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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

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Review by Gary Hill

When this group rose from the ashes of a dying Yes it seemed like a dream come true for progressive rock fans. Take two parts Yes (OK – one and a half maybe since Geoff Downes was only on one Yes album) in the persons of Geoff Downes and Steve Howe, one third of Emerson Lake and Palmer (Carl Palmer) and add in John Wetton (King Crimson, UK) and make a band. Prog-heads (myself included) were expecting epic tracks and incredible instrumental passages. Well, that wasn’t exactly what we got. The truth was what this band produced was some of the most potent pop rock that was out there. That meant they had a whole string of hits, but they also seemed a disappointment to many of us. Here’s the rub, though. It was actually quite good at the time. I know I really liked the disc, but I didn’t think of it as overly proggy. I saw them on the tour and it was a great show, but the truth is, I had written off the disc as “good, but dated and a bit generic.” Well, the truth is, this disc is far better than “good.” It also really doesn’t feel dated with the exception of a couple of parts. There are no weak tracks here, and while a lot of the song structures are generic they throw enough curves at you to keep it interesting and “prog.” The truth is, this might be the ultimate arena rock prog album. It still sounds as fresh and potent today as it did all those years ago.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Heat of the Moment
It seems like most people will have heard this hit – in fact, a lot of this disc should be familiar as it was full of hits. This cut starts off with a short, somewhat crunchy segment. It drops to a more stripped down segment for John Wetton’s vocals and after the verse a bouncing Buggles meets Steve Howe approach takes over for the chorus. This becomes the alternating pattern until a tentative mellower interlude moves it into the harder rocking take on the verse. There isn’t a lot of Steve Howe on the song proper, but if you listen carefully there are some recognizable fills and he gets a full solo during the instrumental break where he gets to strut his stuff with style. Carl Palmer shines on that segment quite a bit. Howe keeps soloing right through the energized reprise of the chorus that fades down to end the piece.
Only Time Will Tell
A soaring keyboard line opens this. Then the rest of the band join in a flourish that features both Downes’ keys and Howe’s guitars. They drop it way back to just keys and percussion for the first verse, then power it out for the pre-chorus. A cool seque leads into the chorus, which is delivered in a mode rather lake Emerson Lake and Powell. After the chorus a smoking (albeit brief) instrumental segment includes some more screaming Howe riffs. They move it back into the chorus and then instrumental break. This one is actually a very strong tune, and I think I like it better than “Heat of the Moment.” They move through a number of very progressive rock sections, even though it’s a relatively short (at least in terms of prog rock) piece. I think the vocal delivery and lyrics on this one are particularly evocative. Once again they use the “fade out” technique to end this.
Sole Survivor
The mode that starts this feels a lot like Drama era Yes. After the short introduction they move this out into a killer jam that has a bit of Tormato in it. When they drop it down to the verse, though, I think it loses something. Still, Howe manages to throw a line or two of guitar riffing here and there throughout. They power it out into a smoking chorus on this cut and how lets loose all over it. It’s funny but before I popped this disc in again I remembered not liking this track a lot – the truth is, it’s another highlight of the disc and a very strong piece of music. Howe makes his presence known throughout. They drop back to a sedate keyboard driven segment that at first feels a lot like the Buggles. Once Howe’s guitar is heard, though, and they launch back into the harder rocking modes all thoughts of Downes and Horn’s group vanish.
One Step Closer
This cut is a bit on the generic side, and a little like the rest of the disc. Still there are some points that really stand out here. For one thing you can actually hear Steve Howe singing on this one – and his voice works really well here. There are some Drama era Yes keyboard lines going on and Howe manages some more trademark playing when you least expect it. While I wouldn’t consider this one of the best cuts on the disc it still is well worth the inclusion. The final movement of the piece reminds me at times of Tormato Yes.
Time Again
This one comes in feeling like “Machine Messiah” from Tormato, even the swirling resolution of the introduction calls to mind that track. Carl Palmer’s drumming is more prevalent on this introduction that on a lot of the CD. After the extended intro they move this out into a fast paced jam that gets both some nice keyboard layers and some Howe soloing. Wetton’s lines of vocals are punctuated by short bursts of crunchy prog jamming. They turn in a bit of a jazzy sort of interlude after the chorus and then power out for another short scorching instrumental movement. In many ways this track is one of the most progressive rock oriented ones on the disc. While it definitely follows the typical “verse / chorus / repeat pattern,” they manage to throw a number of killer curve balls into the mix. The smoking guitar solo segment again calls to mind “Machine Messiah.” Howe may well show his best guitar work of the whole disc on this track. The intro segment returns to close out the disc.
Wildest Dreams
A pulsating rhythm section opens this and Howe throws out lines of trademark guitars (too bad they aren’t a little further up in the mix). This intro runs through and they drop it down for the chorus, but still short bursts of prog jamming show up in the course. The lyrical themes of this one are very powerful as is the chorus. On the second verse Howe is soloing over the top of Wetton’s vocal line, weaving lines of melody in the air. I’d say that (other than my comment about Howe’s guitar in the opening segment) the only thing I’d change about this one is the rather lame wall of sound vocal that shows up from time to time. Still, this cut has a lot of Steve Howe’s guitar work – and I’m a Howe fanatic and it’s another that shows more progressive rock tendencies than some of the other material. It should be noted that Geoff Downes finds plenty of chances to shine on this one, too. A later instrumental break with a jazzy and symphonic feel gives Carl Palmer some opportunity to show is sticks prowess, too.
Without You
A dramatic, but understated mode starts this with mostly just keys and bass for the opening vocal segments. On the title check of the chorus the band join in to create tension and power. From here they build the musical themes of the track in a more energized way. Wetton’s vocals here are simply awe-inspiring, but I’ve always been a big fan of his singing. They work in a killer prog break later (even if it is short). This song varies a bit from the “verse / chorus / repeat” pattern and the song is stronger for it. This is another winner on a disc that has a lot of them. It’s one of my two or three favorites here. Another heavy segment (rather like “Machine Messiah”) enters later. Howe gets to break out the acoustic after this and they rebuild the song, this time with the guitar accompanying the vocals instead of the keys.
Cutting It Fine
Howe’s acoustic guitar leads this one off and they work through these themes for a short time before powering out to the electric guitar dominated textures. The riff that leads that segment is classic Howe. This cut is another that I didn’t remember as strong as it really is. It’s a bit more generic in terms of the song structure, but they really put it together with class. You also get to hear Howe’s voice on this one. The instrumental interlude does include some keys that sound very dated, but still this song is another winner and (other than that one point) holds up really well. Geoff Downes manages to work a somewhat classically tinged solo into the midst of this and as they grow it up from there, with keys and percussion ruling the day, it is extremely effective. Downes brings in some more classical elements on the other keyboards as he and Palmer continue to control the song all the way through the conclusion.
Here Comes The Feeling
This one has a triumphant sort of rocking approach that is arguably the most straightforward one on the disc. They do manage to throw in some intriguing segments and it’s another where Wetton’s vocals really make it work. This is an incredibly potent and emotional piece of music and actually one of my favorites, based mostly on Wetton’s delivery. That’s not to say there aren’t interesting musical moments – all of the guys find times to shine – it’s just saying that the song structure is a bit tired but they do it so well that you don’t really notice. It is also a tribute to Wetton’s performance. They do manage to weave a few very Yes-like breaks into the arrangement, too – always a good thing if you ask me. I’m not sure this was the best choice to close the disc, but it does work well nonetheless. It does leave me wanting to hit “repeat,” and I suppose that’s the point of a closer.
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