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Conspiracy - The Unknown CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.15 | 43 ratings

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1 stars Chris Squire is my favorite member of Yes - - my favorite band. And Billy Sherwood, the other half of Conspiracy, is a wonderful person and another key part of Yes over the past thirty years. But their second and final collaboration, The Unknown, is among the worst Yes-related albums I own. It's comprised of two decent tunes, one epically bad song, and half an hour of cheese.

Let's start with the good news: the bonus track, "I Could," isn't bad. I assume it's listed as bonus content because it's an alternate version of "Finally," released on Yes's 1999 album The Ladder. "I Could" is a little silly, but it's catchy and fun, and it's considerably better than the Yes version. I'll also cite "New World," a song which would've been acceptable filler on a latter-day Yes album. I should be careful not to overpraise "New World;" it's about twice as long as necessary (7:22), and its lyrics are a hokey rehash of "People Get Ready," "Peace Train," and "Love Train:" "all aboard now / rolling across the nation / station to station / ... it's the new world train on a one way track." Some of the bass parts are pretty OK, though.

The bad news begins with the fact that the mediocre "New World" is the only quality song on The Unknown other than the bonus track. The really bad news is the album's title track, the only "epic" this duo ever recorded. In terms of compositional quality, "The Unknown" is as uninspired as the majority of the album, and if that's strike one, so to speak, then strike two is the unsuccessful attempt to make this into a modern epic. Conspiracy was a crossover project, so it made sense that no song on the debut album exceeded seven minutes, with most in the five-minute range. In short, a meaningful eleven-and-a-half-minute rock song requires much different material - - in quality and quantity - - than what's present here.

The worst of it - - strike three, if you will - - are the lyrics. I wish I could report that they're silly or empty or something like that. Unfortunately, they're juvenile and short-sighted, shallow and glib.* The first lines set the stage: "Towers of life and dreams brought down" and "Like any other morning people walking to the sun..." Yes, it's about 9/11, by far the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of humanity, which had occurred less than two years before the release of The Unknown in the summer of 2003. It was the most horrible and horrifying national event ever for Americans like Sherwood, and in the immediate aftermath, vengeance was on the minds of many, including some who were otherwise relatively pacifistic. Sherwood (who I'm assuming wrote most of the album, including these lyrics) was not immune to jingoism: "'ll get it, all right / You'll never get away / For all the lives you've taken in spite / You're gonna have to pay / Only one true justice can apply." He was, perhaps, blind to the irony that such absolutist reasoning exactly mirrored the Islamic-extremist propaganda which inspired the terrorists in the first place. Amazingly, he goes on to characterize the retaliatory War on Terror thusly: "we're bringing our toys / coming' over to play," espousing a might-makes-right ideology and perhaps agreeing with the terrorists that power implies morality. I agree that the 9/11 attacks were beastly and sickening, and it makes sense that artists would write many, many heartfelt songs about that dark day - - I just think that Sherwood's and Squire's approach is amateurish at best, falling far below my expectations of these veteran artists.

But even if the words were replaced with the average Sherwood-Squire lyrics, the song fails to meet its own clear aspirations - - which is fair to say about The Unknown as a whole: most of the album isn't substantively better than the title song. If, like me, you're a fan of Sherwood and/or Squire, or of late-1990s Yes, try this pair's Conspiracy (2000). If you like that, you might want to download "New World" and "I Could" from The Unknown. Unfortunately, I can't recommend anything on this album beyond that.


*Yes, I totally used a thesaurus here.

patrickq | 1/5 |


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