Focus – Focus 3
As the title cleverly suggests, this was Dutch band Focus’ third album.
Where the best-selling predecessor “Moving Waves” was a mostly tight and somewhat aggressive album, “Focus 3” is, by comparison, a much looser and free-form work.
Over the length of two vinyl albums, Thijs van Leer, Jan Akkerman and the rest of the band are able to showcase their skills in compositions that often resemble little more than jazz jams.
“Round Goes the Gossip” is – to be blunt – a pretty insipid way to kick any album off. It sound like Van Leer was trying to write a traditional pop song, and it falls terribly short of its mark.
“Love Remembered” is much more what we came to expect from the band, flute and acoustic guitar slowly giving way to lightweight drums. Every time I hear it I am, for some reason, always reminded of John Barry’s instrumental interludes for the early James Bond films.
“Sylvia” was the hit single from the album, Akkerman – like so many times before – bouncing his virtuoso guitar work off Van Leer’s keyboard and… erm… yodelling skills. Yes, yodelling. I have always loved how the song sounds like it’s ending… and then just kicks back into gear again before slowly fading.
“Carnival Fugue” exemplifies the ‘jam’ aspect of this entire album, featuring as it does a gentle lilting intro that suddenly builds into a substantial – but often muddy – drum/guitar/organ/piccolo playoff routine.
“Focus III” remains one of my favourite tracks by the band. I love how Akkerman’s guitar sounds throughout its six-minute or so length. It’s a beautifully restrained piece of work, the dynamics (at least for me) utterly captivating. It’s another composition that almost sounds as if it was purpose made as some kind of film soundtrack… I remain surprised the band were never approached by Hollywood in that regard. (btw, the YouTube clip selected for this cut is a vastly inferior recent live version of the song withOUT Akkerman on guitar – it stands up okay but it feels like some kind of weird karaoke performance by comparison)
“Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!” really kicks off the extended jam section of the album, another seemingly improvised-on-the-spot piece that swaps out instruments from beginning to end. It’s almost as if Focus were trying to be a jazz/rock band before the phrase had even fallen into popular use. Van Leer shows himself as much of a skillful organ player as the great Jimmy Smith, whilst Akkerman proves once again that other so-called ‘natural guitarists’ (Clapton comes to mind here) are mere pyrotechnic pretenders to his own throne.
“Elspeth of Nottingham” is a medieval-themed birdsong, lute and flute piece that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the Robin Hood TV series. Pretty ghastly.
The lumbering 26+ minute “Anonymous 2” closes the album. I do believe it could single-handedly sum up the phrase “self indulgent”. This is what I call a “kitchen sink” cut.. everything is thrown at the listener. Guitar runs, a lengthy drum solo, a bass solo, a flute interlude and heavy-fingered organ work are all in the mix for you to wrap your ears around.
Despite all my reservations here I maintain a soft spot for “Focus 3”, probably because it was one of those album from my youth that I just played so/too much. I’m not sure I could listen to the whole thing in its entirety anymore – it’s something of a curate’s egg after all – but it’s often a pleasant surprise when a cut unexpectedly turns up whenever I am shuffling my iPod.