Thursday, June 23, 2016
Album Review: Anderson/Stolt - Invention Of Knowledge
Roine Stolt can be one of the most prolific artists out there, regularly putting out an album of complex progressive rock every year, when he's interested. And between Transatlantic and The Flower Kings, he was on a roll just a couple of years ago. So where has he been the last three years? The answer to that is this album, a collaboration between Roine and legendary Yes singer Jon Anderson. This is the sort of project that, in prog circles, more than justifies putting his own bands on the sideline. It's one of those ideas that you would think required a time machine, to go back and see how two bands of different generations could combine. But this is real, and with Yes sputtering to its inevitable end, it's also something that fans of classic progressive rock need.
Divided into just four tracks that run over an hour, "Invention Of Knowledge" is progressive excess to its core. Opening with the twenty minute epic title track, we get thrown back into a sound that is ripped from the mid 70s. Chiming bells open a track that winds itself up into a whir of synths and deliberately placed guitar parts, while Anderson dominates the mix. His voice is pushed to the fore, which is good in that his melodies are the driving force that you will remember from the songs, but not so good in that his voice is also one that can easily drift into being intolerable. He is singing so high, and in stilted rhythms, that he at times gives the impression he is singing a children's album.
The other issue with the album is that while Anderson is doing that, Stolt doesn't give him a musical backdrop to counteract the sugar overdose. The music on the album is frustratingly soft, without any of the crunch I would expect from Stolt. His lead lines that drift in and out are classically his, but he never lets the guitar build up and give the music any power. It's an entire album, a lengthy album, of stubbornly subdued music. Perhaps Anderson's voice can't sing over anything heavier at this point, but it's hard to build up and drama, let alone a crescendo, when the music is flat in volume and energy.
Anderson is clearly the star of the proceedings, and he does spin out some good melodies. His presence is more engaging, and frankly more immediately melodic than I was expecting. Progressive singers are often the most boring of all, since they can explain away a lack of interesting lines by pointing to the involved music. But some of the melodies he sings in "Knowing" are beautifully medieval. Yes, it does draw close to sounding like something that should be playing at a Renaissance Fair, but when hasn't progressive rock had a degree of that?
So there are good aspects to this album, but they get bogged down in the long, slow morass that is the whole of it. Simply put, an hour of this soft, slow brand of prog grows too tiresome to take. There isn't enough energy in the music to drive the songs for as long as they require, and Anderson's voice is best in small doses. Legendary though he may be, he is absolutely an acquired taste. While I would say that hardcore fans of classic prog will find a lot to enjoy in here, I am not one of them. This is exactly the kind of album that commits the ultimate crime of overstaying its welcome. I found myself constantly checking to see when it was over, and if I'm doing that, I can't be enjoying myself.
I understand that the collaboration is something dear to these two, but the results prove a point; not every good idea works out.