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(101 min 2CD, The Tank)
Prolusion. ROCKET SCIENTISTS are too well known even to mention from where they came into the world of Progressive Rock. Those connoisseurs of the genre who are for some inscrutable reason still unacquainted with their history may read my recent interview with one of the band's founders, Erik Norlander, and have some idea of what they were doing since the very dawn of their activity up until now - as their fifth release, "Revolution Road", hits the road. And if I say you needn't be a rocket scientist to get into Rocket Scientists, this will be a simple truth, even if it sounds like a trivial pun. I'll only add here that already their second album, "Brutal Architecture" (1995), has brought a cult status to the ensemble, which means they have acquired a contingent of well-versed fans, not of many millions, yet still quite large and, more importantly, permanent.
Disc 1 (51 min)
TRACK LIST: 1. Look Up 0:45 2. Sky in Falling 5:26 3. Dream in Red 6:29 4. Better View 5:59 5. Outside the Painted Walls 5:08 6. Revolution Road 7:41 7. Forever Nights 5:40 8. Ptolemy 5:49 9. Gypsy 4:02 10. Savor Every Moment 4:33 PERSONNEL: Erik Norlander - keyboards Mark McCrite - guitars; vocals Don Schiff - NS, Stick With: Greg Bissonette - drums David McBee - vocals
Analysis. The first CD includes seven songs and three instrumental cuts, most of the disc's content displaying the trademark Rocket Scientists sound, which - quite understandably - has much more common ground with the group's first two studio recordings than with "Oblivion Days". In all, there is nothing revolutionarily new on "Revolution Road" (yet another pun - how vexing:-), and while this effort is progressively more distinct than "Earthbound", it is slightly inferior to "Brutal Architecture" in that field, some concessions to the notorious demands of the time being obvious on many tracks. Above all however, this remark concerns three songs with David McBee behind the microphone, namely Sky in Falling, Dream in Red and the title track, all standing out for their dense sound, the first two having a rather distinct modern feeling only in places, whilst the latter throughout it. That being said, Revolution Road appears to be a straight motorway, perfect for a high-speed drive, the name of Arena knocking emphatically at my memory's dusty attic:-) each time I listen to it. This groovy-and-rocking number once reveals a rather long and very effective instrumental section with enough place for each of the band's three permanent members, Erik Norlander, Mark McCrite and Don Schiff, to more than once show their desirable technical skills. Due to its both bright and impelling nature, as well as its instant accessibility, the title track could've become a really apt opener for the album, whereas it is located below the disc's conventional equator. On all the other tracks, Rocket Scientists more precisely follow, say, their own special way, from time to time intermixing their original style with the influences of The Beatles, Rick Wakeman and ELP. Notable for its Emerson-meets-Holst-stylized synthesizer solo, Sky in Falling is much richer in theme and pace shifts, as well as some other essential progressive features, than the title track. There also are acoustic guitar passages very wittily inculcated into the basic textures, those developing alongside the heavy guitar riffs being especially wonderful, as their fragility becomes then perceptible on an almost physical level. (By the way, such efficient tricks can be found on more than a half of the tracks here, on the first disc. The acoustic guitar doesn't add any transparency to the music, but instead makes it denser, more contrasted and saturated all alike - a really unique discovery!) Nonetheless, my favorite amongst the songs featuring David would be the slightly Doom Metal-inflected Dream in Red - not only because the group much less often sin with returns to a previously turned furrow here. This song is generally very good, and by the way, it opens a set of the three most progressive tracks on the entire album. They follow one another, the other two being masterworks, finding their makers at their most adventurous, which is synonymous with "best" for this particular reviewer. The amount of purely instrumental maneuvers on Better View exceeds that of mixed ones, while the next track, Outside the Painted Walls, is an instrumental and includes so many different themes, turns and twists (there are even quasi improvisations in places) that it would be enough to construct no less than five such pieces as the title track for instance, the ensemble work being also the most interesting here. Whether you call these vintage or retro Symphonic Progressive or classic Art-Rock, each of the definitions will be correct. David has a powerful and a very flexible voice, but his approach reminds me of that of Max Bacon, who is known to many as a lead singer for GTR, as well as a backing vocalist for ABWH and Yes. Mark is a possessor of a narrower voice range than David's, but anyway I like his warm and soulful singing better, and I am equally satisfied with the other three tunes sung by him - be it moderately complex Sympho Prog, as is Forever Nights, or the rocker Gypsy or a gentle symphonic ballad Savor Every Moment whose pleasant uplifting melody makes it a really fine conclusion for the disc. As to the remaining instrumentals, Ptolemy has a cyclical synthesizer passage that runs almost all through the piece imparting some electronic sense to basically interesting Art-Rock. Overall, it is progressively as much inferior to Outside the Painted Walls as Better View surpasses Sky in Falling or Forever Nights. Finally, Look Up is just an intro to its successor and is too short to be viewed separately from that track.
Disc 2 (50 min)
TRACK LIST: 1. Castles Fall 5:27 2. UFO Theme 3:34 3. Enjoy the Weather 8:50 4. Pay Your Dues 5:12 5. Eden Burns 4:08 6. Hold That Thought 3:25 7. House of Cards 5:43 8. After the Revolution 13:02 PERSONNEL: Same + Greg Phelps - accordion (3)
Analysis. Three of the second disc's eight tracks are instrumental pieces. One of these, Hold That Thought, seems to be here for no reason at all, meaning that it completely disrupts the concept of the entire album, to say the least. This is trivial straightforward Funk, anchored by the Stick setting syncopated rhythms in tandem with the drums, the other instruments playing for the most part either in unison or in fourths/fifths. Otherwise the content of Disc-2 appears to be quite even and coherent alike, the group seldom overtly flirting with modern tricks, while the organ work is quite beyond praise. On the other hand, however, there are no, say, progressive killers here, such as Outside the Painted Walls and Better View, as well as those subtle acoustic guitar passages resourcefully interlaced with basic fabrics that hallmark much of the sound of the album's first half. The organ is pushed to the fore on most tracks. Castles Fall and Pay Your Dues find that instrument often teaming up with the "Distortion" sound processor, which - in conjunction with the pronouncedly heavy Stick - creates quite a specific aura for these songs and, surely, makes them in many ways kindred works. Both also stand out for their dynamic instrumental arrangements, developing diversely throughout, regardless of whether there are concurrent vocals or not. Although they aren't free of any recurring themes, both suit my concept of classic Symphonic Progressive. Well, Pay Your Dues reminds me slightly of The Hunter from the eponymous GTR album, but the resemblance manifests itself only within the vocal sections and is due exclusively to David's manner of singing. But then House of Cards, whose instrumental background isn't too saturated, evokes really vivid associations (this time around with the opening number of the very same "GTR" LP, When the Heart Rules the Mind), which, however, is not to say I am disappointed with it. Quite the contrary, I like it, though I won't hide I am a fan of GTR, no matter that this fact clashes with my principal preferences in music. The excellent Baroque music-inspired rocker Eden Burns begins with an exciting organ prelude and is abundant in organ solos in general, those distorted included, which makes it somewhat similar to classic Deep Purple in places. UFO Theme is yet another organ-driven piece. This impressive instrumental brings together the refinement of symphonic Art-Rock and the edginess of Doom Metal. Contrary to my expectations, the song Enjoy the Weather (8:50) and the instrumental After the Revolution (13:02, both being the longest tracks on the album) both are filled with reflective arrangements, most of all reminding me of broad, yet rather shallow plain rivers with no rifts or rapids, let alone falls, unhurriedly carrying their waters through the flats. Musically, the former is something averagely between Rocket Scientists' very own Mariner and Us & Them from Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" (the guitar solos sounding unmistakably Gilmouresque). The latter is strongly reminiscent of still the same Mariner - only without vocals. All in all, the progressive highlights of Disc 2 would be Castles Fall, UFO Theme, Eden Burns and Pay Your Dues, i.e. precisely (only?) half of the tracks here.
Conclusion. "Revolution Road" is a must for the tried Rocket Scientists fans, i.e. those equally enjoying all the band's previous recordings. Music lovers accepting from true professionals any forms of classic Art Rock regardless of the level of its progressiveness should not hesitate to check this CD out either. If you're exclusively into complex Prog abundant in dynamic transitions, full of undercurrents etc and so on, better look elsewhere.
VM: November 16 & 17, 2006
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