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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Rival Empire

Rival Empire

Review by Gary Hill

Rival Empire’s website includes the following disclaimer about this album: “(Rival Empire would like to take a moment here in advance to respectfully thank: Phil Collins, Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson, Ronald Reagan, Christie Brinkley and their corresponding Publishers/Rights Owners, for their understanding of Rival Empire's artistic use of repurposed lyrics and minor compositional melodies from: One More Night, Little Lies, Billie Jean, Ronald Reagan's excerpts, and Ms. Brinkley’s namesake, respectively.  All of the above uses were designed carefully to fall under the fair use protection of section 107 of the Copyright Act.  The uses of these works are clearly transformative and parodic, intended to serve as comment and social criticism.  The key factor here being social criticism and commentary, as there is no intention of malice toward the above-mentioned persons.)”

When I read that, I was a little concerned about what this would be. Well, I have to say that it’s far more creative than that disclaimer would lead one to believe. Yes, all those things are nodded to, referenced or otherwise used in some way. Beyond that, though, this is original stuff. I’d have to say, though, that it falls apart in a couple ways. Sometimes there is just too much similarity from song to song to a large degree because the tempo and vocal patterns are too similar. Additionally, when they get too trendy with the dance music, it’s trite and just too generic. Beyond that, though, there is some cool stuff here.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Cameo Crush

A mysterious electronic introduction gives way to a cool dance groove. This has some vocal bits that are familiar. It gets some great funk built into it later. This is such a cool soulful tune.

Casino
There is a lot of reggae in the mix on this piece. It has plenty of electronic sound, too. It’s another powerhouse in so many ways, though. It’s got a great bit of musical range and some seriously hard rocking sections at times. This one definitely gets a parental advisory on the lyrics. You’ll note some musical nods to other acts at points on this one, too. There is a bit of autotune type processing at points here that detracts from it a little.
Calling Me
Electronic dance music, progressive rock, 1980s music and more combines in this number. It’s good, but not as strong as the first two pieces.
Good Love
I love the vocal arrangement on this piece. That said, there are some little instances of processed vocals that I find a bit annoying. Police like reggae shows up on this at times. This is one of the best songs of the whole set, really. The guitar solo is noteworthy, too.
Tidal Wave
This is more of a rocking tune. It’s got good flow and energy. It’s good, but by this point, there is a certain sense of sameness developing.
Reagan's Rancho Del Cielo
With a lot of soundbites of Reagan, this is very much a high energy rocker with a lot of electronic dance music built into it. It’s a great tune. I like it a lot.
Gasoline (Interlude)
A mellower piece with a lot of piano in it, this has a nice groove to it.
Open Fire
The electronic dance sounds and vocal processing that shows up here are both quite annoying. This is a song that I’d definitely recommend skipping.
High Fashion
This suffers from the same things the previous cut did. The piece has energy and some soul, but I’d definitely hit “skip.”
Call the Adapter
This one is definitely better. It still has a lot of that same modern electronic dance sound, but the annoying essences of that are gone. This has more of a rock sound, too.
Payback's a Bitch
As you might guess from the song title, this gets a parental advisory. It’s a good tune that’s more of a rock number with some reggae in the mix.
40 Floors
I like this more rocking tune. It’s a bit raw and quite percussive. It’s also a great song.
Calling Me (Orchestral Remix)

I love this redo of the earlier track. It really has a proggy 1980s vibe to it. It’s arguably the best song here.

 
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