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Steve Howe - The Grand Scheme of Things CD (album) cover

THE GRAND SCHEME OF THINGS

Steve Howe

 

Crossover Prog

2.85 | 47 ratings

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patrickq
Prog Reviewer
2 stars The Grand Scheme of Things is Howe's fourth solo album, coming just two years after his third. His prior two albums (Turbulence (1991) and The Steve Howe Album (1979)) had contained a total of two vocal songs, only one of which Howe sung by himself - - and then for less than one minute. This, of course, followed pretty universal criticism of his singing on his solo debut Beginnings (1975). My own main criticism of Beginnings was what I saw as Howe's lack of preparation, or maybe confidence. By 1993, that was no longer an issue, and the vocals are back. (Howe sings on seven of the sixteen songs on The Grand Scheme of Things.)

The album opens with two unmistakably Hovian* tracks: the vocal title song and "Desire Comes First," an instrumental. Although some of the remaining songs stray a bit from Howe's past work, The Grand Scheme of Things hangs together as a cohesive package, including "The Valley of Rocks," his solo-acoustic offering this time around. As we've come to expect from Howe, there are also more than a few minutes of nice guitar playing with relatively unobtrusive accompaniment (mainly keyboards and violin).

The confidence which allows Howe to sing as much as he wants on The Grand Scheme of Things extends to the lyrics. As the album title might suggest, there are more clichés here than you can shake a stick at: the couplet "the die is cast; I know the score" is representative. But the clichés aren't limited to trite turns of phrase; unfortunately, many of the ideas seem to be stock, anti-modernist "common sense." There's even a song called "The Fall of Civilization." On "Blinded By Science," Howe sings, "once the food was pure to eat ... side effects now interfere ... in the fridge and microwave / frozen food in cellophane / from caffeine to poisonous colors." I'm as suspicious of Corporate Big Ag as the next guy, but several of the tracks sound more like screeds than songs. Oddly, among Howe's most significant musical heroes is the master of the protest song, Bob Dylan. In fact, Dylan Howe is the drummer on The Grand Scheme of Things, playing on eleven tracks.

Also joining Howe here is his Tomorrow bandmate Keith West, who's credited harmony vocals on six of the seven vocal tracks (I'm pretty sure he's on the seventh as well). Violinist Anna Palm also provides backing vocals on one song. This results in much better multipart vocals than on prior Howe albums, although most of the vocals are Howe singing alone.

Compared to Howe's other albums to this point, The Grand Scheme of Things is most like Beginnings. Whereas Turbulence and The Steve Howe Album were niche recordings, intended for fans of guitar-based music, Beginnings seemed aimed at the mainstream, or at least the part of the mainstream occupied by Yes in the mid-1970s. Unfortunately, this approach doesn't suit Howe's strengths; I get the feeling that detrimental compromises were made to effect a more commercial product.

So The Grand Scheme of Things pales in comparison to the all-instrumental, mostly electric Turbulence, but not only due to its scattered focus; Turbulence's compositions were also superior, and Turbulence is the place to start for Howe's 1990s output. I'd recommend The Grand Scheme of Things only to Howe fans and Yes collectors.

*this eponymous adjective was coined, I believe, by Henry Potts.

patrickq | 2/5 |

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