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Steve Brockmann and George Andrade - Airs - A Rock Opera CD (album) cover

AIRS - A ROCK OPERA

Steve Brockmann and George Andrade

 

Crossover Prog

3.49 | 12 ratings

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Andy Webb
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3 stars Collaboration is a wonderful thing. People who lives hundreds or even thousands of miles apart can work together, even more so via the internet, to make truly wonderful things. Whether collaborations take place in the musical world, the writing world, the business world, or any other field, the convening of minds exposed to different cultures, peoples, and ideas is bound to produce a truly unique and exciting work. Thus, the collaboration between American writer George Andrade and German multi-instrumentalist Steve Brockmann, both known for exemplary creative works in the musical bailiwick, was bound to produce something special.

Steve Brockmann has been active in the German rock and metal scene since the early 1980s, playing with various bands and projects throughout his career. Andrade, however, is rather new to the whole professional music thing, only first arriving in the field with his band The Anabasis' debut album "Back from Being Gone" in mid-2011. The inter-Atlantic partnership yielded an exquisite output ? a 74-minute conceptual epic consisting of 6 lengthy pieces broken into 18 shorter sub-sections, most likely to make navigation of the voluminous beast of a composition easier.

The concept itself is grandiose in scheme, exploring the struggle of one Owen Doane with his past, where he, under the influence of alcohol and anti-depressants, passed out and rolled through a stop sign to force a young girl and her mother to veer off the road and strike a stone wall, which disabled the young girl, in his home on Block Island, Rhode Island, which booked him a fateful stay at the psych ward of the prison on the mainland. However, he is acquitted early after learning that his father is dying. He returns to find his father in a state of disregard, hastily placed in his old childhood room and left alone to die. Dismayed, Owen begins to attempt to piece together the family business which he destroyed with the lawsuit that followed the crash, and in the process finds a tome titled "The Book of Airs," which explores something along the lines of kites, creating flying devices, and working windmills, although the full content of the book never seem to be explained in the album. After discovering his father's passion, he takes the kites that his father was working on to an abandoned windmill after he is kicked out of his old house by his spiteful brother Craig. There he manages to reconnect with his childhood friend Anabelle, who had lost an arm to cancer, as well as the girl he disabled in the car crash, Hannah. He brings them to his windmill a number of times and manages to "activate," so to speak, the windmill's hidden purpose ? to expand into an air balloon-type device to allow the three to escape from gravity and, symbolically, their tortured pasts.

Of course a small paragraph such as that can't exactly capture the entire concept as complex and lengthy as this, and just a cursory read through the booklet can show the vast volume of lyrical narrative, sub-texts, and pseudo-stage directions. Steve Brockmann, on the musical aspect of the album, hasn't slacked in his department either. The album's 18 tracks explore a host of themes and elements, twisting and turning moods with the whim of the emotive lyrics, awakening the script from just words on a page to the heightened sense of emotion of which they deserve. Brockmann composes in a mainly Toto-esque AOR- flavored hard rock, utilizing progressive twists and turns a la Spock's Beard (which is no doubt accentuated by the guest players Dave Meros and Alan Morse, both of whom are of that popular prog rock band), as well as many a salute to the complex metal structures of Iron Maiden as well. While the album is not a de facto progressive rock album, Brockamnn and Andrade manage to work in many artsy and progressive flourishes, making it appealing to the prog listener in many respects as well. Brockmann's compositions also fill the criteria of an Ayreon-ian rock opera, utilizing a cast of vocalists to voice out different roles, often in singing in conversation. Granted, the multitude of singers who play Owen throughout the album can be rather disorienting, and a close following of the booklet is essentially the only way to figure out what's going on. The narrative style of the lyrics, too, give rise to very interesting song structures, as the songs often lack true "choruses" or "verses" but simply flow along with the story.

The music at times, however, seems to simply be there for the ride, not exactly developing to its full potential before changing pace with a new plot node. While every theme on the album cannot be fully drawn out if one wants to avoid making a 4-hour album, the evolution of many of themes leaves much to be desired. While the AOR as well seem to get on my nerves at times, entering, in layman's terms, "cheesy" regions with some of the reverby power chord-oriented riffing, but that rarely lasts for very long. With the free-flowing nature of the album, oftentimes any theme than I wasn't overly fond of would modulate into a different, more pleasing section rather quickly. The large album without a doubt contains something to please nearly every listener as well, as it explores a myriad of different styles ranging from progressive rock to hard rock to metal to soul and so much more, all feeding the overall atmosphere and truly bonding with the concept.

While listening to the album for the first time, it seemed far easier to pick out the flaws of the album rather than appreciate the strengths of the music. My first listens seemed to be dominated by "oh, that sounds a bit off" or "the singer doesn't quite fit the mood," but as the album played more and more, I began to really appreciate many of the nuances and descants of the album. I began saying "I really like that" and "that fits perfectly with the lyrics." Of course, a few of my old grievances remained the same, but over time I began to appreciate the album more and more and realize that the album is a true grower. The continuity of melodies, the truly "human" concept, the mature and accessible compositions, and the fantastic production quality make this album shine, showing the great creative prowess of the minds of George Andrade and Steve Brockmann. While not perfect, the album shows fantastic potential for a musical future of Brockmann ? Andrade, although there is, of course, room for improvement. A must for any AOR-prog fan. 3+ stars.

Andy Webb | 3/5 |

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