of all else, but it still manages to sustain an infectious groove even with its limited instrumentation, while Good Time So Fine is a delightful retro number where Roussos adopts the inflections of an old-fashioned African-American singer.
Marie Jolie has little to offer on its own terms, but when taken in the context of an album that prizes diversity as its greatest asset it becomes far more palatable, though admittedly it's infinitely preferable when the tracks contain solid melodies instead of simply relying on their genre for the sake of variety.
Such A Funny Night ends the album proper, providing an ideal final impression for the listener with its charming lightweight pop. The CD extends further, however, offering three bonus tracks that one would be ill-advised to neglect.
Pathenon is basically a solo showcase for Vangelis' instrumental chops. Where Keith Emmerson would doubtless conjure myriad creative keyboard riffs and mind-blowing, finger-flashing solos, Vangelis is content to simply establish and maintain a tight, impressive melody. There's nothing to be ashamed of in his modest performance; on the contrary, one needn't launch into unbelievable sonic pyrotechnics to prove one's worth as a musician, and Vangelis is no less the virtuoso for taking a less-is-more approach.
Spring Summer Winter And Fall is another beautiful, catharsis-inducing ballad, while Air is insubstantial character-assassination that's closer to the Stones' Stupid Girl than Dylan's Idiot Wind on the wit level but is nonetheless an entertaining song in its own right.
Thus It's Five O'Clock is a very strong album that eschews monumental ambition in favor of diversity, and in the process paves the way for greater ambition in the future. Admittedly the following album seems to represent Vangelis' ambition as opposed to Aphrodite's Child's ambition, but nevertheless it's clear that 666 could never have existed without this album, ample proof that, towering pretensions or not, It's Five O'Clock was well worth the band's time, and well worth the listener's time as well.
There's no denying that 666 is a massive enterprise, a profoundly ambitious double album chronicling the apocalyptic saga of the Book Of Revelations (a feat that would subsequently be attempted by Genesis with their epic Supper's Ready). This is indeed the album that Aphrodite's Child's prior output had always hinted at, the culmination of all of the latent artistic tendencies demonstrated over the course of their first two efforts. If this album is any indication, however, the bulk of these dormant artistic pretensions can be attributed to Vangelis Papathanassiou, while the remainder of the trio focused on considerably less intellectually arduous undertakings.
While they weren't that prevalent, there were songwriting collaborations on End Of The World and It's Five O'Clock. On 666, however, this fašade of creative equality is overtly abandoned, as the cover of the album clearly states that 666 is "composed by Vangelis Papathanassiou," recalling the way that The Final Cut was an album by Roger Waters "performed by Pink Floyd."
Now that Vangelis is no longer concerned with keeping up appearances when it comes to his despotic stature in the band, he is free to make an album as defiantly uncommercial as possible. Nearly every aspect of 666 is a slap in the face of mainstream music, from its bloated, pretentious subject matter to its challenging, experimental nature to its complex, unorthodox arrangements to its uncompromising, self-indulgent length and character. Its first track is practically a declaration of war against the contemporary musical establishment, with its mantra-like repetition of 'we got the system/to fuck the system.'
This intentional alienation of mainstream goodwill certainly suits Vangelis' ambitions, but it's doubtful that it especially appeals to his colleagues. Judging by Demis Roussos' solo career, inaccessible experimentalism is thoroughly anathema to all of his aspirations, and it seems unlikely that Lucas Sideras is particularly eager to 'fuck the system.'
This tyrannical takeover of Aphrodite's Child may seem like a sign of narcissism and obnoxiousness on Vangelis' part, but it appears that it's his only recourse if he's to pursue his true ambitions. His aspirations clearly extend well beyond the scope of what the band had attempted on their previous ventures, and given the attitude and abilities of his bandmates it's quite likely that if something drastic wasn't done the group would simply succumb to inertia, producing an endless stream of solid but unadventurous art-pop that would satisfy their audience at the expense of Vangelis' deeper artistic pretensions.
Thus with Vangelis transparently at the helm Aphrodite's Child produced a work that trumped everything they'd done before in both scope and ambition. It seems inevitable that a project of this nature would be unapologetically pretentious, and I wouldn't dispute this; thanks to its very premise it's inherently pretentious. 666's pretentious nature, however, is diluted by the sheer musical diversity of the album. Rather than being confined to the stuffy, pompous and self-important style that the source material would suggest, 666 is a celebration of Vangelis' range, as Aphrodite's Child tackle everything from arena-rock to psychedelic pop to proto-ambient to funk to sound collages to folk, never allowing any style to outstay its welcome.
By embracing such diversity 666 manages to combat its pretentious nature. The variety of styles that the band indulge in, many of which are simply incompatible with a grave or somber sound, prevent the album from ever taking itself too seriously. While on some levels the band do take 666 quite seriously, there's a certain playfulness that manifests itself throughout the album, a product of a willingness to try anything that can lead to passages that are almost silly.
What's amazing is that even when all of these disparate genres are haphazardly merged together 666 still feels like a cohesive whole. This can be attributed to the unifying musical personality of Vangelis, who's truly in top form throughout the entire album. His songwriting is impeccable, as he excels at whatever form of music he tries his hand at, resulting in a consistently strong product with but a single glaring low point.
Despite the length of the double album 666 remains arresting for its full duration. Thanks to its diversity the listener is catapulted from style to style with no risk of ever growing bored. Within the first few minutes of the album the listener is exposed to myriad genres, as after Aphrodite's Child make their intention to 'fuck the system' clear the arena rock of Babylon (complete with fake audience noise) explodes from the speakers. From there Babylon segues into the melancholy Loud, Loud, Loud, which consists of a child's recitation of biblical passages regularly interrupted by the band's mournful singing of the title. The pathos of Loud, Loud, Loud is then replaced by the terrific psychedelic rocker The Four Horsemen, which may very well be the best track in the brief history of Aphrodite's Child with its brilliant vocal melody in its refrain and superb wah-wah guitar workout in its coda. This in turn gives way to The Lamb, an exotic delight that only a band with a European background would be in position to deliver to a broader audience.
This fluid shifting of styles transpires in a matter of minutes, and the album doesn't slow its pace from there. The rest of disc one contains other highlights, such as the minute-long concentration of rock and roll ecstasy called The Battle Of The Locusts and the irresistible funk-rocker The Beast.
The second disc is markedly weaker, but still quite strong. One would assume that the glaring low point that I mentioned was an allusion to the much maligned twenty minute epic All The Seats Were Occupied, but I was in fact referring to the execrable Infinity with its horrendously grating vocals and maddening monotony. I consider All The Seats Were Occupied, while consummately flawed, to be unjustly vilified. I can certainly relate to its detractors, and on paper it sounds like an egregious lapse of taste with its desultory, unstructured music overlapping with random samples from the rest of the album, but Vangelis ensures that the melodies are interesting enough to sustain one's attention for the full duration of the song.
The circumstances of 666 may not sound terribly conducive to a quality product, as essentially the album is a hyper-ambitious, pretentious opus from a power-crazed artist whose past exploits were all, to varying degrees, grounded in basic pop fundamentals. There's no denying that Vangelis was taking a huge risk with the album, and by relegating his bandmates to subservient roles the entire project was dependent on him and him alone. Fortunately, on this album Vangelis emerged as the artistic genius who would go on to become one of the premier composers in the history of modern music, and 666 is one of the greatest testaments to his considerable ability.
Furthermore, for rock connoisseurs 666 is one of Vangelis' most immediate works, as in the future his output would drift further and further from the genre of rock and roll. Thus 666 is truly Vangelis' rock and roll masterpiece, and a superb swansong from a talented group that delivered two high quality albums before two of its members were dragged, kicking and screaming, to new heights that they never could have achieved without the guidance of Greece's greatest rock icon.