(All Album Reviews by Sean)
Has it been ten years since this was released? Already!? I am feeling old about now.... Much has been written about Steve Howe's solo career, one that has run alongside whatever bands he was in (or not in) at any given time ever since the 70s. To me his solo work from that decade stands alone- for better or worse, most albums were a mixed bag. The music he created in the late 80s and early 90s though is different. Starting with his fine cd, Turbulence, Howe started to release albums that were a little more unified sounding. This album has a similar unity to it. I can listen to both of these cds without skipping a track, more than I can say for any of his albums from the 70s, good as they were.
Turbulence presented Howe fans with his most layered album to date. Seems he used a good 20-30 guitars/stringed instruments on that album and the results are really nice. Lush and dense. The Grand Scheme of Things carries on with that approach, but a few things are different. First off, instead of Bill Bruford on electric drums, we have Howe's son Dylan on acoustic drums. I think that sonically the acoustic drums sound much better- real. So that is a plus. The minus is that Dylan had only been playing a few years here and that is no follow up to Bruford of course! Not that Bruford was particlarly inspired on Turbulence, he wasn't.... Second difference is Turb was an all instrumental cd- a plus in my opinion. Scheme has Howe singing on several cuts, at least half.
I am not a fan of Howe's singing per se. The albums from the 70s in particluar are hard to listen to because of it. I do think he got better though over the years and his singing on this album is actually pretty decent. He has learned a bit about his limitations and worked within them. Also he has learned to layer the vocals, which improves their quality, fattens it up. Something needed when you are not a singer per se like Howe and have a rather subdued voice.
Lyrically this album is a weird one, some tracks seem pretty corny, "Blinded By Science" and a few others come to mind. Many though are solid lyrically dare I say...catchy. "At The Gates of The New World", "Too Much is Taken and Not Enough Given" and "The Fall of Civilization" are all good vocal cuts.
What stands out here, to me, are the arrangements and of course Howe's playing. He conjures up a grandiose vibe on many of the cuts here. A lot of the tracks take some unexpected turns which keep things interesting throughout the cd. This is the last solo cd of his that really has a cool, unpredictable spark- both arrangement wise and playing wise. The follow up, Quantum Guitar seemed unfocused in comparison and his playing meandering.
Howe shows all the sides of his eclectic self here. Prog rock pomp with symph overtones on "Gates of the New World", "Too Much is Taken...", "Beautiful Ideas" and the title track. Some fine acoustic cuts are here too like the dobro drenched "Luck of the Draw" and the best steel string solo piece he has written since "Clap", "The Valley of Rocks".
If you can handle vocals on about half the tracks, this is one to get Howe fans. One of his most diverse cds for sure.