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Patchwork CD Cover
Image © 2C Production 1990

Image © 2C Production 1992

Arrakeen are:
Eric Bonnardel (keyboards)
Cyril Achard (guitars, backing vocals)
Maïko (lead and backing vocals)
Gauthier Mejanel (percussion)
Yves Darteyron (bass)

(24 January 2002) Arrakeen's debut CD Patchwork (2C Productions (France), 1990) is, even for English-speaking people, very accessible. It has sort of a prog-pop feel to it not unlike Fish-era Marillion, and most of the time the album is very energetic.

Speaking of Marillion, guitarist Steve Rothary guests on the final live cut on Patchwork,I'm assuming that Arrakeen are either protégés of the band or at least somewhat influenced by them. All you keyboard fans out there will be happy to find that keyboardist Eric Bonnardel dominates their music, and his style is very similar to Marillion's Mark Kelly. Guitarist Sylvain Gouvernaire is an adequate folk-rock style guitarist, although much of the time he's overshadowed by Bonnerdal's keyboards. Still, however, Gouvernaire seemed to work very well with Rothary on the final live track.

Of course, what will catch the attention of most listeners is Arrakeen's lead singer Maïko. Suffice to say that she's as easy on the ears as she is on the eyes. Maiko definitely stands out, as she has the distinction in my mind of being one of the most powerful soprano singers I've ever heard in prog/pop-rock. Although her singing is quite high, her voice has a very rich, full quality to it more typical of alto singers. Indeed, she's the best soprano I've heard since Annie Haslam of Renaissance. Although I think that on the whole altos make better rock singers, Maïko is a notable exception.

It should also be noted that the album has a very interesting fantasy painting on the front cover. It depicts a strange small mammal that looks to be a cross between a dog and a monkey (which the band also uses for its logo) playing chess with what looks like Gollum from "Lord of the Rings". The chess pieces are a tree, a seahorse, a single die, a heart card, and a cage. They are obviously meant to be symbolic, although exactly what they are symbolic of escapes me. A very intriguing album cover, however, and definitely in keeping with prog rock mysticism.

Criticisms of the album are fairly minor. For one thing, Patchwork is very short by contemporary standards. It consists of four tracks at just under 30 minutes total. At a time when many CDs are way too long and have too much padding, Patchwork is rather short and sweet. Further, those looking for ultra-sophisticated prog rock like Emerson, Lake & Palmer or Yes are going to be disappointed. Arrakeen is more at the speed of a Marillion or an Alan Parsons Project. Finally one of the photos in the montage on the back of the CD show a couple of partying Frenchmen whipping their beers in front of the camera which is kind of tacky and more typical of something you would see on a straight rock-and-roll album rather than a more serious prog rock band. Again though, these are all minor, nit-picky details.

Above all, Arrakeen sounds very, very French. If you've ever wondered what French prog-rock sounds like, you need look no further than Arrakeen's Patchwork. Further, although the tone of the album is generally serious like most prog rock, it is never dark. Indeed, one of the endearing criticisms of prog rock has been that much of it is way too dark.

Fortunately, Arrakeen has no such problem. Although not a seminal prog rock work, it is very accessible, and most prog and pop/rock fans should like it. It is accessible, energetic and has excellent female vocals. If you've ever wondered what French prog rock sounds like, prefer female vocals, and don't like your prog rock too sophisticated, then this album is for you.--JTR

In addition to Patchwork, Arrakeen also recorded a second album entitled Mosaïque (2C Productions (France), 1992). The album is an eight-track collection of accessible neo-prog tunes that are certainly as appealing as the four on Patchwork. The album has a significantly longer running time. Layered vocals provide an extra special texture.

The band plays in full splendour with guitar- and keyboard-based instrumentals effectively complimenting Maïko's stunning vocal parts. The recording and production quality is outstanding and the layered vocals work quite well, especially with the solo keyboard and guitar excursions in the various instrumental bridges. Some Yes and Mike Oldfield riffs show band roots but are obvious rip-offs.are reminsicent of the debut self-titled album by You And I.

The accompanying booklet offers some better photographs than the band's debut album, full lyrics and contact information, although no official or fan-supported website is identified; the CD is a gold disc. Both vocal and instrumental arrangements on this extended length album are an improvement on Patchwork. Clearly worth a trans-Atlantic journey, the album is a must-listen!--RWE

Although it has been over ten years since Arrakeen's albums were released, both are currently available at Syn-Phonic progressive rock mail-order. Contact Greg Walker there for ordering details.

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