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Combination Head


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3 stars After phenomenal, ELP-ish, self-titled album ("Combination Head") and very solid "Progress?", Paul Birchall & his fellows released their 3rd studio disk called "Museum". Just as I liked their previous albums very much, I have to say that this one isn't even half as good as them. It's not a total disaster but it has a huge amount of flaws which don't let me enjoy "Museum" as much as I expected. Especially drifting towards more mainstream sounding pop/soft-rock & electronics (which already began in their 2nd output) isn't a good choice.

Let's describe those songs and instrumentals one by one:

1. "The Curator" - already first track shows significant weaknesses of this record: too many artificial sounding synthesizers and repetitive, drum-machine like percussion. Because of these factors this instrumental sounds too lifeless. Of course we have some Hammond runs and nice electric guitar leads, but boring drums beat and annoying electronic noises (I suppose they were intended to be "spacey") ruin our pleasure. Not a complete flop (as I said organ & guitar melodies are rather decent) but near.

2. "Particle Zoo" - another track begins even much worse! Lots of silly electronic loops and "atmospheric" synth effects sound like taken from some bad J.M. Jarre or Klaus Schultze recording. To make things worse after a while we're forced to listen to very boring vocal section which reminds me Depeche Mode or something like that. Thankfully after less then 2 minutes Birchall rides his trusty Hammond organ again and tempo speeds-up significantly. Even vocal becomes more aggressive, not so lifeless like in the beginning. Using of acoustic piano & some acoustic guitar is also a plus. Overall not so bad, one of the best track on "Museum" (if not this silly "intro").

3. "Turn me Down" - quite good track with catchy organ chops but very poppy vocals. All in all much more AOR than prog (very "American" feeling I would say). My favorite part of the song is lengthy Hammond organ solo...which is the only organ solo on the whole album! If you remember their fully Hammond-oriented debut it must be a shock for you. Thanks to this solo and electric guitar one, second part of this track is more proggy.

4. "Thyrotron" - the biggest offender on "Museum". Extremely boring synth/electronic fest which lasts for whole 2 minutes. Paul listened too much Tangerine Dream recently or what? From 2nd minute Gareth Moulton starts to play some not bad hard rockish guitar solos but it's not enough to change my mind about this turkey. I have to add: this repetitive synth "plumping" which keeps wandering through-out this track is horrible!

5. "Truth Seeker" - finally almost completely satisfying composition! Truly symphonic sounding composition with melodic guitar riffs and pianos/synthesizers. Real goodie with only slight soundtrackish feeling. Less bombastic than ELP or UK, but still enjoyable instrumental.

6. "Consumer Fool" - wrong! Seems that Paul Birchall spent too long time with pop-stars a la Cher or Geri Halliwell and he became infected with some pop virus, because most of this song is such bubble-gum mainstream pop. Thankfully in the middle we can listen to some nice, Pink Floyd-ish synth soloing but it's still can't save "Consumer Fool". Truly bad.

7. "Museum" - half-baked instrumental + soul female vocal harmonies which sound completely out of place in prog-rock context. Some nice guitar/Moog/organ interludes but that's all.

Overall "Museum" is a disappointing experience if you expected high quality prog-rock music like on first 2 albums of this formation. Too many pop/AOR elements, overuse of digital keyboards, artificial sounding drums, sometimes repetitive compositions - all of these are main sins of the record. However I can't say that it's a total turkey which should be flushed into the toilet. There are still many enjoyable symphonic-prog fragments, some great keyboards solos or memorable parts.

Overall I hope that it isn't Combination Head's swansong 'cos I really hope they will come back to organ-driven, ELP-like format from their debut album.

3 weak stars with huge minus from ozzy_tom.

Report this review (#413116)
Posted Wednesday, March 9, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars This band does many things so very right. First, they are simply magnificent at the craft of audio production. Instrumental leads are well written and well performed. Virtuosity, while present, is rarely showcased. Rather, the songs reign supreme, with instrumental passages placing "feel" and "effect" far above strictly musical concerns. And the effects are magnificently (dare I say it?) effect-ive. Or they would be, if there was much of a market for tragically un-hip synth pop rock in today's music scene. Think Mike and the Mechanics meeting Alan Parsons Project and Camel. I can sense you cringing already.

Despite the fact that the music is a bit too serious and retro sounding for contemporary rock fans, a bit too mellow and patient for pop and AOR fans, and a bit too AOR for prog fans, I simply cannot shake the feeling that any collection of tunes so shiny and competently crafted... so catchy yet still adorned with artistic vision all around its edges... simply must garner an appreciative audience one way or another - even as it most certainly alienates a significant portion of their core fan-base in the process.

Had this been a debut album in the year 1986, not only might it have been a big hit, many of us prog fans would most likely still harbor fond memories of how cool this group was for a pop band. But they aren't a pop band. And it isn't 1986. Most critically, their core audience remembers them as a very well produced fusiony instrumental outfit with tons of tasty keys. To this audience, "Museum" convincingly provides a most resounding answer of "No" to the question posed by the title of their previous album.

As art-rock and prog-rock music fans, we tend to fool ourselves into thinking we want our favorite artists to follow their muse and to pursue their own vision. But, if the truth is to be told, it seems far more likely to me that we actually prefer our favorite artists to give us what we want (as long as they do so in such a manner that appears to us as though they are pursuing their own artistic vision in the process).

Never mind that there isn't any pop jackpot cash cow for these guys to milk... Forget the fact that you can't "cash in" without the cash or "sell out" without the sales. Combination Head may be simply creating whatever type music they want to - but many in the world of prog will not receive this album with open arms.

All that having been said, I will go on to further say "loud and clear" that if you "can listen as well as you hear" every now and then, and if Alan Parsons Project meeting Camel on a somewhat commercial day-trip doesn't send chills of trepidation down your spine, this may very well be the guilty-pleasure album of the year you've been looking for. Check it out! Highly recommended!

Report this review (#416396)
Posted Tuesday, March 15, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars Combination Head newest release to date is the album called Museum from 2011. This is another worthy album , but the magic of previous two albums is little pale here, but overall not a bad album for sure. Introducing this time a far more vocal parts in the mix, this album besides tha fact keeping almost same formula of ELP meets neo prog, this time they incorporated little AOR elements here and there, the result is ok, but no more then that, crafted pieces again but sometimes goes in a direction that I don't realy enjoy as a whole, but aswell I can't deny the fact that they are all good musicians. Art rock with AOR elements and progressive turns is what we have here, not bad for sure because the band knew to make and pleasing both camps, progressive rock listners and those who enjoy more AOR combined with rock and prog elements here and there. So in conclusion not their best album, that can pe seen from the rating status, but aswell is not a very poular band here aswell, that needs a far better view, not necesarly this album, but all 3. One of the intelligent bands from young generation of prog bands. 3 stars, good but no more then that.
Report this review (#463286)
Posted Friday, June 17, 2011 | Review Permalink

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