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Old 12-16-2011, 07:20 PM   #621 (permalink)
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Sign o' the times --- Prince --- 1987 (Paisley Park)


The album on which Prince came of age, and also the last really major success in terms of commerciality. Prince's “golden age” kind of kicked off with “1999” (actually released in 1982), through the phenomenal “Purple rain”, which brought him his greatest and most wide-ranging acclaim and made him a household name, on into “Around the world in a day”, which though not as successful as “Purple rain” did boast one of his biggest ever hits, “Raspberry beret”, skipping largely over 1986's largely-ignored “Parade” and on to this one. His next, “Lovesexy”, was something of a bomb, and although he has recorded a total of nineteen albums since this, and they've all sold well, his mass appeal has more or less drained away. People still recognise and acknowledge him as one of the most talented and controversial musicans of the last century, but ask the ordinary guy or girl in the street who isn't a fan to name one of his albums and the chances are they'll list some or all of the above. For many people, there were no more Prince albums after “Lovesexy”.

But this is classic Prince. His second since dispensing with his backing band, the Revolution, it's entirely a solo project and it's a double album stuffed full of treasures. It opens with the title track, a sparse, funky track with drum machines and seedy bass, Prince almost rapping the lyric which depicts the wrongs in the world, and how bad things have got. Bon Jovi would tackle the same theme in their 1995 album “These days”. It's a sobering, stark song but with a funky beat behind it which almost disguises the desperation and frustration in Prince's voice as he snarls ”Sister killed her baby/ Cos she couldn't afford to feed it/ And we're sendin' people to the moon.”

“Play in the sunshine” is a much more upbeat, happy number, almost in defiant opposition to the opener, another of those “party like it's 1999” songs, with some crazy keyboard work and some good backing vocals. For a double album, this is perhaps a little short, at only sixteen tracks total, and none of them bar one particularly long, but then, there's a real surfeit of quality here: just about every track is good, and many are great. What would you rather? Sixteen tracks, all good, or twenty-four with half of those sub-par? “Housequake”, another party song, opens with the interesting line ”Shut up, already! Damn!” Its melody is a little redolent of the Art of Noise, with lots of short, stabbing synth chords, and a Janet Jackson-style rhythm, while “The ballad of Dorothy Parker” uses some deliberately warped guitar alongside some mid-tempo rolling drums, the skewed instrumentation a little hard on the ear sometimes: always had me checking the file wasn't corrupt --- or when I had the cassette originally, checking for dropouts on the tape (see “Trollheart's Handy Guide to Twentieth Century Technology”, page 9 of this journal). Everything racks back up then for “It”, with big hollow drum sounds, and a low synth which then becomes a bright one, the tempo a little boppier but still fairly low-key, with more of those AofN stabbing synths. No prizes for guessing what “it” is, as Prince sings ”I wanna do it baby/ All the time!” At a wild guess, I wouldn't say he's talking about creosoting the fence!

My only criticism about “It” is that it's a little too long and seems overstretched. The last two minutes of the five it runs for are essentially an extended mix, with instrumental noodling and messing about, and although it's a good song, it doesn't need this extra tacked on at the end. “Starfish and coffee”, on the other hand, is perfectly timed at two minutes fifty seconds. From the opening alarm clock sound to the cheerful whistle at the end, there's not a moment of the melody wasted, and it's close to perfect. Definitely one of the standouts on an album of standouts. The simple piano with the soul backing vocals and magical guitar runs just make this song something special. Prince kind of revisits the lyric and some of the melody from the title track for this, and it works beautifully: subtle but recognisable. Class.

Then we get it. The first real sexy smoocher that Prince is so adept at writing and performing. “Slow love” is a real motown-style swinging ballad, with nice brass touches, the kind of song you could hear George Benson or Smokey Robinson singing. And yet it's quintessentially Prince at his unfettered passionate best. “Hot thing” gets right back to the funk, with an element of Depeche Mode in the synth lines, and some really supercool funky jazz sax, then the first disc closes on the gospel/soul “Forever in my life”, fairly stripped-down with just drums and guitar keeping the melody while Prince, it seems, multi-tracks his vocals to add backing.

One of the big hits from the album kicks off the second disc, featuring the luscious Sheena Easton. “U got the look” continues Prince's penchant for shortening words to one or two letters (I'm pretty sure he started this craze, way before text pushed it to whole new levels), and it's of course very well known, a dancy funkster just smouldering with passion and sex. In the same way Michael Hutchence was instrumental in bringing the sex kitten out of the girl next door with Kylie, we must be eternally thankful to Prince for his efforts in “corrupting” Sheena, to the delight of all us guys! Great screeching guitar on this track, and there's little I can say about it that hasn't already been said.

“If I was your girlfriend” opens with church organ and preacher, then slips into a slow, Cameo-influenced barebones song with interesting lyric: "Would you let me dress you/ Help you pick out your clothes/ Before we go out?” Again, Bon Jovi (who must listen to a lot of Prince) explored this theme in a slightly different way on 1992's “Keep the faith”, when they penned “If I was your mother” (prompting me grin, you'd be the ugliest mother in creation!). Prince's vocals seem strangely fast at some points, almost cartoon-like. Apparently this was an error, but Prince liked it so much he kept it as it was. There are a lot of handclap drums in the song, bass and really other than that and the warbling keyboards that's all the instrumentation I can hear. Minimalist? Yeah.

“Strange relationship” is another Janet Jackson-alike, while another well-known song and another standout, “I could never take the place of your man” is the kind of song the Bangles could have sung, with a little lyrical alteration. Very poppy, with a nice rumbling guitar there in the background. Again it's quite famous so I won't go into it any further, but it's followed by “The cross”, which opens on a piano line so quiet you don't really hear it until about forty seconds in. It seems to be a song glorifying God, with some nice eastern-style sounds like a guitar made to sound like a sitar, and the song builds from its almost silent and sparse beginnings to a pretty heavy rocker, easily the heaviest track on the album and the first to step away from the dance/funk vibe. Prince really stretches his vocal here, touching the levels he reached in “Purple rain”, especially on the title track.

The longest track on the album by a country mile, the nine-minute “It's gonna be a beautiful night” goes right back to funk and disco, with powerful horns reminiscent of Kid Creole and the Coconuts, funky guitar and sax, and either recorded in a live performance or made to sound like one. Prince reverts to his falsetto for this, sounding more like one of the Bee Gees, and it's essentially something of a jam, great fun but again it does feel like it's been dragged out about three minutes longer than it should have been. Of course, if it is actually live then I can forgive that, as I know songs that are normally three or four minutes can be stretched to at least twice that length by some artistes on stage.

The closer, “Adore”, finishes in fine style with a smoochy soul ballad reeking of the seventies. Prince racks up the falsetto to ten, and it's a powerful and emotional closer to what is, as I said at the introduction, really an album with few if any flaws.

Representing the pinnacle of Prince's creative period, “Sign o' the times” has been cited as his best album, also his most innovative, given that he plays, arranges and composes just about everything on the album himself, and maintained a tighter grip on the production than a bank manager on his bonus. In 1993, six years after the release of this album, Prince would become “The Artist formerly known as Prince” for another seven years, before reverting to his own name. Prince would also spearhead the idea of free music, by allowing his last album, “20Ten”, to be given away free with various newspapers in the UK and Europe, and he has consistently refused to allow iTunes or any other digital service stock his music for download. Try it: you can't find it.

Still as popular as ever, Prince is nevertheless more a controversial figure than a hitmaker these days, and although his glory days are far from over, the mass market appeal of his music did seem to end with the release of “Sign o' the times”. If that's true, then it was one hell of a high to go out on.

TRACKLISTING

Disc one

1. Sign o' the times
2. Play in the sunshine
3. Housequake
4. The ballad of Dorothy Parker
5. It
6. Starfish and coffee
7. Slow love
8. Hot thing
9. Forever in my life

Disc two

10. U got the look
11. If I was your girlfriend
12. Strange relationship
13. I could never take the place of your man
14. The cross
15. It's gonna be a beautiful night
16. Adore

Suggested further listening: “1999”, “Purple rain”, “Around the world in a day”
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Old 12-17-2011, 01:09 PM   #622 (permalink)
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While I'm no fan of opera, I do enjoy a good rock opera. The problem as I see it with standard opera is that it's almost always written in another language, and as I'm not bilingual I find it impossible to follow the storyline of any of them. I will listen to non-English songs: I have done and have been very impressed by much of what I've heard, but generally speaking that's a song at a time, not any sort of concept or plot that continues from track to track and has to be followed. Also, I don't like the soaring female soprano voice much.

But rock operas, or even metal operas? Oh man, I'm there! The likes of Jim Steinman or Jeff Wayne can bring me all out in goosebumps, and I've already reviewed two more-or-less rock operas in these pages, Gary Hughes' “Once and future king” and the aforementioned Jeff Wayne's musical version of “The War of the Worlds”, and enjoyed both hugely. It's actually quite a different prospect, listening to, and reviewing, a rock or metal opera. You generally can't just listen to one track (well, you can, but you don't get the full experience that way) --- you have to listen to the whole thing in one sitting to really get it. And you have to pay attention, or you'll miss important points either sung or narrated by the cast, or alluded to in the songs.

But, I hear you cry, there aren't that many rock and/or metal operas out there! Au contraire, mon frere, which I translate to that's what you think, buddy! There are more than you would at first think, and over the course of this series I will be finding them, listening to them and reviewing them here for your pleasure. So don your cloak (or elegant dress, depending on either your gender or preference!), pick up those opera glasses and take your seat, as we're about to engage in a night of culture.

Metal style.



The Ultimate Rock Opera?

I think I can safely say that you have never heard anything like this before --- unless you're already acquainted with this amazing trilogy, of course. “Genius: a Rock Opera” is the brainchild of Italian musician Daniele Liverani (Khymera, Empty Tremor, Twinspirits) and drummer Dario Cicconi (Centrica, Twinspirits, Khymera, Prime Suspect), and it's huge! Based originally on a novella Liverani wrote in 1997, called “Daily trauma”, this musical project has evolved over the course of five years, and involves dozens of well-known artists like Lana Lane, Jorn Lande, DC Cooper, Eric Martin and John Wetton. It's a massive saga that could easily have been made into a blockbuster movie. Spread out over three full albums, the Genius trilogy is one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken in rock circles, and as it is a trilogy, I'll be reviewing all three albums here, and also giving you a very vital synopsis of the basic storyline.

Essentially, and very simplistically, the theme runs like this: Genius, the hero of the tale, is a rock drummer who wakes up one morning but then falls asleep again. As it happens, he has a dream but this is in fact no dream; he has inadvertently crossed over into the world of dreams, where he meets his “Twinspirit”. Twinspirits are entities who inhabit the dreamworld --- which is divided into continents, each ruled over by a king --- and create the dreams humans have when asleep. Genius is faced with his own Twinspirit, ie the creature who should be fashioning and creating his dreams, but he is in this dreamworld now, a thing unheard of, and face-to-face with his own Twinspirit, who is as confused about this turn of events as he is.

This being a huge breach of protocol, and deemed very dangerous in the dream kingdom for a true human to walk amongst them, Genius and his Twinspirit are hunted by the king and the entire Dream League (no, not a football team with both Rooney, Van Persie and Suarez in it! This is the umbrella name given to all the kingdoms who make up the dreamworld, and who create the Twinspirits), and they're more after the Twinspirit, who is given the ID 32 suffix --- each Twinspirit is numbered so as to be identifiable from the millions of others who populate the dreamworld as humans sleep and dream --- so as to stop him from passing on, as is the job of all Twinspirits, the details of his dream to the human when he awakes and alerting Genius to what actually goes on when people sleep, how dreams are created, and leading to the possible collapse of the whole dream world system. Genius befriends his Twinspirit though, and together they take on the Dream League.

So, with a basic grounding in this intricate and clever story, let's look at the first album in the trilogy, the opening of the story and the introduction of Genius to the dreamworld.

Genius: a Rock Opera --- Episode 1: A human into dreams' world --- Daniele Liverani --- 2002 (Frontiers)


The first album opens with a twelve-minute composition, “Without me today”, which starts with narration from the Storyteller, played by Philip Bynoe, best known for his work with Steve Vai, as he introduces the concept of the dreamworld, and also introduces us to Genius on that fateful morning. The music is pretty much all handled by Liverani, who takes all guitar, bass and keyboard duties, and Cicconi, who handles all percussion and drumming. Genius is played by Mark Boals (Royal Hunt, Ring of Fire, Seven the Hard Way, Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force), and his voice is powerful and clear as he sings of his dream, as unbeknownst to him he enters, physically, the dream world.

This feat has been accomplished by a huge coincidence: the ringing of the bells on his alarm clock correspond exactly to the cadences of the sound the Twinspirits use when they knock on the door of the gates of the kingdom, having just been born to carry out the dreams of their assigned human, and needing admittance. The Doorkeepers, who, er, keep the door of the kingdom, mistake Genius for a Twinspirit and let him in, not realising he is actually a real human.

Musically, this is a powerfest, full of snarling guitars, organs and whizzy keyboards, with punchy drums, and for a twelve-minute song it certainly does not drag. Some real keyboard wizardry in here, and you can see why Daniele Liverani is a master of his craft. He also wrote all the lyrics and music to the entire rock opera, and came up with the concept and the story.

The Storyteller continues to narrate how Genius “wakes up” and finds himself before a huge floating gate suspended in midair, with a beautiful woman either side of it. This is the cue for Lana Lane to come in as one of the Doorkeepers, explaining to Genius where he is, as “The right place”, a light piano melody carrying it, begins. Of course, the Doorkeeper thinks Genius is a Twinspirit, and assigns him the number 33. This number, of course, has not been assigned to any human, as Genius is a human. Confused? Don't be. Each Twinspirit is assigned, as I said, a number, which corresponds to the dreaming human whose fantasy they must build. At the end of their short life (ie when the human wakes up) they transmit the dream to the human, who wakes up and remembers it. Genius, who is not of this world and is in fact the human “dreaming”, knows nothing of this, does not know how to operate the intricate equipment that the Twinspirits use to fashion the dreams, and will no doubt soon be discovered to be an intruder.

Lane sings as always like an angel, but the song itself is a little repetitive, though the piano melody gives the definite feeling of floating on air. “Paradox”, then, is a hard rocker, with urgent keys and sharp guitar, a much faster song as Genius tries to figure out where he is, what's going on. As he joins a long queue of people (a queue to where he does not know) he meets his Twinspirit, played by Pain of Salvation's Daniel Gildenlow, who has been assigned the number 32, so he is Twinspirit n.32, and at first he does not believe Genius when the human tells him that he is real, and not a Twinspirit, but when it becomes obvious they are both “dreaming the same dream”, he realises Genius is a human, and should not be here. He explains to Genius that he himself has only been born minutes ago, his task to carry out the dream Genius is having. But if Genius is dreaming of being here, and is here, how can Twinspirit n.32 fashion that dream? What a paradox, and a dangerous one. The whole song reeks of panic, despair, urgency, fear as Twinspirit n.32 fears Genius will be discovered, and Genius tries to come to terms with what has happened.

The two new friends follow the queue onto a large train, which takes them to the Station House, where all new Twinspirits are greeted by the Station Master, voiced by Gravedigger's Chris Boltendahl. “The glory of our land” is a fast rock cruncher, driven on steamhammer drumming --- perhaps meant to represent the train they arrived on? --- as the Twinspirits take their places at their desks and are given their duties. Also referred to in the song is McChaos King, the ruler of the European Kingdom, in which Genius is currently. Great guitar solo and some really finger-shredding playing from Liverani as the song thunders on, then choral backing vocals as the Twinspirits aver their loyalty and responsibility to the job of creating the dreams of humans.

Joe Vana from Mecca takes the lead as McChaos's consultant in “All of your acts”, where he lays down the three cardinal rules the Twinspirits must follow: first, they live only once, being born when their assigned human begins to dream and dying when they awake. Second, they share their assigned dreamer's dream with no other Twinspirit, so it is unique to the Dreamer and third, they on no account are to ever reveal their presence to their or any other human, who are to remain ignorant of the workings or even the existence of the Dreamworld.

This is a more AOR-leaning track, with swirling keys and hard, punchy guitar, and Vana, whom I've never heard (of) before, has a very strong and mellifluous voice. This tracks owes more to the likes of FM and Night Ranger than the previous, which were generally much more in the mould of heavy metal. This is very catchy, and shortened down a little (it clocks in at six and a half minutes) could have made a good single, if indeed any were ever released from the three albums. Sparkling guitar solo from Liverani, again much more in the mould of a Foreigner or an Asia than his previous solos.

“Dreams” is carried on Brian May/Malmsteen-style guitar, as Genius looks in amazement at all the technology around him for creating the dreams of sleeping humans, even though he has no idea what it all does. Boals takes centre stage here as the eponymous hero, knowing that he is an interloper, but yet fascinated by what he sees. The song is a fast rocker, thumping drums keeping the beat with strings-like synth adding in stabs of colour and majesty at intervals. “My pride” then introduces Kansas' Steve Walsh as Wild Tribe King, ruler of the African continent kingdom, who is visiting his friend McChaos King, voiced by John Wetton, and has also come to see what is the state of the art in Twinspirit tech. Also in this song is Oliver Hartmann (Avantasia, Edguy, Aina, Rhapsody, Freedom Call) as the Wild Tribe King's consultant. It opens on a lengthy guitar solo, then settles into a rock groove with a nice mid-pacer as the two kings talk to each other, unaware that Genius is sitting sweating at his desk, ignorant of what he should be doing, while beside him, Twinspirit n.32 is looking worriedly at a screen that is displaying Genius looking at a blank screen...!

It all comes to a head in “There's a human”, where Hartmann, in his role as the Wild Tribe King's consultant, notices the blank screen and realises what has happened. He documents the evidence, to be passed on to his king as the Wild Tribe start their journey back home, to report the European king, who is unaware of what has happened. The track is a fast, breakneck rocker in the mould of Iron Maiden at their best, with some great, urgent, outraged backing vocals as they sing ”There's a human/ There's a human/ There's a human/ In this land!” Some really good tribal-style drumming too, to underline the African contingent.

“Father” is a beautiful, sensitive little piano ballad, a kind of interlude while the McChaos King, oblivious to the fate soon to be handed down to him, sings to his baby son and heir. The ballad, a showcase for Wetton's legendary vocals, turns into something of a mid-paced song with expressive guitar joining the piano and the drums crashing like thunder. Meanwhile, the Dream League Council, led by its president, Mr. Maindream, meet to decide what punishment is to be meted out to the rogue king, for having allowed a human to enter their world.

Maindream, played by the late Midnight, ex-Crimson Glory declares that Twinspirit n.32 must be destroyed, as “Terminate”, a high-powered, rocking thunderer takes the stage, something in the vein of Shadow Gallery's “Chased”. The Twinspirit is blamed for losing control of its Dreamer, and the McChaos King will be replaced, as this happened on his watch. The Council fear the truth about the dreamworld getting out, should Genius be allowed to awake with the dream Twinspirit n.32 is making for him.

The album, and the first part of the trilogy, ends on the frenetic “I'm afraid”, as Twinspirit n.32 tells Genius that the king has been arrested, his son taken to the Toy Warehouse in the Asian kingdom, to be used once as a prop in someone's fantasy and then be destroyed. In this way the child can no longer lay any claim to the throne of the European kingdom, and Genius, unable to use the equipment in the dream factory wonders what will happen to him. It's an ensemble finale as Wetton, Boals, Gildenlow and Midnight all sing together as the king is arrested and the Dream police (hah!) begin searching for the elusive Twinspirit n.32.

How will all this resolve? Will the king and his son be saved, restored to the throne? Will Genius and Twinspirit n.32 escape, and will Genius get back to his own world? Read on...

TRACKLISTING

1. Without me today
2. The right place
3. Paradox
4. The glory of our land
5. All of your acts
6. Dreams
7. My pride
8. There's a human
9. Father
10. Terminate
11. I'm afraid
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Old 12-17-2011, 01:31 PM   #623 (permalink)
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Genius: a Rock Opera --- Episode 2: In search of the little prince --- 2004 (Frontiers)


As part two of this lavish rock opera opens, the Dream League Force, the police of the dreamworld, are closing in on the fleeing Genius and Twinspirit n.32. Truth to tell, they can't really do anything to Genius himself, as he's a human and they wouldn't dare harm a human: all they need do is destroy his Twinspirit and Genius will wake up, this dream fading away like, well, a dream, and he will remember nothing of what has gone on here this strange day. Leader of the Dream League Force is Symphony X's Russel Allen.

“He will die” opens, as did the previous album, with narration from Philip Bynoe, setting the scene, then the guitar cuts in madly as the song begins, a real rocker to get us started (or re-started) with great choir/backing vocals, urgent organ going as the guitar parts really take over. It's still quite amazing to think that ALL of the music in this project is created by two guys alone! The Commander of the DLF reminds his team that they have been tasked with the destruction of Twinspirit n.32 by Mr. Maindream himself, for fear Genius will awake with his dream intact, and learn of the existence of the dreamworld. His resolve to catch and kill Twinspirit n.32 comes through clearly in his determined and threatening vocal, and there's a powerful duet between Boals as Genius and Gildenlow as Twinspirit n.32 as the two realise they can use the teleporter that is normally used to bring items from the stores to the twinspirits in order to fashion the dreams they need to, to go in the opposite direction and get TO the stores, and escape from their pursuers.

The ruse works, and the pair find themselves in the Japanese items store of the European store, where they meet the famous and ill-starred guitarist Jason Becker, who had his career cruelly cut short in the 1990s when he was diagnosed with ALS, a disease that eventually robbed him both of his ability to speak and to play the guitar. Obviously a huge influence on Liverani's life, Becker is here represented by Brazilian singer Edu Falaschi (Angra, Symbols, Venus, Almah) and he tells the duo that although he is crippled, here in the dream world he lives on and plays, because his many fans dream of him. It's a quite touching piece, rooted as it is in the very real tragedy of Becker's life, and obviously a hard song for Liverani to have written, but he handles it very well and Falaschi sings the role with total conviction. It's of course guitar-led, elements of “Caress of steel”-era Rush, or Genesis circa “The lamb lies down on Broadway”, a sweet little ballad with a poignant message.

And also some pertinent information, as Becker tells the duo that the prince has been taken to the Asian kingdoms, and that ships leave from here to that destination every day. Genius and Twinspirit n.32 decide to stow away on one, in order to reach the foreign land and try to rescue King McChaos's little son before he is used in a fantasy, as Christmas is fast approaching, when the dreams of many children turn to thoughts of dolls.

Back in the factory, the DLF commander fumes when he can't find the vanished Twinspirit n.32. The music is fast and furious as he tries to figure out where his quarry could have disappeared to. Russel Allen again turns in a fine performance as the frustrated commander who fears he will be held responsible for the failure of his mission, and worse, he can't explain how he has failed. No-one can vanish into thin air! The galloping drums seem to represent his pounding heart as he gets angrier and more determined, with again some finger-burning fretwork from Daniele Liverani.

Disembarking from their ship, Genius and the Twinspirit find themselves in a strange place with trees carved into the shape of odd numbers. This is the Valley of the Odds, and one of the trees begins to talk to them as “Valley” opens, with hard, sharp, fast guitar and pounding drums racing along. Seventree, the talking tree, tells them they should not be here and must leave. The track becomes quite a rock boogie number, as Seventree tells them that this valley belongs to the king of the Asian kingdoms, who likes odd numbers and has commanded all the trees here be carved into the images of same. Ignoring the tree's warnings, Genius comes to a castle in the distance, and tells Twinspirit n.32 that he will continue on alone, and come back for him.

“Beware” is another fast rocker, with organ and guitar as the guard outside King Oddyfer's castle watches in amazement as someone approaches, something that has never happened before. This role is taken by Roberto Tiranti (Labyrinth), the song slowing a little to become a mid-paced rocker as the guard goes to warn his master the king. Meanwhile Mr. Niko, the father of King McChaos, tries to find out what has happened to his son and grandson, but without success. Another guitar ballad, “My dear son” is sung by Mr. Big's Eric Martin in the role of the king's father, as he tries to convince himself all will be well.

After having gained an audience with King Oddyfer, Genius is given his chance to put his case in “What he has to say”. The king's role is taken by Johnny Giolei (Crush 40, Axel Rudi Pell, Hardline) in a star turn as Oddyfer refuses to believe Genius's story, ordering he be taken to the cells, and intending to turn him over to the DLF, which he knows will be good for his social standing and his reputation. It's a powerful, driven song as Genius, desperate to enlist the aid of the king of the Asian lands, tries to convince Oddyfer, but the king wants Twinspirit n.32 captured as well, so he can hand both over to the Dream League Force and earn himself even more fame, so he sends his guards to go look for him, reasoning that he must be nearby.

The longest track on the album, at just over ten minutes, “All my fault” is another guitar and keyboard-driven rocker, split between the plans and schemes laid by King Oddyfer as he plots the capture and death of Twinspirit n.32 and the attendant fame he will gain, and Genius, who languishes in his cell, bemoaning his fate and apologising to his friend, who he does not realise can see him, as they are linked in this “dream”. The music slows down for Genius's soliloquy, very Rushesque, another fine performance from Mark Boals, with Daniel Gildenlow as Twinspirit n.32 coming back in to duet with him, blaming himself for having let Genius go alone. He wishes he had killed himself when he realised what had happened, right at the start. Powerful guitar from Liverani underscores their shared despair and frustration that they have come to this pass. And then...

A beautiful woman appears in the cell, this being Klepsydra, whose role I'm not certain of, but I think she is the king's wife or daughter. At any rate, she's voiced by Live Kristine (Theater of Tragedy, Leaves' Eyes) and sings a beautiful power ballad as he declares she will help Genius “To be free”. Shown a secret backdoor by the girl, Genius returns to his friend and together they go to look for the little prince, where Klepsydra has told him the entrance to the factory will be, in the trunk of an oak tree. Empowered and emboldened, and back on the quest, Genius sings a song of hope and determination as “Fight again” rocks out, ringing with promise and defiance.

Twinspirit n.32, however, sees the end of the dream coming, and knows he is soon to die, and he begins to wonder what his life would have been like had Genius not come into his world? The closing track, “Far away from here”, has him slip into a reverie of how things might have been, and he worries too that Klepsydra may not have been to be trusted, though Genius believes she is sincere. The second-longest track, at just under ten minutes, it's a powerful mix of synth, wailing guitar, pounding drums and some fine vocal performances from Gildenlow and Boals.

Back at Castle Oddyfer, the king rages as he realises that Genius has escaped, and his chance for fame and recognition has gone with him. White-faced, he demands to know how this could happen, but no-one can tell him. He snarls at his guards that they have one hour to find the human.

Coming to the oak tree that Klepsydra had mentioned, they find it to be nothing more than a hologram, and passing through it, the pair find themselves in the Asian storehouse. One problem: within the stores there are literally an infinite number of warehouses, and they don't have a clue in which one the prince is being held. And time, as ever, is running out...

TRACKLISTING

1. He will die
2. Playing in their dreams
3. You won't escape
4. Valley
5. Beware
6. My dear son
7. What he has to say
8. All my fault
9. To be free
10. Fight again
11. Far away from here
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Old 12-17-2011, 02:23 PM   #624 (permalink)
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Genius: A Rock Opera --- Episode 3: The final surprise --- 2007 (Frontiers)


And so we head into the final, concluding part of this amazing rock opera, as Genius and his friend Twinspirit n.32 enter the Asian stores, looking for the one warehouse where the prince is being held captive. For some unexplained reason, the part of Genius is this time taken by Royal Hunt's DC Cooper, which is a little of a disappointment, as it sort of disrupts the narrative flow that had been running through the three albums. We've become used to the voice of Mark Boals in the title role, and this is a little like someone telling Jeff Wayne that Richard Burton wasn't available for side two of his masterpiece! However, what's done is done, and I'm sure there was a rational reason for it, as Daniele Liverani is otherwise so passionate and meticulous about every aspect of his rock opera, so this must have been a change forced upon him.

So, “Toy warehouse” opens the final volume in this trilogy, with Philip Bynoe again reprising his role as the Storyteller and filling in the listener as to what is happening. After a low synthy opening, the song explodes as a huge choir belts out the question ”Where is the toy warehouse?” and the keyboards go into overdrive as Liverani shows us that three years since the completion of episode two, he has not lost his passion for this project. Cooper, to be fair, sounds enough like Boals to make the change not too jarring, with Daniel Lindenlow again in the role of Twinspirit n.32 as the two search for the toy warehouse.

Luckily for them, the prince and indeed the storyline (wouldn't have been much help if they had failed!) they find it, and enter it, looking at all the toys appearing and disappearing as they are used in children's fantasies. Liverani breaks out the guitar for a screeching solo as the friends run through the warehouse looking for King McChaos's son. Meanwhile, in the wake of his failure to find and terminate the runaway Twinspirit, the commander of the Dream League Force has been replaced, and his successor, Apikor, played with gusto by Jorn Lande (Millenium, Ark, Vagabond, Masterplan) declares his sworn intention to find his quarry.


“No more chances” is a heads-down, speed metal rocker, with insistent organ, thundering drums and fretburning guitar as Apikor snarls ”I have prepared a secret plan/ This time we must be sure/ There will be no more chances!” Back in the toy warehouse, the friends' attention is attracted by the plaintive singing of a tiny doll, who asks them to help her escape the factory. Kokeshi, played by Lunatica's Andrea Datwyler, sings “Save me from my destiny”, a lovely little ballad, backed by piano and keys, which becomes a powerful, operatic and stirring anthem, with full choir joining in to lend real heart to the song. Though unable to rescue the doll, Genius and Twinspirit n.32 manage to get the passkey from her before she fades back to the console, and they enter the place where they find the king's baby.

The song, the longest on the album at just under eleven and a half minutes, is really two songs, the first part ending when Datwyler's Kokeshi doll vanishes and the friends go through the door, the second part opening when they enter the room where the prince is being held. This is a powerful, stirring, march-type song, like a hallelujah chorus, with full choir, orchestral backing --- though as Liverani is the only musician apart from Daniel Cicconi on the album, he must be creating the whole orchestra on his keyboard! --- dramatic and epic, as the other toys exhort the friends to save the baby.

In “Alive and safe”, Mr. Niko, father of the European king whom we last heard from in episode 2, is updating his senators on the situation, hoping all can be well. Eric Martin reprises his part, and the song is a powerful slice of AOR and pomp rock, with plenty of warbling keys and chunky guitar. Martin puts in another fine performance as he tries to reassure his senators that the practice of creating humans' dreams will continue, that this blip will be sorted out, and all will be well.

Genius's dream is now coming towards an end, signified by the approaching train which is carrying its cargo of “used” Twinspirits, who are all going back to the factory to be terminated, their humans also about to awake, heralding the end of their dream architects. “Jump off this train” is another speed/thrash metal beast, rocking along itself like a runaway locomotive, Cicconi going absolutely Animal (remember the Muppets?) behind the drumkit, Liverani matching him on the keys and guitar. They then break into a spirited copy of the riffs from the Beach Boys' “Good vibrations”, before the song speeds up again as Genius is told by Twinspirit n.32 that he must leave his friend, in order to get the prince safely back to his father. If Genius jumps off the train as it passes through the European kingdom, he can get the heir to the throne safely back to his father.

Genius does not want to leave, but Twinspirit n.32 tells him that if his dream is lost before Genius wakes up he will remember nothing, and the proof of the king's innocence of the entrance of the human to the European kingdom is contained on Twinspirit n.32's storage disk, the media Twinspirits use to transfer the dreams they have created to the humans' minds. He tells Genius that he must take this disk to the senators, to show them the king is innocent. When Genius is still reluctant to leave his friend, Twinspirit n.32 pulls off that old trick, pretending to hate him and drive him away.

“Let me live” ratchets up the tension as Apikor, having been on board the train, and seeing Genius leave his friend, swoops on Twinspirit n.32 intending to terminate him. The rogue Twinspirit tries to explain what happened, and that he must remain alive in order that Genius's dream be completed, and the innocence of the king be exposed. A fast rocker, it rides along on chugging guitar, with a fine vocal turn by Jorn Lande at his most manic, with Lindenlow as Twinspirit n.32 also turning in a fine performance as he pleads desperately for his life, for the dream of Genius to be allowed to finish.

As Genius runs towards the European jail, to try to demonstrate his and the king's innocence, and return to McChaos his son, he can hear his mother calling from reality, and knows he is beginning to wake up. In the lyric to “Inside these memories” he tries to plead his case, the song a marching, epic one, full of desperation and frustration as Genius tries to save the prince. He hands over the disk, which shows what happened, how Genius got here, that it was nothing to do with King McChaos and that his Twinspirit is also innocent. Toby Hitchcock (Pride of Lions) takes the role of Senator Jaramus who listens incredulously to the story Genius tells, and then looks at the disk to confirm what he's being told is the truth. The song builds in intensity as the situation becomes ever more desperate, but eventually the truth is revealed, and Genius has completed his mission. The king will be set free, reunited with his son, and not a moment too soon, as Genius can feel himself waking up.

Unaware of his friend's success, Twinspirit n.32 tries to resist the attack of Apikor, but is gradually succumbing. As he goes under, he sings a lonely ballad, simply entitled “I die”, in which he apologises to Genius for not being strong enough to hold on, and allow him to wake up with his dream intact. It's an intense lonely and morose song, given added pathos as Twinspirit n.32 thinks he has failed, when in fact he has stayed alive long enough to allow the story to be told, and should be now able to die in peace, but his end is far from peaceful, and as life flees his body he feels a failure. Beautifully passionate guitar from Liverani underlines the tragedy, and haunting piano takes it to its sad conclusion, one of the best tracks on the album.

“Back to life again” is another AOR stomper, as Hitchcock puts in another fine performance as Senator Jeramus, welcoming the king back as everyone celebrates with the penultimate track, “To dream in liberty”, a fast, joyous rocker somewhat in the Iron Maiden mould, very guitar-driven, and the album, the story and the trilogy comes to a blistering conclusion with “The final surprise”. As Genius fades from the dreamworld, back into his own reality as he begins to come awake, he mourns the loss of his friend Twinspirit n.32, but he hears a voice in his head which turns out to be he, bidding a final farewell to Genius, and he tells him that he has managed to copy his existence into another dimensional plane, so allowing himself to live long enough to be able to pass on to Genius the complete dream, and then he terminates himself, happy that he has said goodbye to his friend.

Twinspirit n.32 knows that he has broken some cardinal rules, and that he may have placed the dreamworld in danger of discovery, should Genius choose to act on the knowledge now in his head, but he trusts his friend to keep their secret, and keep the world of dreams and the world of men forever separate.

TRACKLISTING

1. Toy warehouse
2. No more chances
3. Save me from my destiny
4. Alive and safe
5. Jump off this train
6. Let me live
7. Inside these memories
8. I die
9. Back to life again
10. Dream in liberty
11. The final surprise

So, there you have it. Genius: a rock opera in three parts, conceived almost five years before a note of music was written, and played out over a further five years and three albums. A mammoth work of inspiration and entertainment spanning two worlds, a rocket ride of immense proportions, a rollercoaster of emotions and relationships. A masterpiece that Danny Elfman, Jeff Wayne, Trans-Siberian Orchestra or even Jim Steinman would be, and should be, envious of. A feast of music and lyrics created by one person and played by two, with some of the cream of the talent from the rock, metal, AOR and prog worlds, a narrative spanning, in reality, ten minutes of one boy's life that stretched out over five years of work.

It's hard to get across the breadth and scope of this opera: you really have to hear it for yourself, but hopefully this all-too-brief synopsis will have whetted your appetite for the full thing. I can only promise you that you will not be disappointed: there's something for everyone here, from hard rockin' stompers and crunchers, speed metal freakouts and bombastic radio-friendly tunes to slow, lush, tense ballads and more talent than you can shake a good-sized stick at. Interestingly, across the scope of the three albums, Daniele Liverani never once goes for the easy option of just filling in the story with music: there isn't one instrumental track on any of them. Although he originally wrote a totally instrumental score to his book, that remains unpublished and is probably markedly different to what you experience here.

This guy has talent with a capital T, and deserves to be better known internationally. He's obviously well-regarded and respected, when you look at the sort of icons who agreed to work with him, taking often only a small role in his unfolding meisterwerke, but if you ask the man in the street who Daniele Liverani is, he'll look at you in ignorance. Sad. I intend to seek out more of this man's work, and will at length report on that once I've had time to absorb the full vista of his musical artistry. If there's one small quibble I have with these three albums, it's the old chestnut that crops up when someone writes lyrics that are not in their native, or first, tongue, and it's that sometimes the syntax and grammar can be off, which can make some of the lyrics a little nonsensical. But that's a small criticism, and it certainly doesn't take from the powerful story told here. It's an amazing ride, and deserves to be heard by more people. Let's start, shall we, with, oh I don't know … you!

Genius: A Rock Opera : complete musician listing

Episode 1: A human into dreams' world

GENIUS: Mark Boals
STORYTELLER: Philip Bynoe
DOORKEEPER: Lana Lane
TWINSPIRIT N.32: Daniel Gildenlow
STATIONMASTER: Chris Boltendahl
KING McCHAOS'S CONSULTANT: Joe Vana
WILD TRIBE KING: Steve Walsh
WILD TRIBE CONSULTANT: Oliver Hartmann
McCHAOS, KING OF EUROPEAN LANDS: John Wetton
MR. MAINDREAM: Midnight

Episode 2: In search of the little prince

GENIUS: Mark Boals
STORYTELLER: Philip Bynoe
TWINSPIRIT N.32: Daniel Gildenlow
DREAM LEAGUE COMMANDER: Russel Allen
JASON BECKER: Edu Falaschi
SEVENTREE: Jeff Martin
ODDYFER GUARDIAN: Roberto Tiranti
MR. NIKO: Eric Martin
KING ODDYFER: Johnny Gioeli
KLEPSYDRA: Liv Kristine

Episode 3: The final surprise

GENIUS: DC Cooper
STORYTELLER: Philip Bynoe
TWINSPIRIT N.32: Daniel Gildenlow
APIKOR: Jorn Lande
MR. NIKO: Eric Martin
KOKESHI: Andrea Datwyler
SENATOR JARAMUS: Toby Hitchcock

DANIELE LIVERANI: All guitars, bass, keyboards. All music and lyrics.
DARIO CICCONI: All drums and percussion.
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Old 12-17-2011, 07:11 PM   #625 (permalink)
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Old 12-17-2011, 07:15 PM   #626 (permalink)
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Keepin' it slow for another few days in an effort to combat the mad rush and panic brought on by the last week before Christmas, the worm has a nice one for you today. This is Spandau Ballet, with a great track called “Through the barricades”.
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Old 12-17-2011, 07:22 PM   #627 (permalink)
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The city sleeps --- Touchstone --- 2011 (SPV)


Although they've been together since about 2001, Touchstone's first album proper wasn't released until 2007, while their second, 2009's “Wintercoast” earned rave reviews and widened the band's fanbase considerably. This, then, is their third, and the first released on a major label, which if handled correctly should see Touchstone go from strength to strength and gain even more fans.

At heart a progressive rock/metal band with symphonic overtones, Touchstone are fronted by Kim Seviour, who may be small in stature but certainly not in voice. She and the original founding member Rob Cottingham form the nucleus and present the face of the band, despite her having only joined in 2007, kind of the same way Mostly Autumn is represented by Bryan Josh and Heather Findlay, or was, before Heather's departure to pursue a solo career.

The album opens with strong Marillion influences in the guitar and keys, circa “Script” and “Fugazi”, and it's some pretty powerful guitar courtesy of Adam Hodgson that gets “Corridors” underway, then Kim Seviour's clear, sharp vocals cut in and you can see why she's being touted as one of the most promising “new” female vocalists. It's almost Nightwish or Edenbridge, but with a softer edge, less emphasis on the operatic side of the vocals and more on the rock singer. “Corridors” is a fast, uptempo rocker with some really great guitar parts, but it's Cottingham's keyboard work that really reminds me of Fish-era Marillion, or maybe early Pendragon.

One of the longest tracks is up next, ten minutes of “When shadows fall”, which starts off very slowly and quietly, building like the approach of a coming train, chiming keys and choral voices gradually getting louder and more powerful, with guitar coming in, quite reminiscent of “The king of Sunset Town” from Marillion's “Holidays in Eden”. Yes, there are quite a few comparisons to be made with Marillion here, which is no bad thing. It's almost two minutes before hard guitar chords and feedback guitar announce what must be the beginning proper of the song, then as suddenly they're gone, replaced by tinkling piano, then that's joined by angry guitar and loud, loud drums, and abruptly the keyboards cut in as Cottingham does a fantastic impression of Tony Banks at his most classic.

It's almost four minutes before we hear Kim Seviour, but when she starts singing she takes over the song, both with her vocals and her personality. You just can't really listen to anything else once she opens her mouth. The song has by now become a fast rocker, the keys of Cottingham carrying it on a synth-rock infused wave of pomp and melody, then he switches to piano for a beautiful but short little run as the whole song slows down, Hodgson's guitar taking the main melody as Cottingham joins Seviour on the mike. More gorgeous piano, then Cottingham takes over the vocals, Josh-like, before Hodgson launches into an inspired solo, piano keeping pace with him as Seviour goes back on vocals, backed by Cottingham.

It's a real prog-rock masterpiece, and worth the price of the album on its own. “These walls”, on the other hand, is far less intricate, a straightforward rocker with snarly guitar and an impassioned vocal from Seviour. “Throw them to the sky” is another good rocker, full of guitar hooks and with a nice vocal passage by Cottingham in the middle, though Seviour takes main vocal duties on this song, like most of Touchstone's material. Some very brassy keyboard gives the song a feeling of later eighties Yes, while “Sleeping giants” slows things down with some sweet pizzicato strings on the keyboard from Cottingham and some really nice digital piano in the first ballad on the album, with a truly exceptional keyboard solo and some great guitar providing a really dramatic and energetic song.

“Good boy psycho” opens with some frenetic guitar and keys, then settles into a nice mid-pacer, with some pretty heavy guitar work from Adam Hodgson against some progressive keyboard from Cottingham. Never in any danger of getting lost in this musical interplay, Kim Seviour's voice rises high above it all, coasting on the wave and singing out clearly and powerfully, always grabbing the attention. I would, however, single this out as my least favourite track on the album, in fact the only track so far that I haven't been totally impressed with. Just seems a little confused, jumping from idea to idea without any really clear direction.

“Horizons” doesn't suffer from any such problems, powerful and gritty throughout, and “Half moon meadow” is a lovely half-ballad, where Rob joins Kim on vocals and they perform a rather outstanding duet. Something very Mostly Autumn about this song, even the melody is quite evocative of Bryan Josh's guitar playing. The song ends on a great combined guitar and keyboard solo, and leads us into the title track, an eleven-minute opus. It goes through some major changes along the way, and features some pretty stunning vocal poetry by Kim as they hark back to the last album, “Wintercoast”, continuing the story begun there.

The album ends on a little instrumental, called “Corridors epiphany”. It's interesting but the record would not have been any the poorer had it been left off. A bit of a distraction, but I guess it forms a sort of a coda to the album and to the title track.

I'm very impressed with this. It's the first Touchstone album I've managed to listen to, and now I want to hear more. It's both very up-to-date in its sound and firmly rooted in the progressive rock of the early eighties as already mentioned. Kim Seviour is a fine vocalist and with the rest of the band performing as they do here, I think it may not been too long before we hear about Touchstone outside of rock circles.

Remember the name!

TRACKLISTING

1. Corridors
2. When shadows fall
3. These walls
4. Throw them to the sky
5. Sleeping giants
6. Good boy psycho
7. Horizons
8. Half moon meadow
9. The city sleeps
10. Corridors epiphany
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Old 12-18-2011, 07:16 PM   #628 (permalink)
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Old 12-18-2011, 07:19 PM   #629 (permalink)
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The worm has had enough of slow songs now: that's up to the Boss and his Tunnel of Love. So we're upping the tempo today, with a little Chris Rea...
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Old 12-19-2011, 05:20 AM   #630 (permalink)
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The first I ever heard of these guys was on YouTube, and I really liked the song I heard, which as it happens is on this album and was the advance single from it, but I knew nothing about the band. I hunted down their, at the time, only album, and was disappointed that the track I had heard --- “What about my broken heart” --- wasn't on it. I was also a little let down by what I heard, but nevertheless once this album became available I went for it, hoping to hear more of what I had heard on YT.

Considering I only heard the one track before buying their first album --- and was less than impressed by it --- it's no stretch of the imagination to say that the improvement on their second is nothing short of staggering. Talk about coming on in leaps and bounds!

Murder of crows --- Human Temple --- 2010 (Escape Music)




As ever, a little background, since you're unlikely to know anything about this artiste. Human Temple come from Finland, and have only been together since 1998, but due to various things including shifting personnel they only managed to release their debut album, “Insomnia”, in 2004. Formed by Janne “Brother Cane” Hurme on vocals, EQ Saint playing bass, Petri “Hellhammer” Lehto (any guesses?) and Petri Kitti on guitar, Human Temple's lineup seems however to have proven --- and remains --- as fluid and changeable as the rate for the Euro, so all I can tell you is that the only original member of the band still with them is Hurme.

The album opens strongly with “Not my fault”, hard AOR with a great punchy guitar leading the way, Hurne's powerful clear vocals taking command, and like so many “foreigners”, I'm amazed at how perfect his English is. Okay, so it's the universal language of music, but there's not even a twang a la Michael Schenker or Udo Dirkschneider, or a hundred other non-English-speaking rock vocalists. If I hadn't known they come from Finland I would have just assumed they hailed from somewhere like the US or England. As an opener, “Not my fault” is about as catchy as you could want, very commercial and with some great hooks, but heavy enough to shy away from the lighter aspects of AOR like Journey and Asia.

“Empty stages” keeps the power up, with a great idea about how fame can be fleeting: ”When the stages are empty/ And no-one's screaming your name”: some really smooth guitar allies to pumping keyboards and takes us into “Just one night”, with a great line in keys, and almost Bon Jovi circa 1984, before they got too commercial and successful. “Promised land” starts on a single, picked and echoey guitar, almost like a banjo, and moves along as a sort of country/hillbilly cross with blues/gospel vocals from Hurme, while guitarist Frank de Funk (what a great name!) keeps the song firmly in bluegrass territory until it punches up into a full rockout, with a great keyboard solo from Jori Tojander. It's pretty epic, being the longest track on the album at just over six and a half minutes.

Atmospheric synth and tinkling keys introduce “Lie”, sounding very Europe (the band, not the continent) in places. Janne Hurme certainly knows how to write a great song, as every track here is written by him, except for the closer, on which he collaborates with someone called Pertti Renko. And the highs just keep coming: not a bad track so far, and we're more than halfway through the album. “Yours cold blooded” is another song that would just sound great on the radio (and why is this not happening?), and indeed any of those which have gone before could be hits, with the possible exception of “Promised land”, and I only exclude it due to the length: perhaps if they cut out the guitar and vocal intro? But then, that's such an integral part of the song...

We haven't had a ballad yet; if that's taken as any sort of criticism of this band it's not meant as such. I'd just like to see how Human Temple handle a slower song, as I feel it could be very special indeed. But “Ghost of you” is another rocker, and keeps up the high quality that really you shouldn't be expecting to get from a band as comparatively unknown as this one, but hell, they're putting a lot of established rock and AOR bands to shame with this release! “Emily” is their hardest-rocking to date, the guys raising their game a few notches beyond what is already mightily impressive to belt out a real headshaker, perhaps a little less of the gorgeous melodic rock we've been used to up to now, but a really cool change of pace, and it shows Human Temple aren't afraid to cut loose and really rock the house (or temple!).

There won't be any ballads. Not really. “Secret” is another AOR gem, with some really new-wave keyboards and a great line in guitar, some excellent backing vocals, and then unbelievably, disappointingly, we're at the end, with the closer being the song that first attracted me to this fine band. “What about my broken heart” has everything: melody, power, hooks, clear and concise vocals, great guitar solo, the sweetest little keyboard intro you've ever heard: it's a great crime this wasn't a huge hit all over the world. In its own way I guess it's a ballad, but more a power/semi-ballad than an actual slow song, but without question a great closer to a great, great album.

It's taken Human Temple a long time to push out two albums, but I hope it won't take too much longer before they get a new release out, as I'm eager to explore this band's music a whole lot more. Oh yeah, just in case you wondered, I will be going back to listen to their debut a few more times.

TRACKLISTING

1. Not my fault
2. Empty stages
3. Just one night
4. Promised land
5. Lie
6. Yours cold blooded
7. Ghost of you
8. Emily
9. Secret
10. What about my broken heart
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