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Erik Norlander

Music Machine

Review by Gary Hill

n Music Machine Erik Norlander has created the newest rock opera. His story tells the tale of the first manufactured rock idol, hence the name "Music Machine". "Johnny America" as he's dubbed is made by plotting executives and rides the wave of fame and fortune. This section is all chronicled on the first CD, "The Rise". What goes up must come down, though, and this is even true of Johnny. CD two captures the full story of "The Fall". The disc is a great combination of classic prog sounds like Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons and ELP with harder edged sounds of Dream Theater and even Dio. The song "Lost Highway" is essentially a BOC song, with Buck Dharma of that band playing guitar and singing. This disc is a definite power ride, and it has its up moments and down ones, just like our hero Johnny.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2004 Year Book Volume 1 at

Track by Track Review
Disc 1 - The Rise
Prologue: Project Blue Prince
This cut comes across as a killer prog rocker, starting a bit weirdly with spacey textures and spoken sound bites over top, but it grows organically from there. Norlander works in some nice touches on this studio rendition like whistling and other sonic diversions. This is a classy piece, and a great way to get into the spirit of the album.
Music Machine
A techno type texture starts this one. As it carries forward live percussion takes the place of the electronic. This smoker feels a bit like Dio at time, but is really hard-edged prog. It lyrically chronicles the contrived creation of a musical idol.
Turn Me On
Although feeling balladic at first, this one takes on a staccato hard rocking texture shortly. It feels a bit like Dream Theater at times, and includes some considerably inspired instrumental interplay.
Heavy Metal Symphony
This hard rocking prog number includes a neo-classical interlude, but, appropriate for its title is suitably metallic.
Tour of the Sprawl
This cut, nearly epic in length, starts with keys in spacey tones. Then a fast paced "cheery" sound takes it until Norlander begins a synth solo overtop to add some edge to the piece. This one continues on from there becoming a bit jazzy. As the song proper takes over, this one feels like across between Kraftwerk and Alan Parsons. This is a killer extended jam that also feels a bit like the solo work of Rick Wakeman at times.
Coming in as a frantic prog number, after a time it switches toward the metallic, then begins to resemble Pat Metheny's sound just a little. Once the vocals enter, the Alan Parsons textures come back with them. The instrumental break on this one is quite tasty. This eventually drops back toward that mellower Methenyish texture.
Letter From Space
This instrumental starts with percussion, and as the keys enter it feels a bit like something from Pink Floyd's Meddle disc. This jam has a great classic prog style.
Lost Highway
With vocals and guitar provided by none other than Blue Oyster Cult's Buck Dharma, it's no wonder that this one feels like a BOC ballad. As a longtime fan of The Cult, I really like this one a lot.
Soma Holiday
This comes in as the most fusion oriented segment on show here. This instrumental is also one of the more dynamic pieces on the album.
Return of the Neurosaur
This brief instrumental and the one that follows it seem very much like the same piece. This comes in hard and very meaty. It doesn't stay around for long, though.
Project Blue Prince Reprise
This short piece seems like a continuation of the previous one.
Disc 2 - The Fall
Fanfare and Interlude
A hard-edged anthemic flourish begins this, hence the "fanfare" part of the title. It then moves into a jam that seems to merge the sounds of Dream Theater with those of Emerson Lake and Palmer. This shifts from the frantic to the sedate neo-classically oriented. It then moves to more straightforward prog jam. This segment doesn't last long, though, as this instrumental is quite dynamic.
Beware the Vampires
Imagine if ELP were to hook up with Ronnie James Dio's band and put together a stomping progish metal cut. Well, what you have in your mind right now is probably very close to this scorcher. After a time it resolves out into a classically tinged keyboard dominated jam before getting back t o its roots to carry it through to its conclusion.
The Fire of Change
Starting with piano runs (feeling like a cross between Wakeman and Emerson) punctuated by jazzy bursts, this shifts after a time to a pattern that feels rather like Alan Parsons combined with The Police and modern Rush. Processed vocals at times call to mind Kraftwerk, just a bit. After a wild ride, this one ends pretty much the way it began.
The Fall of the Idol
An incredible classically tinged organ sound begins this, then a frantic rhythm enters and this in turn is shortly turned into a scorching metallic prog rocker. This track includes an ambient somewhat spacey mid section that gives way to a great keyboard solo before making it back to earlier textures. This time, though, it comes into this segment in the form of frantic soloing, all the instruments get a turn before the chorus comes back in. This is an awesome piece.
The start of this calls to mind "On the Run" from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album, but as it carries on, it becomes more fast paced fusion oriented prog, but the Floyd segment returns as interludes. This instrumental (other than a few spoken/whispered lines) is a killer track.
One of the Machines
A killer hard-edged rocker, this one is quite satisfying. It is poignant and powerful, and includes a great instrumental break.
Coming in with a fanfare, this then drops toward balladic to carry forward. It includes some incredible instrumental passages.
Johnny America
A harder edged prog rocker, this is very appealing. It becomes more balladic for the verses and has some killer sounds. It, rather appropriately to the story, includes a rendition of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" within its structure.
Music Machine Reprise
This brief rocker is rather straightforward, and its crescendo leads straight into the next number.
Epilogue: Sky Full of Stars
This melodic prog rocker extended instrumental is very tasty and serves as a satisfying conclusion to a great disc.
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