(All Album Reviews by Epilepticgibbon)
Do you want hear something different? No, I mean REALLY different. This isn’t neo-prog, prog metal, symphonic, RIO, Canterbury, or any of the usual prog rock sub-genres. In fact some people might argue that this isn’t prog rock in any sense at all, and they might be on to something.
Broadly speaking this is an assortment of pop/rock tunes from different sub-genres and W. Robert Peek is described as a child of San Francisco rock and a student of classic science fiction. This album, then, represents a combination of those two art forms: science fiction short stories set to popular music in a variety of different ways across 11 tracks.
The SF stories cover a wide range of different themes and moods: some are meant to be humorous, some are thought-provoking, whilst others are obviously intended to be alarming or chilling. There are tales of fascist dsytopian futures (“Earth Minister Keagy Said”), robotic nannies (“Walter Murfin”), and inter-species relationships (“Flesh and Metallic Hydrogen”), the latter reminding me greatly of a particular Star Trek episode. In fact I think most of the stories are loosely based on classic SF stories or ideas, and therefore they draw on classic philosophical themes, such as what it means to be human and how technology impacts on who and what we are. Part of the fun, if you’re a bit of a SF geek like I am, is spotting the sources and likely origins of each track.
All of the tracks have lyrics that are either spoken or sung, though most tracks fall somewhere between the two. Unfortunately I think it’s fair to say that W. Robert Peek isn’t the greatest vocalist in the world. His vocals aren’t awful (at times they feel a bit Elvis-like, so I guess it depends on how you feel about The King’s vocals – I’ve never been a big fan myself) but it did take me a while to get used to them and as they feature on every track, well if you don’t like them then there’s a danger that you will be sick to death of them by the end of the album.
Musically there’s a mixture of electro-pop, Chris Isaak’s blending of country, blues, rock-and-roll, pop and surf rock, Joe Meek’s electronic experimentation, and a tiny bit of space rock. At times it works really well, particularly on moving tracks like “Flesh and Metallic Hydrogen”, the almost James Bond theme-like “The Transmuter’s Wife”, and the country rock take on nuclear apocalypse that is “Dead Without The Radio”. Elsewhere, however, the material has, at best, a sort of novel charm about it, or, at worst, is rather annoying (“Earth Minister Keagy Said” for example, is a bit of a dirge and doesn’t make for a great opener to the album).
The tracks are all fairly short (the longest is only five minutes, and the shortest is just under three minutes) so it’s not really a case of the album getting boring, but it’s just that some of the individual ideas are less successful than others.
Overall I’m not sure who I could recommend this to. I guess SF-loving Chris Isaak fans will appreciate it, as might fans of the musical ventures of Joe Meek, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, plus anyone who is looking to get away from the clichés of the current prog scene. It’s certainly not all my cup of tea and I suspect it will probably only appeal to a niche market, particularly amongst prog fans, but there are some very good tracks scattered about and it’s worth hearing the album just for those.
Best tracks: “Flesh and Metallic Hydrogen”, “The Transmuter’s Wife”, “Dead Without The Radio”.