September 8, 2012

Review: Various-The Prog Collective

The Prog Collective (band), is apparently just that, an amazing array of musicians of the prog genre, amassed by Billy Sherwood (Yes). The bands graced by these artists include King Crimson, XTC, Asia, Gentle Giant, Yes, Mr. Mister, Squackett etc. Using modern technology, the individual artists would send their contributions via the internet to Mr. Sherwood who then mixed the material together at his studio.

Having recently reviewed the Supertramp tribute album, masterminded by the same Billy Sherwood, I approached this album with some enthusiasm, but unfortunately this piece of work is nowhere near the same standard and indeed I am rather mystified as to why the album should be called The Prog Collective.

There are seven tracks on The Prog Collective, ranging from the short (!) final track clocking in at just over 7 minutes, to the longest track, “Over Again” stopping the clock at 9 minutes.

Track 1, “The Laws Of Nature” (7:15) which features Jerry Goodman (Mahavishnu Orchestra), John Wetton (Asia) and Tony Levin (King Crimson) kicks the album off. This has an up-tempo intro which promises well, but although it does allow some excellent guitar work and superb violin passages from Jerry Goodman, it never quite hits the spot. Bits and pieces of “classic” prog rock threaten to appear, but soon get lost in the mix.

“Over Again” (9:00), track 2, features Geoff Downes (Yes/Asia) and Richard Page (Mr. Mister) and starts brightly enough with interesting vocals over the intro, but the overall impression is that of late night gentle rock of the type that REO Speedwagon or Chicago might serve up. There are excellent keyboard passages (Downes) at around the 4:50 and 7:50 minute marks, but the over-riding memory of this track is the constant repetition of the lyrics, “over again and again and again” which makes the song far too long at 9 minutes. A harmonized vocal fades this track out, but prog it most certainly is not.

The third track, “The Technical Divide” (7:55), featuring Alan Parsons (Alan Parsons Project), Chris Squire (Yes/Squackett) and Gary Green (Gentle Giant), starts with a strange “Tarzan like” motif in the distance before settling into another AOR style setting with more harmonized vocals before a very good guitar passage again with a hint of “Tarzan” which seems ill at ease with the overall sound of the track. This is one of those times when there is too much of a dichotomy within the track, the song seemingly unable to decide whether it is to be prog or not. It pains me to say that this, at times, it sounds like background music, and then there will be an interesting guitar passage again. I cannot fathom out the reasoning behind this particular track.

“Social Circles” (8:03), track 4 and featuring Annie Haslam ( Renaissance) and Peter Banks (Yes) is a huge disappointment. I love the sound of Annie Haslam’s voice, but I feel that she is wasted on such a low-key song. There are interesting keyboard and guitar passages, but the vocals/lyrics pull the whole thing down. Another track where there are definite prog moments, but never enough to make the track memorable.

Track 5, “Buried Beneath” (8:11), features Billy Sherwood (Yes), Larry Fast (Peter Gabriel/Foreigner) and Steve Hillage (Gong) and starts with a nice “proggy” keyboard and into a vocal that sounds as if it will deliver, but again we are off into AOR territory. Unfortunately, the lyrics sum this track up, “buried beneath under layers of time” and that is exactly where the prog bits seem to be. There are short passages which are interesting, but never long enough to maintain this listener’s attention.

The penultimate track, “Following The Signs” (7:27) features John Wesley (Porcupine Tree) and Tony Kaye (Yes) and yet again, the intro flatters to deceive. There are simple vocals over a simple background and the song slowly builds, straight into more AOR harmonizing and the initial interest has started to fade. There is an excellent guitar passage before the vocals return and the sound becomes just too repetitive. There is another excellent guitar passage which merges into a similarly superb keyboard passage, but the wispy harmonizing vocals then reappear. The song never seems to go anywhere, despite starting to move off in a different direction once or twice, but returning to the same point. The keyboard passage at around the 7 minute mark is good.

The final track on the album is “Check Point Karma” (7:14), this time featuring Colin Moulding (XTC) and Rick Wakeman (Yes etc) and my immediate impression of this track was Genesis meets Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. Unfortunately, it is the Genesis after their terrific prog era, when they started to interest AOR listeners with albums such as “Duke,” and although Mr. Wakeman is most definitely prog, the track doesn’t gel again.  Yet another track with little to hold the interest apart from the 2 blistering keyboard passages from “The Caped Crusader.”

It seems almost impossible to believe that with this array of prog rock musicians, the album that they finally produced seems so far removed from that genre. A breakdown of the album would probably reveal about 10% of the music falling into the prog category and the rest AOR, and unfortunately, not the best example of that genre either. This is a very disappointing album which never managed to hold my attention for any length of time. Despite being played on the car stereo for a week, I found that I still couldn’t hum, whistle or sing any of the seven tracks.

Key Tracks: The Laws Of Nature: Check Point Karma

Jim “The Ancient One” Lawson

September 8, 2012

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