Album Reviews

Issue 1999-011

Reviews in this issue:

Alan Parsons - The Time Machine
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:CNR Music
Catalogue #:2004320
Year of Release:1999
Info:Alan Parsons

Tracklist: The Time Machine (Part 1) (4.54), Temporalia (1.01), Out of the Blue (4.55), Call Up (5.14), Ignorance is Bliss (6.46), Rubber Universe (3.52), The Call of the Wild (5.23), No Future in the Past (4.46), Press Rewind (4.21), The Very Last Time (3.42), Far Ago and Long Away (5.15), The Time Machine (Part 2) (1.47).
Bonus Track: The Time Machine - Dr. Evil Edit (3.23).

Many people were shocked when Eric Woolfson decided to leave The Alan Parsons Project in the early nineties. I personally was quite reliefed, to be honest. Eric and Alan had always been the driving force behind the Project's albums, writing and producing all of the songs together. One of the good things about the project was the constant change in vocalists, which made every album a new surprise. However, being a long time Project fan, by the time of the Gaudi album I got rather bored with Eric Woolfson's voice which seemed to turn up in more and more songs. The music all started to sound a bit the same as well ....

I was delighted by the Try Anything Once album which was released under the name of 'Alan Parsons'. Parsons worked with new people like David Pack, Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann), Eric Stewart (10CC) and Jacqui Copland. Pack, Project guitarist Ian Bairnson and others participated in the writing process for the first time. All of this gave the album a fresh new sound without denying the rich heritage of the Project. It became one of my favourite Parsons albums.

On the next CD, On Air (a concept album about aviation), the songs were mostly written by guitarist Bairnson and/or drummer Stuart Elliot. It turned out to be a fine album with some beautiful ballads, great rock tracks and even a cross-over experiment into techno (Apollo).

Now, three years later, Alan Parsons and friends bring us The Time Machine. Another concept album, this time inspired by H.G. Wells' novel The Time Machine (although not a musical version of the story) and everything which has to do with the concepts of time, space and time travel. Although the album has 13 tracks, it features 10 compositions, 3 by Stuart Elliot and 7 by Ian Bairnson. Alan only has a writing credit for a very short 1 minute atmospheric piece called Temporalia which also features narration by Professor Frank Close taken from the 'Equinox - Rubber Universe' documentary.

The fact that the writers of the songs are the same as on the previous album makes The Time Machine sound an awful lot like On Air. That's perhaps the biggest problem with this album. It sounds too much like its predecessor. Besides that, like on On Air most of the songs follow the basic couplet-chorus-couplet-chorus-solo-chorus structure. Don't expect too many adventurous things on The Time Machine.

The album opens with an instrumental called The Time Machine (part 1) (strange enough this was called H.G. Force on the US and Japanese releases !). It's a natural follow-up to Apollo of the previous album. It's very 'dancy' and features a techno backing track. On top of that you'll find an instrument that sounds like an acoustic guitar but is probably a keyboard. This instrument is alternated with a wonderful string orchestration. It's a great track which would not be out of place among other ambient techno tracks in the charts.

Via Temporalia we flow to Out of the Blue. This track about a weary time traveller features the dry programmed drum sound we have come to know from Peter Gabriel's work. Vocals on this one are done by Tony Hadley, the former singer of Spandau Ballet, whom Alan met when The Live Project played The Night of the Proms in Antwerpen. It's a nice moody mid-tempo song with nice backing vocals by one of my favourite Project singers: Chris Rainbow. One of the best tracks on the album.

Call-Up is a rather silly song about bringing legends like Elvis, Beethoven, Hitchcock, James Dean and lots of others back from the past. Lyrically it's just a long list of names of famous people from the past. Musically it's not very interesting either; it reminds me a bit of tracks like Wine from the Water and Money Talks. The vocals on this one are done by Neil Lockwood who also sang on On Air and the tour that followed that album. The poor guy deserved a better song.

Vocals on the ballad Ignorance is Bliss are done by Colin Blunstone who sang Old and Wise into the high regions of the charts in the eighties. It's another typical atmospheric Blunstone track with backing vocals by Chris Rainbow and a saxophone solo by Bairnson. Beautiful but not extremely special.

Rubber Universe (no music from the documentary with the same name !) is an instrumental in the vein of Lucifer and Breakaway. An interesting thing about the track is that Ian played all of the instruments (including Sax and Mandoline), recorded it in his own studio and just added Stuart Elliott's live drumming later. Okay, but not as good as some of the instrumentals on previous albums.

Celtic Time ! Call of the Wild is sung by Clannad vocalist Maire Brennan. Imagine her singing Belfast Child (Simple Minds) and you've got a pretty good idea of what this track sounds like. At first I was a bit put off by hearing a Celtic tune with her voice on the album (I'm not much into Clannad), but I have grown to like it after hearing it a couple of times because the composition itself is so wonderful. It features orchestration, Northumbrian Pipes, marching drums and a marvellous middle section with a breathtaking guitar solo.

No Future in the Past is another song on which Neil Lockwood does the vocals. It's a nice rock song with good vocal harmonies and backing vocals by Chris Rainbow and Stuart Elliott. Great toe-tapper !

Press Rewind is sung by Graham Dye, who also did One Day to Fly and Light of the World. It is a rather simple song with just vocals, bass, drums and guitar. It starts with a bit of a Tom Petty sound and later on wouldn't have been out of place on a Crowded House album. Nice but nothing special. It was seemingly a bit of a rush job.

The Very Last Time is sung by Beverly Craven who had a hit with Promise Me. Ian worked with Beverly on her new album and toured with her a lot. Although she normally doesn't do collaborations she agreed to sing this song for Ian. The song is just Beverly, a piano and some string instruments. Personally I don't care much for her voice and the song doesn't really sound like a Parsons song. Not really my cup of tea, although I'm sure others will love it. Maybe it has to grow on me.

Far Ago and Long Away is a drum & bass track with lots of soundscapes and sound effects of voices in foreign languages. It drags on for more than five minutes (5.15 and not 5.51 as mentioned on the back cover) without really going anywhere and therefore falls in the same category as Total Eclipse and Nucleus from the I Robot album. Skip.

The album closes with two more versions of The Time Machine. First you get Part 2, which basically is just a shortened version of Part 1 without any changes (unlike for instance Re-Jigue). After this follows the bonus track: an edited version of the The Time Machine with samples from the Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me movie. In this movie one Dr. Evil is planning to put a laser devide developed by 'Professor Parsons' on the moon and therefore calls it 'The Alan Parsons Project'. The relevant bits have been taken from the movie and added to the song. Nothing more than a 'nice to have'.
This version of the song has been released on single and comes with a marvellous computer animated Floydian video featuring scenes from the CD booklet. You probably wouldn't recognise it as a Parsons song if you'd see it.

So that's it. A couple of nice tracks two or three real highlights and some absolute waste of disc space (the two extra Time Machine versions and Far Ago and Long Away). They wanted to end up with 12 tracks, like the numbers on a clock. Seemingly they have forced some inferior material and reprises in there to get to that number.

Personally I would have loved to hear Chris Rainbow doing lead vocals on one of the songs. And how about some more adventurous stuff like on the old albums ?

The booklet and artwork are very nice. Although I'm not that crazy about the cover which seems like another one of Storm Thorgerson's rush jobs, the inside of the 16-page booklet is very nice. It features lyrics and instrument credits for each song as well as some nice sketchy drawings (one of Wells' invisible man !) and photographic backgrounds.

A couple of MP3 soundbites (sax solo of Ignorance is Bliss, guitar solo of Rubber Universe and Beverly Craven in The Very Last Time) can be found on Ian Bairnson's Homepage.

Conclusion: Although certainly above average, this is probably the biggest disappointment since Gaudi; 7 out of 10.

Ed Sander

Nangyala - Born Gifted / Paragon
Country of Origin:Holland
Record Label:N/A
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:1999
Info:Nangyala Homepage

Tracklist: Born Gifted (8.20), Paragon (12.44)

After their 1997 mini CD Spheres the Dutch prog band Nangyala return with their new demo Born Gifted / Paragon. Since their previous release guitarist/vocalist Alex Armaos and guitarist Stefan van de Anker have been replaced by Daniel Woltgens on vocals and Pieter Hanja on solo guitar. Daniel has a background in Grunge music, while Pieter played mostly blues and prog. Most of the other band members also play in Pink Project, the band which performed some splendid The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon tribute gigs.

The first thing which surprised me about this demo was the fact that the band has recorded a track which was fully written by their former vocalist ! This tune, Born Gifted, is partially sung by new vocalist Daniel (who's doing a lot better than his predecessor) and bass player Peter. Although the effect of two vocalist is good, I personally would advise the band to forbid Peter to sing another single note until he's got rid of that accent and has taken some singing lessons.
After four and a half minutes of rock-ballad style the song goes into a rough part with grunge guitar and a short melody which reminds me a lot of the end of IQ's High Waters. Great drumming in this part ! The last minute of the track features a return to the opening melody, but played in the heavy style of the middle part.

The second rack, Paragon, must be the band's most interesting composition so far. It features three parts. The first part is a quiet ballad which sound a lot like most of their other songs, but probably one of their most appealing so far. The middle part is a progressive section which gets heavier as it progresses, also featuring a spoken text in the background. The end section, like in Born Gifted, is a return to the opening melody played in a rougher way.

This demo is a logical continuation of the Spheres CD. The band sounds a bit more daring and convincing than on their previous release. The focus seems to have shifted to the more heavier and grungy songs. Keyboards play a more supporting role than on Spheres and the guitar is the main soloing instrument.
Occassionally you get the feeling that the band is suffering from a lack of musical direction, but that's something they will probably figure out while they progress. Although the band mentions Pink Floyd, Marillion and Porcupine Tree as their main influences, those are not the bands I immediately associate their music with (except in the middle part of Paragon).

The CD is a homemade disc with a one-sided inlay showing one of those awful fractal pictures. Gosh, can't anybody think of a more original thing than fractals ?

Conclusion: 7- out of 10.

Ed Sander

Matter of Taste - Chateau Obscure
Country of Origin:Austria
Record Label:MOT
Catalogue #:MOT 96001-2
Year of Release:1996

Tracklist: Chateau Obscure (8:32), Elegy (5:24), Seek for Birth (9:41), Soon (5:55), Nightkiller (4:57), Meadows of Fauns (6:11), Resurrection Song (4:00)

Two CD's by an Austrian band called Matter of Taste came in my mail. Well, that's something interesting, I thought, since Austria is not known for its high output of progressive rock bands. In fact, it is not so much a band, as the solo effort of Franz Wetzelberger, in Austria apparently well known for his childrens' music education program "Hocus Pocus Musikus". He has collected a number of musicians around him to record this album, more or less the same way Ayreon works. As a matter of fact, in an interview he classifies Ayreon as "genius-like".

The CD's were accompanied by a couple of photocopies of reviews and articles from the German/Austrian music press, who talk about comparison with e.g. Floyd, Egdon Heath and early Marillion. Now, I am familiar with all them, but none of these come to mind when actually listening to the CD. Of the three, Egdon Heath comes closest at some points, but although the music on this album must definitely be filed under progressive/symphonic rock, the whole album lacks passion in the music. This comes directly to the heart of the matter: the album is too tame. It does contain some wonderful melodies, as in Soon for instance, but it lacks the more bombastical musical climaxes this type of music asks for. A song like Nightkiller which should have a strong drive for this dark theme, tries but fails miserably. Meadows of Fauns deserves a special mention though: it has a beautiful opening reminding of the classical music of early this century, an impressionist piece. Talking about classical music: one Ludwig von Beethoven provided the theme for the last song.

The theme on the album is the cycle Life-Death. In itself the album works out this theme quite well, but as stated before, the music is mostly not very exiting. But if you're in a mood for some relaxing music, it is not an offending album to play. I have definitely heard worst albums!

If you're interested in ordering this album, contact Matter of Taste, Glauning 130, A-8093 St. Peter/O, Austria.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.

Remco Schoenmakers

Matter of Taste - Jack of Spades
Country of Origin:Austria
Record Label:WMMS (Music is Intelligence)
Catalogue #:WMMS 130
Year of Release:1998

Tracklist: Jack of Spades (4:49), Evolution (5:11), Communication (7:07), Mute Odyssey (4:03), Mesmerized (6:20), Fight to Survive (4:12), The Creation (4:15), Legal Action (3:50), Into My Dream (5:11)

Excuse me? Is this the same group as I just discussed? Apparently Herr Franz like me thought that the previous one was too laid back, so now he starts exploring a more progressive metal sound. So at least some action comes into the songs, a bit edging to some of the Dream Theater or Faith's Warning stuff. But still, even the switch of genre can't remove the fact that the sound is tame. The compositions are OK, I think it's the production that's shallow. The dynamic range in the songs is small.

Anyway, back to the music. What are the highlights on the album? Cool Floyd-pig-guitar in Communication, a song in which Camel meets Dream Theater (yep, it is possible, that is what makes this song interesting). The Creation is a kind of mini-opera in three parts, with the intro based on a very well-known classical theme (so well known that I can't remember composer or title, and no credits are given). The characters are Hate, Fear and Man. And that all in four minutes!

Since this album has the same problem as the other, a bit too tame, I would advise it for evening-listenings. What is interesting is to hear how classical music (not only already existing music, but also some themes he has composed himself) form the base of the songs. And let's face it, isn't that what the term "symphonic" is also reffering to?

Again, if you're interested in ordering this album, contact Matter of Taste, Glauning 130, A-8093 St. Peter/O, Austria, or WMMS.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.

Remco Schoenmakers

Oscar Caraballo - Yesterday is Tomorrow
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Ethereal Harmony
Catalogue #:CD 9901
Year of Release:1999

Tracklist: The Gates of Delerium (4.43), Heart of Sunrise (sic) (7.26), Time and a Word (4.30), All Good People Suite (5.43), Survival (4.08), Onward (4.37), Turn of the Century (7.36), And You And I (8.23), The Ancient (3.07), Starship Trooper Suite (8.59).

A couple of months ago the DPRP team decided to only review CDs if they could really be considered prog rock, prog metal or related to these genres. We wrote the Review Policies to prevent bands from sending irrelevant material which would not be reviewed. One of the main reasons for making this 'policy' was the fact that bands and labels kept sending us loads of heavy metal and worse, New Age music.

Let's start with saying that I'm not a big fan of New Age music (an understatement), and that goes for the other DPRP team members as well. Still we are more than willing to make an exception to the rule if there's a good reason. Someone playing cover songs of Yes songs in a New Age style seems more than enough reason.

Oscar Caraballo, a student of Classical music from Venezuela, had been fascinated by Yes' music for years and decided to put his own interpretations of the clasics of his favourite band on CD. Unfortunately he choose the fully electronic way. It's all synths folks, no drums, no guitars, no bass, no vocals.

Sometimes it works reasonably well, mostly in the quieter songs like as in Gates of Delerium (actually the Soon segment), Onwards, Turn of the Century and parts of And You and I, although it still feels like these classic pieces have been converted to nothing more than elevator music.

Sometimes it works for a minute but just drags on too long, as in Time and a Word and The Ancient

Other times it fails miserably, like in the pathetic version of Heart of the Sunrise, Starship Trooper and All Good People (which sounds like the melody's of the first half is being played by someone who just learned to play keyboards, while the second half sounds like an old washing machine that needs some serious maintenance). These rock songs just don't sound right without the guitars, drums and bass. Take away the power of these instruments and you've just got a whole lot of electronic fiddling left.

The album is more than a note for note copy of the music of Yes. Some pieces like Heart of the Sunrise feature improvised passages. Oscar wrote several short bridges, intros and interludes to make the pieces work better as New Age. I have to say that I admire the freedom Oscar has taken with these pieces and the courage to produce the CD. We have to respect that, even though we might not be raving about the results.

Still, after listening to the whole disc, I even get the urge to put the Open Your Eyes album on !
The cover features one of those horrible 'pick a fractal and slap it on your disc' pieces.

Only interesting for die-hard Yes collectors and people who are both into Yes and New Age. Judge for yourself, check the MP3s on the Ethereal Harmony Homepage, where you can also order the CD for $15 (excl. postage).

Conclusion: 6- out of 10.

Ed Sander

Albert Humber
Country of Origin:Canada
Record Label:Indie Pool
Catalogue #:AHCD 01
Year of Release:1998

Tracklist: Eddie (11.53), (It's a Sort of) Evolution (2.32), Moving Down a One Way Lane (3.16), The Station (3.22), Don't Let the Day Pass Alone (4.28), The First Heart Transplant (2.50), Outta Luck (2.13), No More I'll Try (4.50), Safe in Their Shadows (4.36), Stillness in the Glen (3.48), (The Man With) Three Eyes (5.16).

On with the next one-man show. Albert Humber is a bloke from Canada who started learning to play guitar at 7 and bass at 13. He started writing lyrics and playing keyboards, got interested in computerized music and recently bought his own studio in which he recorded his nameless debut album. Albert mentions the British bands from the 60's and 70's as his main influences. Yes is probably one of them.

Albert plays bass, acoustic and electric guitars and keyboards on the CD. He also programmed the drums.

Humber is a classical example of a guy who can write some very good pieces of music but needs others to help him perform them. Although the drum computers are not as offensive as in other recent discs I reviewed, the songs lack the power of real drums. More important however is the fact that Albert is a good writer but far from a perfect singer. His voice is much to fragile and too much on the high side to sound comfortable to the listener.

The songs are mostly 3 to 5 minutes long, with the long opening track Eddie as an exception to the rule.
Eddie, a song about the death of dog Eddie, contains some very interesting bits and pieces like the mystic intro with the menacing bass and percussion effects. The melodies are quite good, but lose most of their strength when Albert sings them. The song contains both acoustic and electric guitar, as well as some interesting keyboard sequences. This song, which explores various styles, is defintely the highlight of the album.

The rest of the album is a bit of a mish-mash of different styles from punk (The First Heart Transplant) to folk/country (Moving Down A One Way Lane & Stilness in the Glen), from pop (No More I'll Try) to prog rock (The Station. Some songs are nice, some aren't, but it certainly has potential.

To sum it up, Albert Humber is certainly a talented guy, but he needs to team up with some others to get the most out of his promising compositions.

The booklet features all lyrics and a very lame cover with Albert's name in big letters.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.

Ed Sander

Album Reviews