Nektar - Down to Earth. 1974 England
Select LP issues: 1974 United Artists; 1975 Passport (USA); 1974 Real (Australia); 2012 Sireena (Germany)
Select CD reissues: 1987 Bacillus/Bellaphon (Germany); 2005 Eclectic/Dream Nebula; 2006 WHD (Japan mini-LP); 2013 Purple Pyramid (USA); 2013 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP)
As with Magic is a Child, I hadn't actually heard Down to Earth until now. Or I probably did in snippets and walked away in disgust. This is exactly the type of album that would not have appealed to me at age 21, or 31, maybe even 41. But at 51, I hear it in a different way. Managing expectations is everything, and it's not unreasonable for someone to approach this expecting to hear the sounds of the album before (Remember the Future) or after (Recycled). In fact, the latter album probably has more to do with the negative impression in modern times, since it was rare for a band to make a "comeback" like that in the 1970s. Just about every progressive rock band found their way to commercialism over time. 1974 was perhaps a bit early to jump the shark as it were, but in retrospect this album was actually ahead of its time, though I'm sure audiences back then were quite baffled by it. So in the end, had the band renamed themselves Ratken for this album, it probably would have been received better.
And after hearing it intently, I was quite surprised at how progressive it actually is. It's tighter and doesn't possess the long stretches of progressive space rock (or classic Kosmische Krautrock like the debut), so on the surface it seems less complex. 'Nelly the Elephant' is startling in that it sounds more like a horn rock track from 1970. It reminded me of the UK band The Greatest Show on Earth actually (circus themes?). 'Early Morning Clown' wouldn't be out of place on a Jonesy or Fruupp album. And 'That's Life" sounds like an outtake from Yes' Fragile session. In fact, only the relatively dull song 'Little Boy" ended up being a slight disappointment. This is a very good album to my ears, and I suspect will always be misunderstood. I can see I'm of the minority opinion on this one. OK, fair enough.
I believe it's the UK UA original that comes in a nice textured cover, which the Japanese mini-LP's replicate. Apparently the Purple Pyramid release has significant bonus material, but I haven't heard them as of this writing.