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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Cue

Five Steps to Happiness

Review by Gary Hill

A theatrical disc, this is a rock opera. It is definitely progressive rock in nature, but has a lot of other elements in place, too. When the band performs this live they do so in period costumes as a full theatrical production. While that part isn’t present on this recording, the story is told clearly through narration and dialog, all set to music. It’s an intriguing ride through a fantasy world.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Merry In The Cemetery

Sound effects lead off, then a tolling bell and a rather symphonic arrangement is joined by melodic rock instrumentation as the cut builds. Around the minute and a half mark piano joins and the cut shifts to a more fusion meets progressive rock approach. It works out from there in a more purely prog rock fashion. Then it drops way down for keyboards with a spoken vocal section. As the voice narrates, the keyboards explore. Then a more rocking motif, but still slow, and perhaps a little bit like old Genesis joins. Now the vocals, still female, return, this time singing. The cut works through from there with changes and alterations in an almost free form fashion. Backing vocals are heard later in the piece and there are some killer instrumental elements to this. As it continues it works through a number of varying musical progressions. At points if feels a bit like Renaissance. Male vocals, which had been heard on the chorus previously, join for some verses later. There’s some harder rocking music further down the road, too. There’s an oddly timed section later that takes the cut in directions that are a bit like ELP. I can also hear Pentwater on that section. The spoken vocals return for a cool bit, and then they take it to more sung vocals as the song becomes more mainstream progressive rock. The ELP jazz-like elements return later. There’s a killer guitar solo over the top of that motif. It moves back to the slower, more melodic movement from there. And, yet, they aren’t done with the changes and alterations yet, as the track continues to evolve by revisiting and expanding upon previous themes. The extended closing section gets pretty hard rocking. This is really quite a diverse and dynamic piece of music. At over thirteen minutes in length, it’s also an epic.

Dancing In The Graveyard
Starting mellow and a bit playful, they launch out into frantic, hard edged progressive rock from there. An instrumental, it careens this way and that for a little less than three minutes, serving as a nice interlude.
Bedtime Stories
Male vocals dominate this cut, a prog rock balladic number. While it powers up a bit, overall this is really a ballad. There are female vocals joining the male ones as it continues. Around the four minute mark, after a more powered up section, it drops back for a piano solo. Other keys join a half minute or so later, taking over. Then a spoken section comes in over the top. Part of that spoken section is narration (female) and part is monologue (male). This shifts right into the next piece.
A Day In The Life Of A Flower Collector
Coming straight out of the previous piece, this is mellow and rather jazzy. It calls to mind both Pink Floyd and Fish era Marillion. Both male and female voices are heard. They take it through a number of changes and alterations as they continue. That seems to be the rule of the day with this disc, lots of changes. There is a narration near the end that essentially introduce the next number.
Tall Shadows In The Wall
An energized melodic progressive rock sound starts this. Then it shifts to something akin to Gong for some half spoken half sung female vocals. While both of these segments return, they also take into new movements. In fact, this is a rather strange, but also tasty cut that’s quite dynamic. There’s some crazed guitar soloing later in the piece and this number is really all over the place. I particularly like the hard rocking jam that’s got some world music and jazz built in later.
Terrible Night
This is just a short narration with keyboards backing it.
Doubt
Rising up with one of the most mainstream prog sounds of the set, this powers out from there into a killer jam that’s quite accessible. They take it to mellower territory later, but don’t lose that catchy nature. Then around the four minute mark it drops back to just keyboards for another narrative section. After that, the male voice reads the five steps to happiness and comments on them as keyboards provide the musical backdrop. There is a short dialog between male and female and then they take the cut out into a smoking hot progressive rock instrumental section. That movement eventually ends the piece.
Hitching A Ride
An energized prog jam with some jazz built into it opens this. It works out to a mellower motif for the vocals, but powers back out after each verse. They take it through some different segments and there are some theatrical sections with narration and dialog. The closing section here calls to mind Frank Zappa.
Borkulo Blues
Weird jazz music serves as the backdrop for a spoken narration. After a time it powers out into a more rocking version of those musical themes, feeling a bit like King Crimson and Gong rolled into one. There’s perhaps a bit of the Doors in the mix, too. It’s a short track.
Bad-Luck Girl From Borkulo
The introduction here calls to mind The Allman Brothers. Then it works out to something closer to jazz. Those two sounds are sort of incorporated together in a tasty jam.
Borkulo Blues Reprise
Weird music serves as the background for a theatrical spoken delivery. They power out into more rocking motifs at different points, but overall this is like weird jazz.
Ophelia's Song
This is one of the most mainstream cuts on show here. The vocal sections are basically a jazz torch song. Then it powers out into a slow moving, rocking jam that’s quite a bit like Pink Floyd.
Tim Sees Ophelia Escape
Symphonic instrumentation serves as the backdrop for the narration on this short (less than a minute) piece.
She Escapes
Firing out in a hard rocking mainstream prog rock style, this is quite tasty. It works through a number of changes, but has a pretty straight ahead progression overall. It’s an instrumental number that’s quite cool. It has an almost Allman Brothers meets Toto and ELP element to it.
First Contact I
The first part of this comes with both male and female vocals over a fairly sparse arrangement. Then it powers out into some potent melodic prog for a short instrumental segment that ends it.
First Contact II
They start this with a jam that’s rather ELP-like. As it continues the vocal arrangement becomes one of the most complex of the set. This is a tasty piece of music that works through some great prog changes, dropping way down to mellower territory later. 
Disc 2
Million Tiny Hammers
Keys lead off here and after a time it shifts to a jazz type arrangement. It’s a cool tune that works nicely.
Night At The Graveyard
This is short, but also very weird.
Confetti
A slow moving progressive rock arrangement brings this in and it’s rather sparse in terms of instrumentation. Renaissance might be a reference point, but so would Gong. A little after the minute and a half mark it fires out into frantic, hard edged prog. They take it into some Crimsonian weirdness later. It alternates between these varied sections as it continues. There are some moments of crazed soloing here and there and they drop it back to a bluesy psychedelic section further down the musical road.
Do You Want To Go To Borkulo
In some ways this is more accessible. There’s a killer groove to it. It feels a little like Zappa at times. The vocals are rather theatrical. The bass line is rubbery and very cool. Then around the two minute mark it fires out to a more mainstream jam. That section doesn’t stay around long, though, but takes the number out.
Walk In The Park
This powers in feeling a little like Spock’s Beard. As it continues there are some seriously funky moments. There’s a space rock meets fusion jam later that shifts to more pure fusion with the guitar solo. They take it through a number of changes and alterations and there’s some tasty piano playing built into it. It really does keep getting reinvented and there are some extremely tasty moments here. There’s a smoking hot retro keyboard solo over a frantic prog jam around the five minute mark. That jam is built up into one of the coolest movements of the album as it eventually takes it out.
Five Steps To Happiness
Vocals open this and they take it out from there in a slow moving jam that’s balladic. It’s also got a jazz element to it. This is a short cut and doesn’t move very far.
The Gate Opens
Keyboards start the festivities here. Then both male and female voices speak over it as it builds upwards. Guitar soars overhead as the storyline is moved forward through effects, narration and dialog. This is pretty and quite mellow, with some references to Pink Floyd well earned. It builds to a more rocking motif that’s even a little Beatles-like.
They Felt Different Now
A pretty and rather intriguing progressive rock musical arrangement serves as the background for more narration. This is fairly short, but also tasty.
Never The Same Again
Starting with a mellow and quite pretty arrangement, and they power it up from there as it continues. This song stays reasonably mellow and includes some cool keyboard work at points. It becomes extremely dramatic at times. The whole arrangement gets more hard rocking near the end, but they keep the progression reasonably unchanged, just ramping up the intensity.
Out And Over
They bring this one in dramatic and it’s quite symphonic near the start. It turns more rock oriented and they take it through several shifts before dropping it to just piano near the minute and a half mark. After a short time with just piano and it powers back up to the rock motifs that preceded it for the first vocals. They move through a number of changes and alterations in a rocking, melodic progressive rock arrangement. Both male and female vocals are featured and this is one of the most effective pieces on the set. There are some cool moments where the two voices are having a conversation in song.

 

Borkulo Song - A hard rocking progressive rock section starts this out, but it drops to a mellower motif for the vocals. They power back up from instrumental breaks as it continues. There’s a killer jam with symphonic elements that takes it near the five minute mark. They take it in a more dramatic direction around the six and a half minute mark with some nearly RIO-like jamming. It resolves out to a theatrical progression for the female vocals around the seven and a half minute mark. After a time they take it out into another hard rocking progressive rock jam. This resolves to a dramatic and powerful segment from there. A noisy crescendo is carried into a spacey kind of jam to serve as the backdrop for the closing narration. Then one burst of sound ends it a little past the twelve-minute mark.

 
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