|Progressive Rock CD Reviews|
Review by Josh Turner
The albums being released from Prog Rock Records these days exhibit exceptional production. This is by no means an exception. The production, mixing, and arrangement are absolutely astronomical. The bands on this label know a thing or two about engineering an album. Basically, all aspects of its sound quality are in their highest form. The tracks are appropriately ordered so that adjacent songs properly mesh. Even the artwork is top-notch and classy. This is the model for other bands to follow. As time goes on, Prog Rock Records continues to "sound" better.
Another area that must be mentioned lies in the vocal delivery as the singing is a key strength to the album. This should come as no surprise when you consider this is the solo album of Saga's lead singer, Michael Sadler. While all parts, passages, and percussions are well above average, the vocals are simply tremendous. This might be why Henning Pauly of Frameshift fame has considered doing a concept album that centers exclusively around Michael's competent voice.
It's hard to say if this music is prog or pop. To be precise, it's probably somewhere in between. The lengths of the songs make them accessible to a mainstream crowd. However, the presence of keyboards, orchestrations, and choirs create something beyond anything you could ever expect to hear on the radio. Also, while it's mostly modern fare, many of its elements have been heard years before during the eighties. With today's technologies, the sounds from this dashing decade have never sounded so good.
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.
|Track by Track Review
|Who's sorry now|
This has a simple syncopated beat and it's the first to showoff the smooth production. The vocals are done in a manner that is totally unconventional, but the way in which they echo is utterly exquisite.
|Who's foolin' who|
This ballad is poked and pricked by Gorden Sumner's stinger. While it plays upon Fields of Gold, the mulch used to fertilize this lawn is picked from the pristine pastures of Genesis.
|Too much time on my hands|
In this song, we get a heavenly group of gospel singers made up of mostly women and children. Contrary to this choir, the lead singer hustles and flows like Freddie Mercury. It's so accessible, I dare you not to sing along. Be cautious while you're cruising along in your car as its chorus makes for one big distraction. In this hazardous countryside, Michael will have you driving recklessly as if you're Bo or Luke Duke running from the cops in the General Lee.
|I'm not the enemy|
The opening to this one is down and out in Beverly Hill's. Every time I hear it, I'm reminded of Herbie Hancock's "Axel F". This song purrs like a chase scene, changing gears while ducking in and out of alleyways. It's fast and it's furious as it screeches aggressively down the mean streets. Revving on all cylinders, the spark plugs are ready to pop. You'll find the single, but refreshingly timed, breakout section to be actually quite breathtaking. This part might not make you get up and break-dance, but it's sure to snag your attention. Instrumentally, this song is potent, pumped, and primed. It has some of the best lyrics and vocal phrasing to be found anywhere on the album. With that said, this is my favorite out of all of the selections.
|Can't let go|
I really like this song as it has a very strong chorus. Oddly enough, this track sounds very close to Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart".
At first this is sequenced like the theme music from Shaft, but then it goes into a proggier direction. This is exactly what we'd expect to get from Sadler as the music sounds awfully close to Saga in this piece.
With Madonna making waves with her current commercial successes, she has no need to go back to her originals. From "True Blue" to "Breathless" all the way up to Bedtime Stories, she finds fresh new gimmicks to incorporate into her music. Her melodies, rhythms, and beats never seem to revisit much of the past. Her instrumentations are changing all the time. So, "Borderline" stays locked up never to be heard from again. However, Michael seemingly stole the key and brings this simple pop ballad back into the light. This cut has that classic eighties keyboard sound so prevalent in that popular piece. Obviously, the words are different and it's been fine-tuned quite a bit, but the music found in Madonna's timeless mega-hit is truly brought back in Vogue.
|In the name of love|
If this was Name That Tune and I only heard the first three notes, my guess would be that it's something from Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston. Compounded with the last track, it seems Michael's influences are completely co-ed. This open-minded and outstanding number goes on to be one elegantly enticing ballad. Michael's voice works well within the confines of this composition. He sings this particular song as if he was Aaron Neville. The LA choir (Fred White, Valerie Pinkston, Will Wheaton, Lynn Fiddmont) adds backing and balance as if they were his brothers. The choir's contribution is charming, exceptional, and cute. The keyboards in this song remind me a bit of Kevin Gilbert's "Tea for One." Altogether, this caffeinated pick-me-up is one clever concoction..
|Why we lie|
Not sure if this answers the human anomaly of why we fib, but it's surely guilty of something. This song sounds a lot like the theme song from Dirty Dancing's "The Time of My Life." While the melody involves something that's borrowed, the guitars, keyboards, and bridge together bring us something that's completely new.
We're treated to an evening of dinner theater. As the feature presentation, we indulge in a fine performance of Evita. While you might expect wine and cheese to be served during the opening instrumental, instead we get a special serving of Marvin Lee Aday's Meat Loaf. You'd think the two would not go together; however, this gourmet recipe is a home-style favorite of the people. It's well-served even to this hoity-toity crowd.
|Surrender your heart|
This song is steamy, sweaty, and even scorching hot at times. It's like walking on blistering coals or basking in a balmy sauna. It's invigorating and exciting as we tiptoe quickly through the notes and finally make it onto damp dew-stained tiles. The chord progressions in the chorus are consummate, capable, and content. This spells relief. With the synthetic claps and beats, it's the kind of song we've heard many times during the closing credits of many eighties' flicks. Everybody clap along with Gilbert, Lewis, and the rest of the revenging nerds.
The title track is also the closer. While it's easy on the ears, it also has an edge. It's what you'd expect from latter-day Genesis or the solo works of Phil Collins. Michael's youthful voice works wonders while a happy harmony radiates from a glowing choir. This sparkling gem is the right choice for the finale. Overall, you won't be wasting whatever time you decide to devote to this album. Clear is as much an easy-read as it is a page-turner. There is no reason why this stellar album shouldn't be a best-seller. One thing is very clear… Micheal Sadler's most recent release is a real winner.
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