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TRACK LIST: 1. Slipstream 6:54 2. Bring Home the Sun 1:30 3. My Damn Self 4:45 4. Freedom 6:10 5. Rest of Their Lives 7:53 6. Hope in Fairytales 4:47 7. Murdered a Friend 3:28 8. Liberator 24 4:03 9. For Future Days 4:04 10. Mid Day Moon 4:34 11. Parabola 3:39 12. Miracle 5:24 13. Pretty Toy Gun 7:38 LINEUP: Tim LaRoi – guitars; keyboards; vocals John Sahagian – vocals; guitar; keyboards Tom Burke – bass Bill Kiser – drums
Prolusion. “Facade” is the fourth release by Illinois-based band RELAYER, formed in the early Nineties. The album came out after a nine-year hiatus as a follow up to 1999’s “Last Man on Earth”.
Analysis. With a name like Relayer, it would be quite safe to assume that the band in question were a bunch of Yes worshippers playing edgy, intricate yet melodic symphonic prog, However, even a cursory listen to “Facade” would put any such assumptions to rest. In fact, Relayer’s fourth album has little if anything to do with ‘classic’ progressive rock, being more of a collection of rather accessible, largely short songs spanning a variety of styles. The main problem with Relayer is they seem to want to be all things to all people, which ultimately characterises their music as directionless. They are undoubtedly talented musicians, with bassist Tom Burke being perhaps their strongest element, and vocalist John Sahagian having been blessed with a remarkable set of pipes. Their musical vision is also quite ambitious, aiming to blend different influences that range from Queen to Pink Floyd by way of Rush, with a sprinkling of American-style AOR thrown in for good measure, and the occasional nod to modern prog acts such as Radiohead, Muse and Porcupine Tree. In a nutshell, they place themselves firmly in that area of prog that can be loosely termed as ‘crossover’ – sharing the same ideal stage with bands such as The Tea Club or 3rd Degree. Unfortunately, unlike the above-mentioned acts, instead of producing a convincing, cohesive effort Relayer has ended up with an album that feels like some recipes – a little bit of this, a little bit of that, a pinch of something else – where the combination of ingredients may sound wonderful on paper, but the end result is somewhat underwhelming. Being really eclectic does not mean coming up with a series of songs that, in some cases, sound like the sonic equivalent of a ‘crazy quilt’ – one of the worst offenders in this sense being Liberator 24, where the rapid succession of tempo changes makes the song difficult to follow; while such a structure is acceptable in a 10-minute (or longer) song, it much less so in a 4-minute number. It does not help that the album, running at over 62 minutes, is way too long for the kind of music on display – which means there is plenty of filler going around. Although singer John Sahagian has often been compared to Freddie Mercury (and he is undoubtedly a potentially great vocalist), his voice is nowhere as full-bodied or disciplined as the lamented Queen main-man’s. In fact, the closest comparison that came to my mind while listening to the album was none other than U2’s Bono (a comparison helped by the U2 vibe that some of the songs occasionally give off), and often sounds positively overwrought. The liberal use of harmony vocals, which can be an enhancement when well-done, often sounds extraneous to the structure of the songs where they are featured, adding a note of sometimes unwelcome ‘radio-friendliness’. Most of the songs on “Facade” are in the 3-5 minute range, with two notable exceptions – the 7-minute-plus Rest of Their Lives and Pretty Toy Gun. The former, a slowish number with a nicely chunky bass line and a tasteful guitar bridge, reminded me somewhat of The Tea Club; while the latter, in spite of the politically-charged lyrics (a stab against widespread gun ownership in the USA), clearly has epic ambitions, with a subdued, mid-paced first half which then turns into a brisker, bass-driven affair with echoes of Queen (especially in the grandiose choral section), Pink Floyd, and U2. The Queen comparisons are strongest in the vocals-heavy Hope in Fairytales, while Rush references are spread a bit all over the place, with Tom Burke’s meaty, pneumatic Rickenbacker providing a solid background for most of the tracks. The two mainly acoustic numbers, Murdered a Friend and For Future Days, are basically mainstream, somewhat undistinguished affairs, with definitely understated vocals. On the other hand, the best item on the album by far is the lone instrumental Parabola, with its rolling bass riff (reinforced by keyboards) which develops into a psych-tinged, guitar-led section, and then into a piercing synth solo. Its repetitive yet mesmerising structure, and the excellence of the instrumental performances throughout, could be a fair indicator of a new, more satisfactory direction for the band.
Conclusion. Relayer’s comeback is unfortunately a bit of a letdown, in spite of the band’s obvious potential. While following the ‘crossover prog’ path can be a wise choice (as opposed to the ‘symphonic-prog-by-numbers’ approach), they should make sure they bring their good ideas to fruition – instead of producing songs that, in most instances, sound patched together, and lack that smooth, natural flow which is such an essential prerogative of great music. As it is, “Facade” falls rather short of impressiveness, and might consign the band to early oblivion, unless they find a more cohesive style.
RB=Raffaella Berry: Agst 20, 2009
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