Album Reviews

Issue 2021-011: Robert Berry / 3.2 Inter-Review

It has been a story in three parts. The first part was an album To The Power Of 3 released back in 1988 featuring the trio of Carl Palmer, Robert Berry and the late, great Keith Emerson.

The second instalment had to wait until 2018, when Berry completed work on the follow-up that he had started with Emerson before his untimely death.

The third, concluding chapter is released this week on the Frontiers record Label. This time created solely by Berry, Third Impression is a record that every progressive music fan will be delighted to indulge in, mixing epic songs with more melodic and AOR moments.

Here, Robert Berry talks with the DPRP's Patrick McAfee about the new album, making videos, re-releasing his solo album, being asked to be the singer of Asia, plans to tour Europe, and his dream-list of artists he would love to be working with.

Robert Berry promo photo

With Third Impression you have again done a tremendous job of continuing the legacy that began with the release of To the Power of 3 in 1988. Whereas the previous 3.2 album (The Rules Have Changed) was initiated by your renewed activity with Keith Emerson, what was the driving force to continue the 3.2 brand with this release?

[Robert Berry] I had been asked by Frontiers Records to do a follow-up to The Rules Have Changed. They told me it had done so well that they would love to have another record. At first I wasn't sure that this was something I could, or should, do. I only had one song left that Keith and I had worked on together and I felt that without the capability of working with him, it might not be a good idea.

I finally decided that if I could write an album's worth of songs that I felt represented the 3 sound and style, then I would finish up the final Emerson/Berry song and let it be released to the world. As with The Rules Have Changed, I felt like something was guiding me, because although at the beginning I didn't think I could do it, the songs came flowing out.

There was also the consideration of, if I did come up with enough songs that I felt would represent what Keith and I had set out to do, how could I also bridge that gap into what I might do in the future. In my mind this is the last ever 3 album. It is the last remaining song of my working with Keith Emerson. It can never happen again. Bitter-sweet for me as you might expect, but on the other hand, such an important piece of my life.

DPRP: We spoke three years ago and you have been honest about how quickly the original 3 band was put together and the reservations you have about the mix of pop and prog on the debut album. The Rules Have Changed rectified that, and Third Impression pushes the barriers even further. Yes, the songs are accessible, but there is more of an aggressive edge and musically-adventurous spirit to much of the material. Do these two albums better represent the original vision that you had for 3 prior to the label's pressure to fit into a certain mould, produce hit singles and all of that?

I maybe could answer that better in terms of my time in GTR with Steve Howe. Steve had asked me to join and given me two songs to work on. As I assessed what I might do, I realised that the first GTR album had a lot of guitars triggering synths and it didn't really sound like a guitar-based album as much as I would think a band called GTR would sound like.

So I gathered my thoughts on what that should be included. More Steve Howe guitar, more powerful rhythms, and more complex vocal harmonies. When 3 first got together, Geffen Records was grooming me to be what John Kalodner had called Bryan Adams-meets-Sting. Straight rock with some more musical creativity. The songs like Runaway and Do Or Don't grew from that concept. Keith and Carl liked them and I was thrilled.

Remember I was the new guy. I had no real history at the level I was working with at that time. So I was happy to go along with what they wanted and what Kalodner had helped happen. Don't get me wrong, I do love both those songs. I just could see, after the album was out, that there needed to be a better foundation laid for the ELP fans to come along on the journey, as they had with Asia.

Taking all that into account, I do think that the parameters that Keith and I set out to accomplish were the important points in relaunching the band 3. I have said before that being half of the song-writing team and being the voice of 3, gave me a certain ownership in the sound and style that at that point only I could continue with. You add it all up and I do think that the second and third albums are definitely what 3 should have done. It was where we were heading with Last Ride Into The Sun, and now, it's where 3 wound up. I'm not sure it was all hindsight though. Some of it was just the path our lives had travelled and how to stay true to our roots, but also move forward.

Third Impression represents some of the strongest song-writing of your career. The material is complex, mature and thought-provoking, while still sounding optimistic and upbeat. When looking back at your career and the music that you've written, what songs/albums are you most proud of. Is there anything that kind of makes you grimace at this point?

I am very pleased that you have listened to Third Impression and hear the depth of what it offers. I will say that although I was worried that I wouldn't be able to top The Rules Have Changed I have received nothing but great comments on the album. As you could imagine, after working in the dark, so to speak, for a year on it, there is a sense of relief that it is being accepted so readily.

The day before the release of the first single Fond Farewell was not an easy day for me. But it's always that way, to tell you the truth. Not everybody has to like what I do and I can accept that, but as in a few albums that have been released by artists in the last few months, once there is a lot of negativity surrounding an album, there is no turning back. I am very thankful for the support of the music fans and I never take that for granted.

That said: I can't stand listening to my voice in the old Hush days. We had a trick we thought was so cool back in the late 70s and early 80s. We'd slow the tape down just a bit and sing the song. Then at the mixing stage, the tape would be played back at normal speed making the vocal a little higher-sounding. Yeah! And that's what I hate. I sound like a chipmunk.

The first Hush album is pretty much a prog album and shows where our roots came from. I am very proud of all the albums, but it took me years to find a voice I could stand. I believe what happens for a singer/songwriter is that they learn how to write songs in the right key and with melodies with the right flow to compliment their voice. That didn't happen for me until right before I got with Geffen Records. My first solo album is called Back To Back. It was a bunch of demos that Hush couldn't do, as they weren't in our format. And I had written the songs in a different style that made my voice come across and sell the lyrics.

Right after that, my career really started to happen. Another important album in that early stage of my developing career was Pilgrimage To A Point. I had spent a few years in London working with my heroes, Geoff Downes, Steve Howe, and Carl and Keith, and a few others. I had all this material that would not see the light of day, if I didn't release it. I wasn't going to do that, until Andy Latimer of Camel was recording in my studio and asked what I was going to do with all those songs. When I told him I had no plans, he pushed me to release Pilgrimage To A Point. The drummer from my high school band days, Richard Katz, actually came up with the name. He is a great graphic artist and also did the cover design. There were two versions of that album and I am combining them, remastering and putting out a special edition later this year.

Robert Berry promo photo

DPRP: You have done a great job with the promo videos for The Rules Have Changed and Third Impression albums. I was especially impressed with the video for A Fond Farewell. Things have changed since the days of MTV, but thanks to YouTube and the like, music video still seems to be a great creative and promotional tool. What are your thoughts on the value of music videos these days?

I have to give credit to the staff at Frontiers for the Fond Farewell video. Nothing is harder for me than storyboarding a video shoot. I am all about the music and lyrics but not the visual. Although, I do love it when a video either brings out the emotion of the song or tells a different story than the lyric implies. In the case of Fond Farewell the latter is the case.

I wrote it as a bit of a puzzle. I wanted to put the stamp on the 3 sound and style. I wanted to bring to light my feelings about how hateful people are these days and that we are saying farewell to kindness. Of course that was also my main reason for doing the last two albums. I wanted to say farewell to the best time in my musical life. I will never forget how Keith and Carl treated the new-kid like an equal and empowered me to do my best work.

In 2019, just prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, you put together a great band and did an extensive tour of the USA. I had the pleasure of seeing the show in Los Angeles and really enjoyed the historical perspective of the set-list and the storytelling. What are your recollections of that tour, and when the Covid situation improves, is there a chance for a 3.2 tour for the new album?

My main purpose in putting together such a great band and coming out to play was to thank the fans of my music for their support all these years. You have to understand that I'm not a guy that has had such wild success that I'm on the evening news counting my money. No, I am a guy that continues to work hard at doing what I love to do. The listeners have embraced that journey for many years now. So I would start each show by walking out by myself and thanking the crowd for their support. Then one-by-one I would introduce the band members. That they learned all those tough songs and played their hearts out performing my history in music is quite an honour in itself.

I was supposed to tour Europe with Big Big Train last year and of course that was cancelled. So now, you had better believe that I will be on tour as soon as I can! I can't wait. Not because I'm locked up, because I've been quite busy at my studio all of 2020 and it continues this year. But because I have not come over before to play my own show in Europe and to thank the people there for keeping me doing what I love by supporting my music. That is a loose-end I need to take care of.

You have performed with and produced many great bands and artists over the years. As an example, the Magna Carta tribute albums that you were a big part of in the 90s are some of the finest prog covers albums ever released. Do you have a dream list of artists that you would still like to work with?

1) Jeff Beck. I swear that guy doesn't know how to play guitar. He is just part of the guitar, and what he does is so damn brilliant.

2) Paul McCartney. I can't help but feel there would be something magical if we worked together. I am so into the tonal quality of his bass, his incredibly melodic bass lines, and just his sense of song-writing and melody.

3) You probably know well my last choice. Ian Crighton, the guitar player for the band Saga, is a favourite of mine. He has a unique style, like Steve Howe. He plays some interesting parts. Not just power chords and jamming solos. The 3.2 band headlined a night at ProgStock and Saga headlined the following night. He blew me away with his tone and articulation of some very demanding guitar parts.

I saw an idea raised in the comments section of one of the 3.2 videos that I thought was intriguing. Considering that you have previously worked with Carl Palmer, Steve Howe and Geoff Downes, you would be an excellent choice to join Asia. If I am not mistaken, there might have been some chance of that in the past? John Wetton was such a unique talent and his vocals are particularly difficult to replace. That said, I and apparently others feel that you are one of the few artists who could do their music justice, while still putting your own stamp on the material. Much like you did with Ambrosia. At this point in your career, would you ever consider taking time away from your solo work to accept an offer of this type from Asia or another established band?

I would never say never. I have been asked if I was interested two times. Actually three times if you count the first time Carl called from the Geffen Records office in 1986. The first time we started a new band instead. Jackpot! The second time they picked Billy Sherwood. The third time they actually got a guy that did a really great job. Bumblefoot actually did an excellent job.

But for me, as with Ambrosia, I have to know that we would work towards a new album in the style of Asia. Half the song-writing team is still there with Geoff, and he is fantastic to work with. I have to know that the commitment to greatness is there to honour the name of John Wetton, and that the band is not just playing the old songs. For me, I believe my interest is gone. Asked too many times without a word afterwards. Do I think I would have fitted in? Asia was my favourite band after Yes. So I believe I could have done something really great with the three guys I have worked with before and whom I respect very deeply.

Thanks Robert! Third Impression carries on the great musical tradition of 3, but it also adds some fantastic new elements to the mix. It is easily the most diverse of all of the 3 / 3.2 albums. Established fans are really going to enjoy it and it certainly deserves the attention of some previously uninitiated music fans as well. I wish you great success with the album!

Thank you Patrick. I am hoping that the path I took to move a little more towards what I may possibly do next album around, was a wise decision. You can never tell what the public wants to hear but you can count on me doing what I believe is true to me and to the music that I love. Your comments really made my day!

Interview by Patrick McAfee

Robert Berry promo photo

3.2 — Third Impression

3.2 - Third Impression
Top of the World (8:59), What Side You're On? (2:51), Black of Night (6:15), Killer of Hope (3:15), Missing Piece (5:54), A Bond of Union (5:19), The Devil of Liverpool (6:09), Emotional Trigger (4:53), A Fond Farewell (4:27), Never (8:58)
Patrick McAfee

Featuring Robert Berry, Keith Emerson, and Carl Palmer, the band 3 released their debut album, To The Power of Three in 1988. It was met with a mixed response at the time, but has since developed a dedicated following. Thirty years later, Berry surprised many with the announcement of a follow up. That album, The Rules Have Changed was reviewed in 2018. Consisting of the compositions that he and Keith Emerson had written and began recording for a new 3 release, the album was deservedly well-received. Now, with Third Impression Berry sets forth to wrap-up the band's legacy in grand fashion.

It should be noted that 3.2 is essentially a Berry solo project, but you would never know it. There is a forceful band feel to this material, which is a testament to his talents. Keith Emerson's songwriting is limited to their final piece written together (Never), but his unmistakable keyboard style is prominently featured throughout this album's ten tracks. As on the previous 3.2 release, Berry does an excellent job of adding an adventurous new spirit to the band's original sound. To put it succinctly, this material is decidedly more proggy than the bulk of the 3 debut.

Yes, there is an accessibility to every song on Third Impression, but even the most pop-laden melody or chorus is countered with a blistering keyboard solo or a crunching bass line. The album opener, Top of the World, sets this tone right from the start. Sounding more rock-infused than before, this mini epic successfully packs a lot of musical depth into its fast-moving length.

What follows is an impressive series of strongly-penned, intricately-performed, prog/rock songs. From the blistering What Side You're On, to the anthemic Missing Piece and the musically cinematic Devil of Liverpool, the album is full of winning moments.

None more so than the bitter-sweet Fond Farewell, which feels like an effective closing chapter to the 3/3.2 story. Ultimately though, that honour is rightfully given to the previously mentioned Never. A rousing epic, full of classic Emerson riffs and solos, there could be no more perfect way to close the book on 3.2.

I will admit that when I heard of this album's release, I was a bit sceptical. My thought was, why continue, when there is limited Emerson material and again no Carl Palmer? I was absolutely wrong. Third Impression stands as a proud companion piece to the previous two releases. The nostalgia attached to the sound and style of this music dictates that it had to be a 3.2 album. Though inevitably, a lot of the dialogue will justifiably centre around Keith Emerson, the bulk of the credit goes to the impeccably talented Robert Berry. Beyond ensuring that his final works with Emerson would be heard, this release secures a trilogy of albums that validates 3 as a musical force of distinction.

Album Reviews