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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Richard Barbieri

Stranger Inside

Review by Gary Hill

Richard Barbieri is best known as the keyboardist in Porcupine Tree and also the defunct group Japan. This solo album is nearly all instrumental although there are a number of vocals as icing on the cake or another instrument. In many ways it resembles a lot of Porcupine Tree’s music, but you’d expect that. The one real complaint is that there is too much of the same a lot of times in the disc. It could use some variety. Still, it never really gets downright boring because of sameness, although it borders on that territory for short times.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Cave
Percussion leads us off and weird sounds make you think for a moment that you might have landed inside a horror film. The percussion drives this, though. There’s a definite Tony Levin feel to it at times. Various sounds and textures come and go. Around the minute and a half mark it becomes more melodic but also quite dramatic with a killer jam taking over. This takes on Eastern textures and very symphonic tones as it carries forward. It’s just plain incredible. It gets extremely powerful as it moves onward. It drops down later to ambience. At first percussive elements still drive it, but eventually they drop away leaving just the textural sounds. This motif takes it out.
All Fall Down
Pretty piano and other elements start this. It moves through in a slowly morphing fashion. At times it resembles Pink Floyd a bit. At other points it’s closer to jazz. What seems like children singing are heard over the top. This is pretty, but also quite short.
Hypnotek
Weird sounds start this with a mysterious foreboding. It builds gradually and feels dark and dangerous. As this is brought more towards completion it takes on an almost techno sort of feeling to it. It loses some of the darkness and gets a bit of a groove to it. A harder edged sound comes and goes (at least at first) as this threatens to truly rock out. The Pink Floyd comparisons are somewhat accurate in the early sections of this. Then it starts to take on a crunchier sound as it is built ever upward. Abruptly it drops out and we get a short respite/false ending. The track comes back in feeling like techno-meets Kraftwerk. We get the disc’s first vocals over this, although they are rather distant and distorted. The harder rocking segment from earlier returns as this continues. It drops way down again later and ambient tones with percussive backing leads us along from there. My one complaint on this number? This section goes on too long, eventually serving as the outro.

Decay
This comes in ambient and understated. In some ways it reminds me of some of the moodier Hawkwind keyboard dominated numbers. This motif holds the track for a while, but eventually it ends and then it rises up with a more rock oriented jam. Porcupine Tree deservedly comes to mind here and this has some world music elements here and there, along with more of that techno sound. A Godley and Crème kind of segment takes it later with a more stripped down (but quite percussive) section. This brings us to a false ending and then a reprise of the harder rocking sounds. We are treated to some soaring keyboards lacing the top of this at times.
Abyssn
Never really rising up far, this is moody, pretty and sedate. It moves through a few changes, but stays close to home in terms of sonic scope.

Byzantium
Here we get another track that’s a good combination of percussive elements with keyboard driven melody. It’s just that this formula is starting to wear a bit thin. Still, the vocals (non-lyrical) on this track keep it from getting too redundant.

Morphia
No molds are broken here, but this is more effective than some of the other stuff. The moody and sedate sounds that make up a lot of this are partly responsible for the strength of the track. So are the bits of vocals. Most important, though, is the jazz element. At times this reminds me of Spyro Gyra a bit.
Retina Blur
The early portions of this suffer quite a bit from sameness. It’s good, but just sounds too much like the rest of the CD. As it carries onward, though, we’re given a faster paced movement that’s quite cool. Then it moves to something that feels rather like movie soundtrack ambience. Even when it shifts back out the motifs that made up the earlier part of the track there’s enough newness and vitality left to keep it fresh. Besides, it doesn’t stay there long enough to wear out its welcome. Instead it chooses to end after a short appearance like this.
Stranger Inside
This is without question the weirdest piece on the disc. In many ways it doesn’t differ a lot from the rest of the music here, yet it has a darker, more extreme tone to it. It really feels like it could fit quite well into the soundtrack of a horror movie.
 
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