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Past, Present and Future
Al Stewart

Janus 3063
Released: May 1974
Chart Peak: #133
Weeks Charted: 14

Al StewartThis ambitious concept album by veteran English folkie Al Stewart attempts the near impossible: a chronological evocation of 20th century Western history, mingling fact, legend and fantasy and culminating with dire prophecies. Despite the grandiosity of the concept, two-thirds of the album works. Stewart has done his historical research, and the scenes and events on which he chooses to meditate -- President Harding alone in the White House in 1921; the death of Hitler antagonist Ernst Roehm in 1934 -- provide provocative catalysts for his poetic imagination.

Al Stewart - Past, Present and Future
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Backing an agile voice with relentless, rapid acoustic strumming, Stewart builds a momentum sustained througout most of the album. Stewart's peotry is spacious, impressionistic first-person narration that only occasionally suffers from forced internal rhymes and syntactical inversion. The album's best and worst moments occur on Side Two, which opens with the excellent "Roads To Moscow." A canvas of Germany's invasion of Russia in 1941, seen through the eyes of a doomed soldier, its music takes the form of an English ballad, drawn out by melodic recitative, deepened by orchestration, and set to cinematic lyrics. "Terminal Eyes," which follows, is a post-mortem suicide song, written and performed in the style of "I Am the Walrus." In conjunction with the earlier "Post World War Two Blues," an attempt at an English "American Pie" (only the time span is more than 20 years and the song much shorter than its prototype), "Terminal Eyes" develops a view of personal Armageddon that should have concluded the album.

But unfortunately Stewart closes his work with the ten-minute "Nostradamus," a modern interpretation of the French mystic's prophecies from his own time through the Seventies. What should have been a climactic finale is merely a series of oracular clichés sandwiched between overly long guitar breaks. While Stewart's reveries of past and present are credible, like most mystic mongers his futuristic summary is trite and pretentious.

- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 6-20-74.

Bonus Reviews!

In that mixed-up, gotta-have-a-gimmick wold of neo-Dylanism, Al Stewart does stand out a little. His gimmick is world history, which is terribly dignified as things go, and his interest in it appears to be genuine in addition to the fact that he's a better-than-average singer and songwriter. "Old Admirals" and "The Last Day of June, 1934" seem the most palatable of his attempts to personalize the great events that, uh, shaped us. The information in "Nostradamus" is fascinating, but it doesn't have the stuff musically to run on the way it does for almost ten minutes. This is an interesting album, though, and this lad seems worth watching.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 10/74.

Exceptionally well done set from long time British folk star. Stewart has a pleasing voice to go with his writing talents, particularly on cuts such as "Old Admirals" and the nine minute "Nostradamus," a striking story of a 16th century prophet done at differing tempos and featuring excellent guitar work from Stewart. Stewart is not quite rock and not quite folk, and is certainly one of the more refreshing voices to come along in sometime.

- Billboard, 1974.

On Past, Present & Future, Al Stewart began to reach his artistic fruition, as he crafted a lush, winding song cycle about the writings of Nostradamus, highlighted by the majestic "Nostradamus." * * *

- Daevid Jehnzen, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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