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Mike Keneally - The Universe Will Provide CD (album) cover

THE UNIVERSE WILL PROVIDE

Mike Keneally

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.65 | 18 ratings

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1800iareyay
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Ever since Frank Zappa's death, many have wondered who could fill his shoes. Artists displaying any penchant for complex arrangements and off-beat humor are typically lumped into some pseudo-genre called post-Zappa, but a real heir apparent has never been named. Les Claypool, Devin Townsend, even Steve Vai are regularly mentioned, but the one who comes the closest to Zappa's mastery of all genres, eclecticism, unpredictability, and technical and compositional skill is Mike Keneally. Though he only managed to play with Frank for a short time before his life was cut short by cancer, he seems to absorbed more than perhaps any other of the genius' many contributors. His style on his early albums was highly similar to Frank's (though never a rip-off), but over time he matured into someone who captured the spirit of Zappa instead of merely the sound. Following the acclaimed, subtle effort Wooden Smoke and the heavy Dog, Mike was commissioned by the famed Metropole Orkest to write and record with them. The result was The Universe Will Provide, one of the finest albums you will ever hear.

Most mashups of rockers and an orchestra end in tears (Aerosmith? Really?), and even the pretty good ones (Steve Vai's Sound Theories, Malmsteen's Concerto for Electric Guitar, selected bits of Metallica's S&M) are little more than interesting, with brief flashes of brilliance. Only select gems like Zappa's own The Yellow Shark, Queensr˙che's Operation Mindcrime, and Deep Purple's Concerto For Group and Orchestra stand the test of time. But I'm here to say, this one puts them all to shame. Like those aforementioned greats, Mike isn't working with an orchestra just to show off; he really puts the effort in the music (almost all of which is freshly written for the project). By working with the orchestra, we avoid the tedious "greatest hits: now with more strings!" that we are normally served; instead, Mike and his band are at one with the Metropole. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the Metropole is the best unique orchestra around; they are just as versatile as Mike, capable of going from classical to jazz and, at times, rocking harder than any electric axe-slinger.

Mike combines all the styles he's displayed throughout his career in this package, from Zappa-tinged fusion to warm, lush soundscapes to borderline heavy metal. And he manages to do this while juggling the risky choice to record with an orchestra. However, the graceful opening number Blue 68 is placating, and by the time the flutes and brass section of All of Them Were Quiet are joined by Mike's distorted guitar, you know you're in for something special. I won't go into a track by track analysis, as that would diminish the overall impact of the album. Although the songs don't really feed into one another and are not linked, this feels like a single composition, merely divided into movements. Tunes like Room how off everyone without being a musical orgy, so to speak. It's delicate yet impossibly complex, and through it all the orchestra and band gel. When Mike cranks up the distortion and volume withing Archaic Peace Strategies and Four Slices of Toast, the orchestra does not get lost; they swell to meet his level and even perform the most insane unison lines I've heard. That's another thing: many of the craziest moments on this record were obviously written out by Mike before hand. What sounds like a mad solo is really just a part of the movement. Hearing saxes, brass, flutes, and strings blend with guitars, basses, and organs is jaw-dropping. The finale, Bullies (one of two pre-existing songs), is a fiery send off to an album that has gone from soft Romaticism to dissonance to fiery jazz fusion on at the drop of a hat. The only negative thing I can say about this song is that I know the album ends after it.

Mike Keneally hit a home run- no, a grand slam- on this one. Even amongst those who have put out great albums with orchestras, none can really point to it as the culmination of their career (though some do). However, The Universe Will Provide is the ultimate Mike Keneally album. This is the album he has been working toward for his career, and though he's never released anything that could be considered weak (at least from what little music I've heard from him and what I've read about his discography), but this is perfection. I cannot recommend this album enough to any fan of progressive rock, fusion, classical music (yes, it's not your standard classical, but it comes closer than pretty much any other rocker), Frank Zappa, or really any fan of music in general.

Grade: A

1800iareyay | 5/5 |

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