Wax Wednesday #6: “Spiral” by Vangelis

What is Wax Wednesday? Who are you? Where’s the Billy Joel record review I never asked for? All that and more, here
Those of you who read my Record Store Day special last Wednesday will have noted that I mentioned wanting to get a copy of the special edition “Blade Runner” soundtrack that was released for RSD 2017 (you can find that article here). I’m happy to say I got a copy, but as much as I want to write about the dystopian synth filled wonder that is that record, it was never released when the film came out, and I’m not about to break the parameters of my column by talking about a $35 exclusive pressing. Luckily for me, the composer Vangelis has another fantastic record in his discography for me to discuss, his 1977 classic “Spiral”.

Right away, the album comes across with a signature sound that’s never been truly replicated except by Vangelis himself. It’s always interesting to come across an album where the synthesizer is the main focus, especially in the late 70’s when all synth’s still had that dated, yet timeless sound. Sure, there are some flute and drums here and there, but don’t be confused, this album is 95% early electronic. And to tell the truth? It’s as awesome as the concept sounds.

Vangelis tackles all genres on “Spiral”, from the floating grandeur on the album’s title track reminiscent of many pieces of classical music to funk, rock, and world influences on “Dervish D”.  Each of the extensive five tracks takes it’s time to develop it’s rhythm, then systematically adds more and more until the song becomes a huge mass of sound, all being done through the synthesized brass sounds of Vangelis’s Yamaha CS-80.

This is enhanced by the conscious choice not to use almost any vocals on the entire record (with the minor exception of some heavily distorted vocals on “Ballad” done by Vangelis himself). I believe this helps the listener by not telling them what to think of the album. It seems so easy to digest the lyrics of a song these days to find out the meaning behind a track. On “Spiral”, there is almost nothing to go on. The listener must interpret the songs and place their own meaning upon them. I think this works to the albums benefit as the dreamy, at times dystopian-sounding synths create a sound and meaning all their own to each person who comes into contact with the album.

This brings me to possibly my favorite part about the album. I’m not sure what it is about Vangelis and album covers, but boy does he know how to do them right. I’m not sure what it is about the cover for “Spiral” that fascinates me, but something about the clouds and the snaking cable mix perfectly with the ethereal yet electronic sound of the album. There seems just enough implied by the art to get the listener to think, but it still leaves enough to the imagination that I’ve found myself staring at the cover for over 10 minutes at a time. Maybe it’s just me, but to me, the artwork is one of the most important things about “Spiral”.

That being said, if you aren’t a fan of synthesizers, this album is definitely not for you. I also can’t really recommend it if you like your songs short and to the point. The average length of a song on the album is somewhere around the 8-minute mark, which can be off putting to some. But if you’re willing to stomach either of those things, “Spiral” is a fantastic record with its own distinct character that I’m proud to house in my record collection.

Next week: A country album done by the man who “killed folk music”