Exposé Online banner

Atoll — Rock Puzzle
(Musea FGBG 4024.AR, 1979/1993, CD)

by Jon Davis, 2005-09-01:

Rock Puzzle Cover art

I always thought of Atoll as being the number two French symphonic rock band in the 70s, after Ange. Like Ange, they applied the ideals and techniques of progressive rock to French culture and came up with something unique. Also like Ange, they tend to be very dramatic, especially in the vocals, which are sometimes spoken or whispered. But Atoll are probably more accessible to the non-French listener, with a sound that is a little less divergent from the British pioneers like Yes. They released three classic progressive albums and, struggling to find their way in the musical landscape after the advent of punk rock, one forgettable attempt at more commercial fare. After a truly solid debut as a five-piece in 1974, personnel changes resulted in a six-man group that recorded what is generally regarded as their masterpiece, L’Araignée-Mal, a stunning work full of great compositions, interesting sounds, and varied moods. The addition of violin acts as a wonderful counterbalance to new guitarist Christian Béya, whose technical prowess often propels the band in the direction of jazz fusion.

Turmoil following the second album led to the loss of the violin, and as a streamlined five-piece, the band made a conscious decision to move away from the fusion elements toward a more symphonic sound on their third album. Tertio was the first Atoll I heard, and remains a special favorite, though I give L’Araignée-Mal a slight edge in quality. By this point, the band is quite accomplished at their unique version of the genre, with an energetic rhythm section, lots of Mellotron backing, and great guitar work, both on chording and solos.

When it came time to record their fourth album, the band found themselves in a climate no longer friendly to complex symphonic music, and like many other progressive bands, sought to maintain relevance by simplifying their music. The result, Rock Puzzle, still has some progressive elements either woven into the songs or as uneasy interjections within them. The arrangements often feature a horn section in awkward counterpoint to the guitar and keyboards. It doesn’t always work, but it’s no more embarrassing than the efforts of other prog bands of the time. As a curiosity, this CD includes three tracks the band recorded in 1981 with John Wetton for a project that never got off the ground just before he joined Asia.

These reissues provide a welcome spotlight for one of the great bands of the 70s. For those who already own any of these on CD, the sound is greatly improved, with the previous Musea discs sounding muffled by comparison – Tertio is especially improved. The bonus tracks (particularly on the first album) are the exception: the live recordings still sound tinny and distorted, but they are easily enough ignored.


by Henry Schneider, 1999-12-31:

Rock Puzzle is the long awaited CD reissue of Atoll’s fourth album recorded in 1979. True to their practice of releasing high quality CDs, Musea included an extra 33 minutes of six unreleased tracks! Three of which were songs composed by John Wetton (ex-bass and vocalist for Family, King Crimson, and Asia) and performed under Atoll’s name prior to Wetton’s Asia recording sessions. One of these songs is the original version Asia’s big hit "Here Comes the Feeling." Besides the Wetton songs, the three other previously unreleased tracks are remixes of "L’Ultime rock," "Puzzle," and the only Atoll song ever performed in English, "Atari, that’s a game! (Smarto Kitschy-American mix)." Atoll was France’s premiere progressive band. Over the course of their four albums Atoll continued to explore and experiment in the sophisticated rock music of the seventies, a progressive band in the truest sense of the word. Rock Puzzle is a rockier album than their previous outings with "Smarto Kitschy" being an attempt at reaching a mainstream audience. Besides this throw away song, the remainder of the album teems with elaborate keyboard and guitar work bearing the Atoll trademark. Musea again reissues a much sought after recording from the annals of French progressive rock with a beautiful color picture CD, original cover art, and a 16-page booklet of lyrics, history, and a perspective by John Wetton. Rock Puzzle is an essential CD for the French rock collector.

Filed under: Reissues , 1993 releases, 1979 releases

Related artist(s): John Wetton, Atoll, Christian Béya, André Balzer

More info

Latest news

2019-10-06
Ginger Baker RIP – Legendary English drummer Ginger Baker has died at the age of 80. After coming to fame with Cream in the 60s alongside Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce, he became one of the most recognized and influential drummers of the rock era. On September 25, his family announced that he was critically ill, and on October 6 his death was confirmed. » Read more

2019-08-20
Alex's Hand Seeks Spa Treatment – American / European band Alex's Hand has a new album in the works called Hungarian Spa, which looks to be their biggest and best yet, featuring a large roster of guest musicians. They're seeking funding to take the project on the road, and are looking for help from the crowd of wisdom. » Read more

2019-06-05
Legendary Co-Founder of The 13th Floor Elevators Passes Away at Age 71 – Sadly, Roky Erickson passed away on May 31, 2019. Known as the father of psychedelic music and co-founder of the ground breaking 13th Floor Elevators, Roky had a profound influence on music from the 60s to today. Plagued by his own personal demons, Roky had a difficult life and is now free of these burdens. » Read more

2019-04-24
Help MoonJune Bring Great Music to Life – Like many music lovers around the world, we’ve been thrilled and amazed to hear the recordings that have been released by MoonJune from sessions at La Casa Murada in Spain. Such label stalwarts as Mark Wingfield, Markus Reuter, Asaf Sirkis, Tony Levin, Dusan Jevtovic, Vasil Hadzimanov, and many more have gathered in various combinations at the studio to produce some of the most creative music in recent years. Now, label head Leonardo Pavkovic is offering a compilation, La Casa Murada - MoonJune Sessions, Volume One, as a fundraiser for upcoming sessions. » Read more

2019-04-10
The Pineapple Thief to Tour North America – November and December of 2019 will see The Pineapple Thief bringing their music to Canada, Mexico, and the US, and famed drummer Gavin Harrison will be on board. The band has been touring extensively in Europe, but North America will be new territory for them. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Various Artists - Back against the Wall – Billy Sherwood has certainly found a comfortable niche to show his knowledge and appreciation of classic 70s rock. Gathering an all-star cast to re-create the second most well known Pink Floyd...  (2007) » Read more

Ars Nova - Transi – This latest offering from this Japanese power keyboard trio is a bold step forward from their 1992 debut Fear and Anxiety. For starters this one is a full length disc; more to the point, though, is...  (1995) » Read more

Magical Power Mako - Music from Heaven, Trance Resonance & Lo Pop Diamonds – Mako seems to delight in perpetrating an image of mystery and enigma. With a history going back to 1975, and a load of albums, he never seems to settle into a singular style. However, along the way he...  (1996) » Read more

Blezqi Zatsaz - Rise and Fall of Passionate Sanity – Perhaps Progressive Rock Worldwide's first really strong release was this, the debut by keyboard-progsters Blezqi Zatsaz. Though consisting of the classic guitar / bass / keyboards / drums...  (1997) » Read more

If, Bwana - I, Angelica – The latest release from Al Margolis and company is a sprawling ambient-industrial noise opus spanning 10 tracks over 2 discs. The program is varied, some parts leaning more toward electronic and...  (2003) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues