Translated and adapted by Vlad Borlea
Despite the fact it is signed Phoenix, "In Umbra Marelui Urs" looks more like a solo project of Nicu Covaci. His importance in the story and legend of the band, perhaps the equivalence Covaci - Phoenix is undoubted. Still, the name Phoenix in this case is, if not pushed in front, at least uninspired. The legal or moral right of the chapter "with the bear" (who is great and casts a shadow) is not in question, but it being situated in the line of the band's realisations or in the individual projects of its members. If Ian Anderson left several times the name Jethro Tull aside (and I settle with this example), I don't think it would have been a problem for Covaci to do the same thing.Translations:
This aspect can be easily overlooked, but that of its release (justification) is, let's say, analysable. In the '60s, Covaci & co. were completely aligned to the western rock ideas and means of expression, not having the possibilty of manifesting themselves to the extent of the artistic possibility they had proven, but having no real competition in the country. In the '70s, we find a Phoenix fully grown-up at an artistic level, mastering the means of expression, trying to find its way towards international appreciation by walking on the path already treaded by the great names (Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd), which had a considerable advance. Their attitude and a series of "happy events" helped our heroes stay on the floating line. The '80s bring a (tentative of) band which fights its own limits (which eventually win the battle). Since the '90s, Phoenix have been continuously returning home. Having the advantage of great popularity, which they deserve entirely, the very popular band performs under the sign of jubilees, reunions and, the worst, of major improvisations (in a pejorative sense). There are never conditions for what (theoretically) could be done. Those great amounts of cash with which anyone could get anywhere are missing. A popular question is if Baniciu is showing up or not at the concert where he should be the lead singer. And should he arrive, will he remember the lyrics?
If in the '80s, under the sign of frustrations (and unfulfilments), came the stagnation on a previous level, the anachronism becomes more acute in the '90s. With 1981's Transsylvania a success could have been recorded... ten years earlier; with In Umbra Marelui Urs nothing would have happened thirty years ago as it doens't happen now. The history of rock music is on the side of those who bring innovations. Led Zeppelin is in the focus of specialized encyclopedias, which are very reserved with Deep Purple. The first opened a road, while the others merely "widened" it.
"Nesfarsita Lupta"(1), a so-called "monumental" song (the '80s-like sound of which leads to the question: why this in 2000?) is a mixture between musical ideas typical for the band and a militant attitude, like that on Steppenwolf's Born To Be Wild. The syncopated rhythm is strongly amplified by the verse - chorus alternance, this "fixed structure" having a portant function for the guitar solos, developed in the (hard-rock) classic manner. Far from Covaci's previous creations, "Nesfarsita Lupta" is nevertheless the best moment on the album.
"Afganistan"(2) follows the rhythmic idea used on the previous track over which some themes with an oriental character are added. Nothing of importance happens, neither regarding the composition, nor the interpretation. The "Islamic" incantation in the beginning is a (gratuitous) element of colorisation. Hearing at a certain point some "Russian" words makes us think we are dealing with another "filed" work dating since the Sovietic occupation in the region. The (obvious) idea would be that of resistance through culture. From a different point of view it is a pretext for diversification and, at the same time, a truly commercial moment. Covaci's only creation that could be very well listened in an elevator.
"Numai Una"(3) is the worst point of the album and maybe of the protagonist's entire career, which is fortunately recommended by many important successes. Given the context I consider indicated to pass over this subject.
"Iovano, Iovanke"(4) - presented: ethnic Macedonian song, continues the diversification process, but also the departure from rock. Could this be the search for a new target-audience?
"Ora-Hora"(5) keeps a shred of Phoenix in its glory period, but the various resemblances with hard rock songs of the '70s is, again, conspicuous. As for the conceptual level, the great problem is how to cosmeticize the "loans". Indeed, this is done very well, but like in the joke with the man and the zebra on the desert island (where he asks the woman which had arrived after some time to hold the zebra for him), the energy could have been used for better purposes.
With Ciprian Porumbescu's "Balada"(6), Nicu Covaci shows the world that he can play this work on the guitar. "The Measure Of A Man"(7) can remind of Paul Kantner, Ian Anderson and of the '80s Phoenix.
"Mesterul Manole"(8) is the re-recording of a classic Phoenix tune, (much) less inspired than the original.
"In Umbra Marelui Urs"(9) is, apparently, a song that Covaci cares about very much, as he insisted to produce and to include it on the album. The message can be found at the lyrical level. Otherwise, we are dealing with a mere accompaniment.
"Liber"(10) is a classic hard rock composition. Here, as well as on the rest of the album, the "gaps" in the rhythmic section can be plainly seen.
"Ceata"(11) ends (at last!) a page that drives Nicu Covaci away from what he had previously done with the great Phoenix story. The music is not at all bad and in no way good. Compared to what has been done in Romania the last few years (decades) it can even be something nice. But, unfortunately, not interesting.
This article could be very well called "The Emperor's Clothes". As long as we don't admit things to be as they are, nothing can be changed in good. Personally, I wait for the appearance of the first Romanian band that can impose itself in an established system of values. And, why not, this could even be called Phoenix... ?
In Umbra Marelui Urs - In The Shadow Of The Great Bear
Nesfarsita Lupta - The Endless Struggle
Numai Una - Only One
Balada - The Ballad
Liber - Free
Ceata - The Horde