(All Album Reviews by Reginod)
I wonder if there are ten people in the world that actually own this album.
Back in 1997, during roughly the same period when he was co-producing the studio tracks for Yes' Keys To Ascension 2, and eventually joining the old boys as a full band member for the much-reviled Open Your Eyes, the even-more-reviled Billy Sherwood found a little extra time to work with guitarist Marty Walsh and produce an album that was apparently doomed to obscurity before it was even released. Together Sherwood and Walsh called themselves The Key and recorded The World Is Watching, and to this day you pretty much have to be an active fan of Sherwood's music to even know that this was ever produced. It is still available through Germany's MTM Music; indeed all of the distribution rights listed on the jewel box insert are accorded to European companies, although the musical contents of the album are decidedly American and decidedly AOR-flavored.
If you know much at all about Sherwood's other projects - World Trade, solo, and Conspiracy, to name a few - you'll hear some familiar things here, both in a musical and lyrical sense. "The American Dream" in particular sounds like an alternate version of Yes' "No Way We Can Lose" (a song which was kinda neat in a goofy sort of way but had no business being anywhere close to a Yes album, not even Open Your Eyes); it also sounds suspiciously similar to parts of "Lesson To Be Learned" from Sherwood's 1999 solo album The Big Peace. Compare these lyrics from The Key:
"Over the rivers and over the rails/ Brave men carved their way through stone/ All but forgotten Over the lands they roamed"
. . . . to these from "Lesson To Be Learned":
"Over the rivers and over the rails/ Somewhere you will find strength/ Along the lonesome trails."
Hey, wait a minute . . . . isn't "Lonesome Trail" a Conspiracy song? Indeed, you'll hear a lot of the same things lyrically throughout Sherwood's discography. For instance, the opener on The World Is Watching is called "Down We Go." Listen to that and then go check out "Emotional Wasteland" from World Trade's eponymous album from 1989; you'll hear all about "down, down we go." I guess it's Sherwood's version of "conceptual continuity."
The biggest difference between The Key and Sherwood's other projects lies in simplicity. The World Is Watching strictly adheres to a shorter, accessible song format. The lengths of the tracks range from 2:40 to 4:54, and the song titles are somewhat telling. What would you expect out of tunes called "Wanted You To Be The One" or "The Love We Had" or "Love Leads Us On" or "I'll Always Be There?"
In an engineering sense, The World Is Watching is not as "dense" as most of Sherwood's other albums. There's a lot more sonic wonderment on, say, The Big Peace or Conspiracy's The Unknown. The World Is Watching takes a more "stripped down" approach; maybe Sherwood and Walsh (who produced and mixed the album together) would have done more with the material if time had allowed.
Walsh's approach to guitar playing is also somewhat "stripped," at least on this album. He sticks mainly to coloring and embellishing the music rather than going the soloist route. And Sherwood's bass (he also sang, of course, and added a few keyboards) is particularly prominent here, if not flashy; maybe the closest comparison would be the bass work on World Trade's Euphoria.
One thing I'm a little unsure of is exactly who played the drums on The World Is Watching. A person named Hugh Meign is credited, but no photo is provided in the CD booklet alongside those of Sherwood and Walsh. Instead, a somewhat virtual-in-appearance head is shown. The name "Hugh Meign" sounds a lot like "human," and the drums are obviously a real kit. It wouldn't surprise me at all if it was Sherwood who played the drums, as he did on his 2003 solo album No Comment.
This really isn't such a terrible album. There are some nice melodic twists, and Walsh's guitar work is pleasing enough. According to an interview with Sherwood published in Notes From The Edge (#217; July 2, 1999), The World Is Watching wasn't the only project by The Key; a different album with Jimmy Haun and World Trade's Mark Williams was recorded and shelved and apparently will never see the light of day.
Actually, most music fans that are aficionados of THE "P" WORD would like very much if Billy Sherwood never saw the light of day anyway. Certainly, The World Is Watching isn't an involved or intricate or particularly difficult listen. But I guess it's a nice little nugget for the Billy Sherwood fans of the world - all ten of us. ;~)