2015’s Courting the Widow by the dandyish Nad Sylvan was a sadly overlooked little gem. It’s one of my favorite prog releases in recent years and was perhaps unfortunate to miss out on my 2015 list. It featured accomplished prog in the vein of the ’70s but most importantly had a charming joviality and insincerity which made it a genuine pleasure to hear. I was therefore only too happy to find that a sequel was primed for release called The Bride Said No. The intervening 2 years have done nothing to quell Nad’s love for storytelling but I was more interested to hear if the ubiquitous Genesis influence had at all subsided.
I previously took flak for daring to suggest that Nad’s voice sounds quite like Peter Gabriel, and his music like Genesis. I’ll dare to say it again; it’s sort of the point. He toured with Genesis as Gabriel’s replacement and as such needed the vocals and charisma to fill those illustrious shoes. His soulful croons sit atop progressive rock which is heavily indebted to the 70s, utilizing the entire repertoire of guitar noodlings, organs, flutes, harpsichords, pianos and the kitchen sink. I would say that there’s a decidedly more modern feel this time around: instrumental tones and the overall feel are slightly harsher but aren’t necessarily a problem. The largest musical update is the heavier passages which feature actual metal riffs. The groove-laden guitar lead on “The White Crown” wouldn’t be out of place on a Pantera record, for example. These few passages are a surprising but not unwelcome addition to Nad’s tool-kit.
As with Courting the Widow, however, the music’s narrative is the greatest boon to The Bride Said No. It retains the almost musical theater feel I noted before but this time to a greater extent as the story sounds quite cohesive. Courting the Widow told numerous little tales to my ears but this album tracks a single narrative of the Bride. “The Quartermaster” and “The White Crown” on the record’s front half are a tonal continuation from before, retaining that frivolity. But the back half definitely takes a turn for the darker: I wonder what evil the Bride has undertaken on “What Have You Done” and why exactly it is that the Bride said no on the title track. I’d be interested to read the lyrics to get a grasp on all that transpires. Nad Sylvan is a compelling storyteller and the arc constructed ensures that The Bride Said No is ultimately a satisfying listen.
This tale arguably feels more cohesive as a result of greater stylistic consistency. Mid-paced, measured material is prevalent here, especially past the record’s opening. However, this more subdued regularity means that the fun factor from Courting the Widow is much less present. So while the concept is executed more thoroughly, it detracts from the enjoyment I gleaned. Certainly, by “Crime of Passion” and “A French Kiss in an Italian Cafe” towards the end, The Bride Said No starts to feel overly long. The former is chaotic to fit the plot but it isn’t a great track itself, while the latter plods with little temporal variation. A further consequence of the lesser lively and melodic characteristics is a lack of stand-out moments. Though The Bride Said No has definitely grown on me, I was initially disappointed by this next to the great individual songs boasted by Courting the Widow.
Nonetheless, what remains is still a fulfilling prog album. My gut response faded and has been replaced by appreciation for the subtler hooks and greater profundity. The relatively dynamic master and excellently-produced drums certainly sweeten the deal and the cohesive feel of The Bride Said No leaves things on a positive note. I feel harsh relentlessly comparing it to Courting the Widow but that’s inevitable when I was so enamored previously. If nothing else, I hope Nad gains respect from those who scoffed at the Gabriel comparison because he deserves that.