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(36:15, ‘Johnny Unicorn’)
TRACK LIST: 1. Sadness 14:27 2. Companionship 14:19 3. Sadness Remix 4:22 4. Companionship Remix 3:07 LINEUP: Johnny Unicorn – vocals; all instrumwents Naomi Adele Smith – vocals
Prolusion. US composer and musician Johnny Unicorn is perhaps best known for being one of the keyboard players in the backing band of US artist Phideaux. But he's actually an established solo artist too, and released his first album back in 2006. Since then five more studio albums have seen the light of day, of which "Sadness and Companionship" from 2013 is the most recent. Like all his CDs so far this is a self released production.
Analysis. The marketing ploy for this CD is an intriguing one. It is described as an aerobic excercise album, and comes complete with a brief note how to guide as for the best manner in which to experience this CD. In short: start running to the first track, when it ends start running back, and then play the remix versions while taking a shower. And while I do think (and hope) that the descriptions and user guide have been put to paper amidst a few hearty laughs, I won't deny the fact that those descriptions sound fairly accurate: This is music that would function fairly well in the manner described. It is also a brand of progressive rock that, most likely, would have functioned fairly well at whatever discotheque you might have nearby. Opening epic Sadness actually kicks off with a firm and steady disco-inspired bass and beat. Supplemented by keyboard textures admittedly, but staying firmly put in a disco tradition for the first few minutes before alternating between 80's Genesis-inspired sequences and passages closer to the territories Phideaux has explored in recent years and then switching back to the disco-inspired arrangement again for the concluding part. A nice little touch is that the keyboard soloing in the elongated midsection kick off with a rhythm-oriented sequence similar to the disco-oriented bass motif from the initial phase, and the songs maintain a basic foundation that makes it both possible and easy to dance along to the entire track. Executed in a humorous manner, at least that is the impression that sticks with me through this composition as well as the album as a whole. Second epic Companionship also opens in a catchy manner, this time closer to the likes of The Buggles as far as style goes (the guys who wrote Video Killed the Radio Star back in 1979). This song alternates fairly quickly into a sequence of alternating passages that incorporate elements from funk and fusion as well as some distinct whimsical details that gave me strong associations to the earlier material of the UK ska band Madness. There are lesser keyboards on this track, but with plenty of room for a distinct piano motif, funky guitar details, saxophone and brass, again returning to the initial theme for the concluding phase. The much shorter remix versions of these compositions are creations that should please those with a keen sense of humor, I guess, basically playing around with the arrangements so that the first song borrows select details from the second and the second borrows from the first, at the same time having a field of fun with pace, intensity and alternating dynamics.
Conclusion. The UK magazine Classic Rock presents Prog used to have a section called "It's Prog, Jim, but not as we know it", and Johnny Unicorn's "Sadness and Companionship" sounds like a perfect candidate for this column. This is an album that plays and fools around with conceptions, conventions and boundaries in a playful and humorous manner throughout. A likely key audience are those who enjoy accessible progressive rock alongside artists such as The Buggles and Madness, and first and foremost those among them that have a keen and broad sense of humor that includes progressive rock as a topic.
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