Known mostly for the numerous pop hits he co-wrote in the 1960s and '70s, and for being part of Blue Mink, Roger Cook had a more active solo career in the early '70s than many people remember. This double CD contains his second album (1972's Meanwhile Back at the World) and third album (1973's Minstrel in Flight), as well as an unreleased album he did around the same time with Herbie Flowers, Rose on Fire (one of the two versions of the title track came out as a 1973 single). Plenty of well-known British musicians contributed to the two albums that did see the light of day back then, including Alan Parker, Chris Spedding, Caleb Quaye, Tony Burrows, Lesley Duncan, Tony Newman, Ray Cooper, B.J. Cole, and Paul Young. It's one of the odder collections of mainstream early-'70s pop/rock you'll hear, though the music itself isn't that offbeat or eccentric. Its oddness lies in its peculiar inability to settle into a style that's too readily recognizable, as well as the absence of the kind of pop hooks that made Cook such a successful composer for Blue Mink and others.
Meanwhile Back at the World might bear the greatest resemblance to his familiar hits, though not an extreme one, with Cook getting into more extended orchestrated pop than he did even on the more melodramatic of his hits. Sometimes the piano-based material recalls Jimmy Webb or the more sentimental side of Elton John, and overall it has a less playful tone than his more celebrated commercial work, as if he's making a bid for singer/songwriter seriousness. Rose on Fire gives you the feeling that Cook and top session man Flowers were being humored and given some studio time to indulge in their fancies as a reward for being so successful in their conventional projects. It's hard to tell in some cases whether they're trying to latch onto trends, pay homage to them, or parody them, one case in point being "Rat Pack," which seems like a send-up of Sly Stone's "Thank You." On the same record, you have mawkish balladry, Nilsson-ish whimsy ("Everybody's Singing Like Me Now"), straight-ahead pop-funk, easygoing roots rock, and a straightforward cover of John Lennon's "Oh My Love." Whether or not these cuts were seriously intended for release (and some did come out on a Herbie Flowers solo album more than half-a-dozen years later), it has the feel of a half-serious side project. The more earnest Minstrel in Flight ploughed a middle-of-the-road eclecticism, with nods to Elton John, rustic early-'70s British blues-pop-rock, the Band, and the Bee Gees, though ultimately it's rather faceless. Thorough, illustrated liner notes make this of interest to serious Cook fans who want to investigate his more ambitious and adventurous side, though they're not apt to be as impressed by this as the no-frills pop hits that were his meal tickets.