Monday, February 22, 2016

The Genesis Project - "Foxtrot"

Genesis - Foxtrot
1972, Gelring/Atlantic

1. Watcher of the Skies
2. Time Table
3. Get 'Em Out By Friday
4. Can-Utility and the Coastliners
5. Horizons
6. Supper's Ready

If there is a progressive rock hall of fame, I’m sure Foxtrot occupies a place in it. This album is a masterwork. A true piece of art. As I listened to it I realized just how much Genesis has influenced modern prog bands. Some of my favorites, like Spock’s Beard, Haken, Dream Theater, Ayreon, etc. all take at least some of their cues from seventies era Genesis. Indeed, that era, Foxtrot in particular, codifies some of the prog rock tropes you’ll see in said modern bands.

Again, this album is basically “Progressive Rock 101.” The talent and technical mastery is undeniable. Phil Collins again impresses with such expressive drumming. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite drummers. Of course we’ve also got Mike Rutherford’s melodic bass which does far more than simply lay down a rhythm section. It’s all over the place and pretty far forward in the mix, making it a vital component of these tracks. Steve Hackett provides the achingly beautiful acoustic guitar based “Horizons.”  Then we have Peter Gabriel. I’ve always liked his vocals and his solo material, so it’s always good to hear him again.

Okay… now that I’ve lauded enough praise on this album I can admit something that will probably be heresy to old-school Genesis fans. I… kind of like Duke a little better.

Hang on a second, put down the stone. I like the album. A lot, actually.

However, this was definitely the band’s intellectual period. They put a lot of high-minded concepts into these songs. Sometimes it’s relatable, such as “Time Tables” where they muse about human nature. Other times…not so much. Duke, lyrically speaking, was a very down to earth album and a very human one, singing of love and loss. Foxtrot, however, is definitely written by a band who lets their singer dress up as a sunflower for art.

Take for instance “Get ‘Em Out By Friday.” It’s a pretty cool, more upbeat jam (one of my favorites) about innocent people being forced out of their homes. Then by the end of the track there’s something about genetic manipulation? Or something? I’m not quite sure. But that’s what I’m talking about. It’s a little bit harder to emotionally invest in songs when the lyrics seem to be written by a spacemen. We also have “Can-Utility And The Coastliners.” I am not sure what this song is about at all. There’s just this emotional disconnect I had with this album. I liked it, for sure, but I wasn’t really emotionally invested in it.

“But a lot of bands to that sort of thing!” True. But when Ayreon sings about space whales, the emotion behind the songs is still very much human. And when David Bowie (not prog, but spacey enough) sings about Major Tom, you can still feel the alienation and hopelessness. Again, quite human. While listening to Foxtrot I kind of felt like an outside observer. I’ll allow that this is probably just me and I have a few more Gabriel-era discs to dig into. So maybe I’ll feel differently after Nursery Cryme, Selling England By the Pound, and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.

Now I can’t talk about Foxtrot without mentioning “Supper’s Ready” – the twenty plus minute epic about the apocalypse. It certainly has its moods, ranging from gentle to thunderous, though how else does one capture the end of the world in music? It largely succeeds in being a compelling piece and certainly the gold standard for extended prog jams. I don’t think the band even attempted another one until Duke and they even broke that one up into bite-sized pieces. Nonetheless, if you’re the type that will sit down and listen to a twenty-minute song, you’ll be rewarded with quite and adventure.

So there’s Foxtrot – a legendary progressive rock masterpiece that may take some spins to really appreciate. Even then, you may have to get your tinfoil hat (or sunflower costume if ya gots one) to make sense of it. Technically, it’s just about perfect, but I need a little bit more humanity in my albums and a little less spaceman.

Final Score: 4 out of 5

Useless Fact: If you listened to this on vinyl, “Horizons” and “Supper’s Ready” would take up one whole side of a record! Um… I don’t really do vinyl so that’s kind of amazing to me.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Dream Theater - "The Astonishing"

Dream Theater - The Astonishing
2016, Roadrunner

1. Descent of the Nomacs
2. Dystopian Overture
3. The Gift of Music
4. The Answer
5. A Better Life
6. Lord Nafaryus
7. A Savior In the Square
8. When Your Time Has Come
9. Act of Faythe
10. Three Days
11. The Hovering Sojourn
12. Brother, Can You Hear Me?
13. A Life Left Behind
14. Ravenskill
15. Chosen
16. A Tempting Offer
17. Digital Discord
18. The X Aspect
19. A New Beginning
20. The Road to Revolution

1. 2285 Entr'acte
2. Moment of Betrayal
3. Heaven's Cove
4. Begin Again
5. The Path That Divides
6. Machine Chatter
7. The Walking Shadow
8. My Last Farewell
9. Losing Faythe
10. Whispers on the Wind
11. Hymn of a Thousand Voices
12. Our New World
13. Power Down
14. Astonishing

Oh gosh... yeah... um... no thanks, guys. When I first heard about The Astonishing I was looking forward to it. It sounded like it could be good. Well... I honestly don't know. I just know it's not for me. It's a two-and-a-half hour theatrical music extravaganza. The problem is that there's nothing in the way of hooks or memorable melodies. There's not even any interesting progressive stuff to hold your attention. It's just this big, bloated, self-indulgent musical that takes up way too much of my time and doesn't give me anything for it. Granted, the music is executed with the precision and talent that you come to expect from Dream Theater, but as I said, most of it isn't very interesting and is only there to prop up the story.

And oh my word... the story.

It's supposed to be some epic battle between good and evil, I guess. What it really is, however, is every trope you've ever seen from Super Nintendo-era Final Fantasies. There's the evil king and his special daughter. Naturally, she's the love interest for the hero - the "chosen one" who can save the world through the power of friendship music. And they've wasted so much money and resources on this nonsense. Are these guys, like, thirteen? The name of the evil emperor is Nafaryus. Flippin' Nafaryus. Really?! Oh, and there's Faythe. Good grief guys.

Ugh. Some people might like this but I would much rather just have a good album. Please don't do this again. I'll give you guys one more album to impress me again but then I'm tapping out.

Useless Fact: I guess there's a website where you can explore the characters and the world the album takes place in. For people who've never played Final Fantasy, I guess.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Stryper - "Fallen"

Stryper - Fallen
2015, Frontiers

1. Yahweh
2. Fallen
3. Pride
4. Big Screen Lies
5. Heaven
6. Love You Like I Do
7. All Over Again
8. After Forever
9. Till I Get What I Need
10. Let There Be Light
11. The Calling
12. King of Kings

I've never been a huge Stryper fan. I like them alright. I really like the older stuff, but their newer stuff has never really done much for me. Even when they made a move back toward their classic sound, I remained uninterested. However, I did notice that Fallen had made a lot of "best of" lists for 2015 so I decided to check it out. I'm glad I did! Fallen is not merely "one of their better albums from the latter period" but one of their best albums period. I would go as far as to say this is probably the finest album of their career. This is also probably the heaviest I've ever heard them. Michael Sweet is at the top of his vocal game here - even hitting the high notes of days gone by. The songs are infectious, with great hooks and riffs. Twin leads abound! Even the ballad ("All Over Again") is probably the best ballad they've ever done. They've even thrown in a cover of "After Forever." Now, it won't ever replace the Deliverance version as my favorite, but it's still really good and fits well on the album. If you're trying to get someone into Stryper, this is definitely the album to show them.

Useless Fact: Didn't Stryper do a covers album? And an album of rerecordings? I think they did. I wonder if they're any good?

Monday, February 1, 2016

W.A.S.P. - "Golgotha"

W.A.S.P. - Golgotha
2015, Napalm

1. Scream
2. Last Runaway
3. Shotgun
4. Miss You
5. Fallen Under
6. Slaves of the New World Order
7. Eyes of My Maker
8. Hero of the World
9. Golgotha

I never was much of a W.A.S.P. fan back in the day. They were certainly notable for being one of the bands that parents loved to hate. I believe they were also recipients of Tipper Gore's ire. While I've never followed the actual music, I have been interested in frontman Blackie Lawless' spiritual evolution over the years. Come to find out the man is now a full-fledged Christian. Well... bless be. I bought this album because I was curious what someone who wrote songs like "F**k Like a Beast" and "Don't Cry, Just Suck" would be doing as a Christian. I also noticed that it was on a lot of metal fans' "best of" lists for the year. I'm not sure how it would measure up to their "glory days" but Golgotha is a rock solid album full of good hooks. As I expected, the lyrics are a lot more mature and spiritual as well. Of note is the ballad, "Miss You," about grieving the death of a loved one. The emotion really comes through here and makes the song just that more compelling. I'm definitely glad I picked this one up!

Useless Fact: The only thing I really know is that back in the day, Blackie used to wear a codpiece with a buzzsaw blade protruding from it. Because he was really into subtle innuendo back then.