progressive rock

REVIEW: Frank Zappa – Strictly Commercial: The Best Of (1995)

FRANK ZAPPA – Strictly Commercial: The Best Of Frank Zappa (1995 Rykodisc)

There are many versions of Strictly Commercial available in different territories, but the North American Rykodisc edition is familiar to most.  The beauty of Strictly Commercial is that it can appeal to anybody.  For those who are not ready to stomach a full Zappa album proper, Strictly Commercial compresses some of his most appetising music into a tight 77 minute listening experience.

With a flourish, “Peaches En Regalia” opens the disc as it did 1969’s Hot Rats.  “Peaches” is one of Frank’s most accessible compositions, with clear melodic themes.  This instrumental courts jazz rock fusion while projecting images like a cue from a movie soundtrack.  The horn section is both goofy and dignified at once, and the percussion is out of this world.

Great googly moogly!  Speaking of goofy, it’s “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” (a single edit) which never fails to put a smile on the face.  The twisted storytelling is as clever as it is ridiculous.  Jabs of brilliant lead guitar act like aural illustrations.  Brilliant guitar on this one, as is the single-ending xylophone solo.  Into “Dancin’ Fool”, Zappa then lampoons a guy who can’t help but hit the disco even though he stinks at dancing.  Social suicide indeed!  Classic, memorable Zappa with a beat you can dance to.  “San Ber’dino” is more rock than blues but certainly has ingredients from both.  This is an easy entry point.

All the songs flow into the next, and “Dirty Love” has a slow rock groove and a blasting wah-wah solo.  This is a suitable lead-in to “My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama”, one of Frank’s catchiest numbers.  A classic rock composition, it must be pointed out how perfect Jimmy Carl Black’s beats are.  They are hooks unto themselves.

“Cosmik Debris” has more blazing guitar, and a healthy dose of scepticism for the mystical.  “So, take your meditations and your preparations, and ram it up your snout,” sings Frank with a sly smile.  Then back to 1966 and Frank’s debut album Freak Out! with “Trouble Every Day”, the socially conscious track that is still relevant today.  With a beat-blues bent, Frank croons “Hey you know something people?  I’m not black but there’s a whole lotsa times I wish I could say I’m not white.”  Frank Zappa — triggering people since 1966!

Disco people fall victim to the Zappa wit once again with “Disco Boy”.  “Leave his hair alone, but you can kiss his comb.” It certainly recalls scenes from Saturday Night Fever.  “Fine Girl” is about a girl who isn’t so fine, but it has irresistible elements of soul mixed in with a little bit of everything.  Then the purely instrumental “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace” lets us just enjoy Frank soloing for three and a half minutes.  Here he becomes the expert bluesman, with adventurous twists and turns that only a Zappa could muster.

“Let’s Make the Water Turn Black” is essentially comic opera, a silly number with munchkin voices that never fails to raise a smile.  It’s over quickly enough so we can get back to more electric guitar nirvana.  “I’m the Slime” is funky horn-laden fun.

If Zappa’s music has been too performance oriented for your tastes with not enough hooks per minute, then “Joe’s Garage” will do the trick for you.  As one of Frank’s most immediate songs, it draws from 1950s doo-wop.  A track that fits in any music collection.  It gets heavy on “Tell Me You Love Me”, perhaps the closest song Frank has to metal.  So of course that had to be followed by the story of a dental floss tycoon with “Montana” (single version).  Brilliant xylophone is only overshadowed by Zappa himself.

Spoken word tracks can have a limited lifespan to the listener, and for many people that’s “Valley Girl”.  Moon Unit Zappa’s performance as the titular character is brilliant but quickly worn thin.  It could probably stand to lose its last minute or so.  Focus on the playing (especially that wicked bass by Scott Thunes).  Doo-wop returns on the lovable “Be In My Video”; sax solos galore!

Finally, Frank answers that age-old question:  cupcakes, or muffins?  Certainly one of Frank’s most charming songs, “Muffin Man” ends the disc.  Yes, there is a clear preference and plenty of wicked guitar playing too.  Captain Beefheart on “vocals and soprano sax and madness”!  Goodnight Austin Texas, wherever you are!

Strictly Commercial might not be the album that convinces you of Frank Zappa’s mastery of guitar, or of composition.  But it is carefully designed to lure you in and whet the appetite for more.  From here you can explore many more of Frank’s in-depth albums, or just enjoy this brilliant run through his most fun and easily enjoyed.

5/5 stars

#862: Strictly Commercial & Adventures in OCD

GETTING MORE TALE #862: Strictly Commercial & Adventures in OCD

When I was working at the Record Store, I was even pickier about the condition of my CDs than I am today.  Everything had to be pristine, including the case.  No scratches on the disc, and few to none on the jewel box.  I’d wanted some Frank Zappa for a while, but was never satisfied with the condition of those unique light green Rykodisc cases.  As trade-ins, they were always scratched, cracked or completely broken.  You never saw the obi strip on the top intact in a used copy.  Tired of waiting for one that met my exacting standards, I decided to buy it new.

It was fall in the late 90s, and I had the house to myself that weekend.  Everybody else was at the cottage.  This was during a time when I’d rather be home than at the lake.  I preferred to stay in town, hang out with T-Rev, hit the malls, watch some movies and listen to some music.  Not just new music, but new bands for my collection.  Along with Frank, I decided that I needed to add Journey to my collection that weekend.  It was going to be a great couple days off.

I’d already heard plenty of Zappa in-store and from buddy Tom up in Waterloo.  He was getting into Läther, a recent Zappa triple CD set designed to replicate a four record box set that Zappa originally envisioned back in 1977 but was forced to release scattershot instead.  Specifically I remember Tom hyping over “The Adventures of Greggery Peccary”, a 21 minute track about a pig.  I absolutely needed an artist like Frank Zappa in my collection if that’s the kind of thing he was about.  How could the girls resist me if I put a song like that on the stereo?

I knew HMV at Fairview mall would have Strictly Commercial: The Best of Frank Zappa in stock.  They always did.  T-Rev didn’t understand why I had to do this.  “I have a copy here right now,” he told me on the phone.  “There’s nothing wrong with it.  It plays fine, it’s in great shape.”

“But it doesn’t have the green case or that little obi strip that goes on top,” I countered.

“I guarantee that you cannot listen to a green case,” said T-Rev simply.  He was right.

But I was determined; there was nothing he could do to talk me out of the much more expensive new copy.  So that day I plunked down my $21.99 plus tax and bought my first Zappa.  With green case, unscuffed, and obi strip intact.

Trevor was right that I couldn’t listen to that green Ryko case, but there was also a certain satisfaction in seeing such a pristine one in my collection.  I made sure to protect it by carefully cutting the cellophane in such a way that I could slide the case in and out.  Although the cellophane has ripped a little in the two decades plus since then, it still protects the pristine green Ryko case beneath.

Although I do have a couple more green Rykodisc cases in my Zappa collection today, Strictly Commercial (review tomorrow) is the only one I insisted on buying new.  Having one was enough.  I was content to have less-than-perfect Zappas for Hot Rats and Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch.  You have to be practical about such things after all!

 

REVIEW: Gowan – Strange Animal (1984)

GOWAN – Strange Animal (1984 CBS)

Strange Animal was only Lawrence Gowan’s second solo album, and one of his best sellers.  It’s also one of his most dated sounding, with programming and production honed in on the 1980s.  Regardless, you can’t knock the musicians:  Tony Levin (bass/Chapman Stick), Jerry Marotta (drums), and Chris Jarrett & David Rhodes (guitars).  Gowan basically lifted his studio band from Peter Gabriel.

Opener “Cosmetics” was a single, though just shy of cracking the Top 40.  It’s terribly dated sounding, with that wretched brittle synthetic sound that even Queen resorted to at one point.  So you might love it!  The piano is delectable and Gowan is as smooth as pie.  “Desperate” is darker, but I sure do hate synth hand-claps!  Fortunately this is a great song, akin to 80s Phil Collins.  Another really smooth one is “City of the Angels”, like a waltz at midnight.  Progressive rock invades “Walking on Air”, which lightly tip-toes from gentle rock to more aggressive guitars.

A delicate but powerful “Burning Torches of Hope” sits right at the middle of the album, and it is so very 80s.  Levin makes some animalist noise on “Keep the Tension On”, which sounds much like its title.  Taut, powerful, and even heavy in a certain way.  It’s melds right into a march on “Guerilla Soldier”, a killer song with terrific verse hooks.  Massive song!  It feels like this album builds to a close.  Especially when you consider the last two songs.

Finally, at the end of the album comes the familiar hits.  First:  a huge Chapman Stick groove, on the poppy upbeat title track.  “Strange Animal” is an awesome song: strictly fun, and incredibly so!  The melody stays in your head for days, and you’re hooked.  Ominous spiritus, ahh!  And then it’s his most famous song, “A Criminal Mind”, otherwise known as “the one that Styx play live”.  Solo, in the studio, “A Criminal Mind” is just as haunting, just as powerful, and just as unforgettable.  It also had one of the most disturbing music videos we had seen as young kids, and our reaction was revulsion.  On album, it is a capstone of a pretty terrific record.  It really feels like it should have opened.

Though ultimately it is up to the listener, unless you grew up with Strange Animal in the Walkman nestled in your back pocket, the programming and 80s-isms are a bit distracting.  It’s also strange how Gowan left all the big firepower stacked at the end of the album.  In the CD age, it just makes the whole thing more rewarding at the end!

3.5/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Akira Takasaki – Tusk of Jaguar (Take Another Bite) (1982)

AKIRA TAKASAKI – Tusk of Jaguar (Take Another Bite) (1982, 2009 Columbia CD reissue)

In 1982, Loudness guitarist Akira Takasaki and a Japanese keyboardist named Masanori Sasaji teamed up to record an album of music that was different from the usual Loudness rock.  Though the cover art and title Tusk of Jaguar screams “pure metal”, this is actually a combination of rock, pop and jazz fusion among other influences.  The cool thing about the album is that Loudness play on almost all of it, including singer Minoru Niihara on a couple of vocal tracks.  Some songs are all but considered part of the Loudness discography.

Certainly the opening title track sounds like Loudness.  That speed metal pace can only have been set by Munetaka Higuchi on drums and Masayoshi Yamashita on bass.  “Tusk of Jaguar” is a strange amalgam of shredding metal and jazz-rock interludes.  It sounds a bit like the Ian Gillan Band but with Eddie Van Malmsteen on lead guitar instead of Berne Torme.  Tremendously enjoyable, but way over the heads of most of the masses.

Minoru makes his first appearance on “Steal Away”, a song difficult to describe.  It’s Styx-like and has a big organ sounds like Dennis DeYoung.  Cinematic, progressive pop dance rock?  Then it goes pure Burn-era Deep Purple!  I don’t know what it is, and even with Minoru it sounds little like Loudness.  It’s also one of only a few songs without Higuchi and Yamashita.

“Macula (Far from Mother Land)” is based on synthesizer until it transforms into a more traditional guitar instrumental, with clear Brian May influences.  The way Akira Takasaki stacks his guitar harmonies can only be described as Queen-like.  For that reason, this song is the most accessible to rock fanatics, who will eat up every note that Akira celeverly lays down.  For those curious to know more about the critically acclaimed guitarist, check out “Ebony Eyes”, a serious hard rocker on which he takes lead vocals himself!  His voice is higher in timbre than Minoru’s, and while he is not an amazing vocalist, he does have some pretty incredible guitar solos on this track.

“Wild Boogie Run” is an interesting tune, sounding almost exactly like Dixie Dregs.  The violins, the acoustic & electric guitars, and slight western leanings make this a track that will make your friends wonder what Dregs album it was from.  This could be the track worth buying the album for.  Rock returns on “Gunshots” but even when Akira is just riffing, the rhythms beneath are complex and jazzy.  Hard to describe, but heavy!  A jazzy funk opens “Mid-Day Hunter”.  Takasaki is nothing if not diverse on Tusk of Jaguar, but even if the rhythms throw you for a loop, you can surely dig into his always memorable lead work.  In their early pre-Steve Perry days, Journey wrote songs like this.

Minoru Niihara returns on a song that is basically a Loudness track:  “Show Me Something Good”.  Though it also has Masanori Sasaji on keyboards, it is the entire Loudness lineup otherwise.  A pop rock track like this could have sat on an album like Lightning Strikes if it was produced with heavier intent.  The album closer is called “Say What?” which you might in fact be saying by the end of it.  Blazing tempos and synth solos adorn a track that is beyond the comprehension of mere mortals.

This is a challenging album, no word of a lie.  It’s certainly not immediate, and though parts of it sound familiar, it takes a bit of listening to really start to penetrate.  Loudness fans, and anybody into challenging progressive rock should give it a go.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Deep Purple – “Throw My Bones”/”Man Alive” (2020 10″ single)

DEEP PURPLE – “Throw My Bones”/”Man Alive” (2020 10″ Edel single)

As a general rule, I won’t listen to new Deep Purple until I have a physical product in my hands.  These days that usually happens in the form of a new single.  Deep Purple will be back with a new album Whoosh! produced by Bob Ezrin in August 2020.  Until then, they’ve issued a three track single with one exclusive new song.  How nice of them!

A huge thanks to John of 2 Loud 2 Old Music for gifting this vinyl.  Certain new releases are difficult to find today (for obvious reasons), at least without spending money on huge markups by secondary sellers.  Music friends are the best kind of friends — make one today!

A word about the cover art:  love it!  Though not identical, the new Deep Purple logo is strongly reminiscent of the original Shades Of Deep Purple logo from 1968.  The astronaut is similarly retro.  He even recalls the similarly-garbed “archaeologists” in the music video for “Knocking At Your Back Door”.  And now, for the first time, the needle drops on the vinyl and we find out what the new Deep Purple sounds like.

“Throw My Bones” has one of those quirky Steve Morse guitar riffs but then it’s backed up by those lush Don Airey keyboards.  This is one of the catchier songs that Deep Purple have written in the last few years.  Morse’s solo is as breathtaking as usual, but the sparkling keyboards are what makes this song shine.

The second track is the non-album “Power of the Moon” which prompts the question:  if this didn’t make the album, just how good is the album?  Because this track is excellent.  It’s different.  Its quiet passages are mesmerising.  Once again it’s Morse and Airey who really take it to another level.

Finally we have “Man Alive”, a song adorned with an orchestra.  Under the deft guidance of Bob Ezrin, something powerful and dramatic hits the ears even though Deep Purple don’t really do “heavy” anymore.  “Man Alive” is the song that detractors call the “environmental agenda song”.  Hey, if Deep Purple can say something relevant to today and get you to think, that’s great.  We don’t always have to hear about strange kinds of women from Tokyo.  The lyrics are assembled intelligently and thoughtfully.

A lot of people bitch and moan about Ian Gillan.  For the most part, it’s not the singer delivering the hooks in these new songs.  Just as Steve Morse has had to adapt to his damaged right wrist to keep playing, Deep Purple have adapted to Ian Gillan’s age.  The songs don’t blast like they used to; they breathe.  Ian’s voice is multitracked to give it some thickness.  Incidentally the vocals were recorded in Toronto, a city that Gillan has history with.

Longtime Purple fans who enjoyed Now What?! and InFinite will enjoy these new songs just as much.  The cool thing about Purple is that they have distinct eras.  We might be in the tail-end of a Bob Ezrin era (and the whole saga in general) and with time, the Purple/Ezrin collaborations will be looked back on fondly.  The Ezrin albums don’t sound like the Bradford discs, the Glover productions, or any of the others.  They’re more subtle and show a band growing even in their later years.  Whoosh! could be a nice capstone to a career.  We shall see.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Marillion – Crash Course – An Introduction to Marillion (2001 first edition)

MARILLION –  Crash Course – An Introduction to Marillion (2001 Racket Records, first edition)

Here is an interesting gimmick.  Starting in 2001, Marillion began compiling “Crash Course” CDs, offering them for minimal cost on their website.  The idea was that you could buy this CD for next to nothing, and send it off with to someone else with the intention of getting them into Marillion.  After the original discs were gone, they revamped the tracklisting in 2002, and again in 2006, 2008 and 2017 with new songs.  Let’s have a listen and see what Marillion thought their most immediately appealing material was 20 years ago!

Since their new album was the crowd-funded Anoraknophobia (a new idea at the time), one of those songs leads the pack.  They chose “This is the 21st Century” which I recall them really pushing at the time.  I still am not sure why that was one of the songs chosen to push.  It’s 11 minutes long and not very commercial.  It’s also quite slow and mellow and takes some time to absorb.  You’d think they would have gone with one of the singles — “Map of the World” is the track I personally put on my mix tapes when trying to get someone into this band.  That’s not to say “This is the 21st Century” is an inferior track.  It’s complex and demonstrates Marillion’s recent fascination with loops.  Instead of making them cheesy, Marillion made them trippy.  This one song is a lot to digest and new fans might be baffled by lyrics like “A wise man once said a flower is only a sexual organ, beauty is cruelty and evolution.”  And some macho dude in camo pants is absolutely going to be triggered by the line “He had denied his feminine side,” but I don’t think that guy was ever going to be into Marillion anyway.

The far more obvious song “Rich” from marillion.com is an underrated gem.  “Dot Com” as they call it is an overlooked album.  Marillion really dove into a commercial deep end with some songs, while going full acid trip on others.  “Rich” is pure pop, with a bangin’ chorus.  “No tears, no lies, no pain, no doubt, no darkness, no confusion!”  That’s how modern Marillion makes me feel.  “Rich” is an uplifting song.  “So talk about failing, to fall is not to fail.”  Get rich right now, says Marillion.  Mark Kelly has a hefty keyboard hook that anchors the song, while the verses slowly sway with a 2000s groove.

The oldest track is “Afraid of Sunlight” from 1995.  They were trying to stay away from things that sounded too dated.  No worries of that with “Afraid of Sunlight”, a timeless song if Marillion ever had one.  It is so basic, with one little melody that runs through, but then it absolutely explodes on the dramatic chorus.  If this track doesn’t win ’em over, nothing will.

Back to Dot Com and “A Legacy”, the song that opened the album.  Once you get past the slow opening, this song punches hard.  The distorted vocals are so 90s, but that’s nothing…wait until you hear “Under the Sun” from 1998’s Radiation.  That album was all about noise; everything banging and cranked up loud.  It’s also my favourite song on this disc.  From the haunting keys to the crashing chords, “Under the Sun” kicks all the asses.

Would this disc have appealed to newbies in 2001?  Some, certainly.  But like anyone, I think I could have done better!  There is no point rating a CD like this so we’ll just call it:

5/5 Barrys 

 

REVIEW: Dennis DeYoung – 26 East Vol 1 (2020)

DENNIS DeYOUNG – 26 East Vol 1 (2020 Frontiers)

It wasn’t that long ago that Styx re-emerged with their best new album in decades.  Now their original singer Dennis DeYoung has done the same on his own.  They say 26 East (to be released in two separate volumes) is to be his retirement album.  If so, Dennis has gone out on an exceptionally high note.

It’s clear from this release that DeYoung is reclaiming his throne. The final track “2020 A.D.” is a essentially another part of Styx’s “A.D. 1928”, a cornerstone of their progressive monuments.  The three trains on the front cover, with the words “Trade Winds” and the year 1962 refers to the origins of Styx.  The trio is Dennis, Chuck & John Panozza — the founding members.

With 26 East, Dennis has turned up the rock side significantly more, to a vintage Styx-like balance of guitar thrills and concrete keyboards.  His voice has lost very little over the years.  His depth and expressiveness cannot be touched, nor can his sense of melody.  Hooks!  Styx albums were always loaded with hooks.  Dennis has not forgotten how to write them.  Not at all.

The epic tracks contain sentiment, humour, anger and the whole gamut of human emotions.  There are rare political slants to songs like “With All Due Respect”:  “Fake fun, fake facts, hey look new tax!”  DeYoung’s patriotic pride comes out on “The Promise of This Land”, and he incorporates influences from coast to coast.  From church choirs to stage productions, all elements are included.

All the tracks are special, but one of the most chill-inducing is “To the Good Old Days”, a collaboration with Julian Lennon.  And to say the least, it has clear shades of John.  Picking other favourites is more difficult, but it’s hard to ignore the bombast of the opener “East of Midnight”.  For something a little different, “A Kingdom Ablaze” has Floydian guitar twangs that really feed the soul.  “Run For the Roses” is a pure epic Styx high-water mark, which when chased by rocker “Damn the Dream” is only that much sweeter.  “Unbroken” offers upbeat feelings that would have fit in on Styx’s 1990 album Edge of the Century.  There are no weak tracks and nothing to skip.  Dennis and co-writer Jim Peterik have really put together an incredible album worthy of its place in the catalogue.

One of the best albums of 2020 in any genre.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Gowan – Lost Brotherhood (1990)

GOWAN – Lost Brotherhood (1990 Atlantic)

I like to think of this Gowan album (a gift from Aaron at the KMA) as “the one with Alex Lifeson”.  Gowan has worked with some incredible musicians besides Styx, including Tony Levin (several times, including this album), Robert Fripp and Jon Anderson.  Gowan’s fourth album Lost Brotherhood has a distinct Rush tone on several tracks and so it easily became a favourite.  It’s important to note though that it’s not just Lifeson on this disc, but also Ken Greer from Red Rider providing the guitars.  Though Lawrence Gowan is primarily a keyboardist, this might be his most guitar-heavy album.  (Of note, future Triumph contributor Mladen Zarron also plays additional guitar on this album.)

“All the Lovers in the World” was the single, a hit as I recall, and still excellent today.  You can’t forget that chorus.  It sounds so very 1990, like Presto-era Rush, especially when Alex rips one of those patented Lifeson solos that’s more about the guitar tone than banging out a million notes.  In the back, you got Tony Levin dancing gleefully all over the neck of his bass.  One word:  breathtaking.

A Levin groove commences a nocturnal “Lost Brotherhood”, a serious prowler that you could easily mistake for latter-day Styx.  Lawrence has a way with writing piano hooks and “Lost Brotherhood” boasts a tasty one.  “Call It A Mission” could be Rush for all you could tell, if not for Gowan’s huskier voice.  The pulse of this song is like a “superconductor”, if you catch my drift, and the solo is slick and different.  Then it’s “The Dragon”, dramatic and weighty.  Levin is hitting some deep notes which just makes “Dragon” rumble like the titular beast.

Gowan goes for acoustic ballad territory on “Love Makes You Believe”, another big chorus.  Ken Greer accents the song with very slight touches and Tony adds so much texture.  They really crank it on “Fire It Up”, a rocker that would have led off side two of the original vinyl.  This boogie just stomps!

“Out of a Deeper Hunger” is another ballad, at least until a nice crunchy guitar kicks in on the excellent chorus.  Rock territory is reclaimed on “Tender Young Hero”, another Rush-like monolith with memorable chorus.  Gowan’s got a knack for a chorus, and the snare sound on drummer Jerry Marotta is a dead ringer for Peart.

Tinkling keys are the main feature on the delicate “Message From Heaven”.  Light, but still heavy.  Dramatic as hell.  But closer “Holding This Rage” is a masterwork, combining the piano and drama in a way that just reaches out and grabs you by your humanity.  Sounds like Marillion.

“Holding this rage isn’t your answer boy,
Holding this rage won’t lead you on.
Holding this rage will tear you to pieces boy,
Look what it’s done.”

By the fade out you’re…one again…breathless.

Though my Canadian bias is showing, it is a good thing that today, million of people get to hear Gowan’s special talents with Styx.  Though with Styx, Lawrence is part of a band led by Shaw/Young, as a solo artist he is the captain and always had the goods all along.  Lost Brotherhood is an excellent “first Gowan” album to check out due to the emphasis on guitar and of course the presence of one Alex Živojinović.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Marillion – “Made Again (2020)”

MARILLION – “Made Again (2020)” (2020 iTunes)

It wasn’t that long ago, in this sad year, that Marillion gifted us a new version of “Easter” from their lockdown spaces.  Now, from the landmark Brave album, they’ve re-recorded the hopeful “Made Again”.

“I have been here many times before, in the life I used to live…”

Poignant.  We’re all grieving for the lives we used to live, some more than others.  I’m tiring very quickly of virus-themed songs, like that damn “I know there’ll be better days” ad I keep hearing on the TV.  It’s having the opposite effect on me and making me very bitter.

Since “Made Again” was written in 1994, it doesn’t have the stench of 2020 all over it.  We know the lyrics are being repurposed but it’s not so bad knowing their old origins.

“Like I woke up from a bad dream, to a brand new world.”

Unlike “Easter” this is a bit more of a complete arrangement, not abbreviated and without shortcuts.  You can buy the track for 99 cents on iTunes or watch the video on YouTube.  The video was painstakingly assembled from the at-home performance videos and fan footage sent in from all over the world.

We all need some optimism.

“I woke up from a deep sleep,
I woke up from a bad dream,
To a brand new morning,
To a brand new day,
Like the whole world has been made again.”

I hope so, guys.  I hope so.

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Yes – Drama (1980) – The Meat Challenge

The Meat Challenge:  Listen to an album we’ve never heard before, and write about it while listening for the first time on headphones.  I was given Drama by Yes.

YES – Drama (1980 Atlantic)

Because context is always important, a quick glance at Wikipedia tells us that Drama the first Yes album “to feature Trevor Horn as lead vocalist, as well as keyboardist Geoff Downes. This followed the departures of Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman after numerous attempts to record a new album…Drama was recorded hurriedly, because a tour had already been booked before the change in personnel.”

Heavy-footed “Machine Messiah” begins like a metal epic, with a dense, galvanizing guitar riff, and then goes through multiple lighter sections of acoustics and keyboards.  Regal and bouncy, “Machine Messiah” is uplifting despite (and because of) its complexity.  Clouds form about halfway through the song, darkening the landscape, but that guitar returns for second round.  Tricky bits are three-dimensional, snakelike and winding, but satisfying.  An enticing start!

After a 10 minute opener, you’re fairly warmed up for anything, but “White Car” is surprising nonetheless for its lushness and brevity.  It sounds like there should be more, but then Chris Squire brings the bass of “Does it Really Happen”, reminding me that he’s truly one of the all time greatest four-stringers in history.  His fingers gallop.  What a crisp, tight bass sound.  Hard to describe this track — it moves, and it’s full, but not immediate.  Builds nicely up with organ, vocal layers and guitar chords though.  I dig the bass licks right after the false ending.  Chris Squire was the man!

Drama‘s second side starts with “Into the Lens”, and another bass pulse by Chris Squire.  Bouncing from section to section, it’s hard to pin this song down to one style.  It’s easy to say it’s great though.  It’s a big song, always interesting and going someplace.  From the camera lens, we “Run Through the Light”, opening with gentle acoustic picking and elegant singing.  Then the electric guitar and keyboards lay down the hooks.  This is my favourite song so far.  Trevor Horn’s vocals are enticingly catchy with a Police-like chorus, but then there’s a squirrely and cool Steve Howe guitar solo.

We end the set on “Tempus Fugit”, the only track I was previously familiar with.  Like a space race with time, this song goes into hyperspace with engines powered by Chris Squire.   In a flurry, the album is over.  Drama.

That wasn’t a bad first listen.

4.5/5 stars