RPWL - Trying To Kiss The Sun - Round Table ReviewReviews in this issue:
Trying To Kiss The Sun
The title track that opens the album is an interesting track with a very catchy chorus. It opens with weird Eastern music, before a heavy rock riff kicks in. Drummer Phil Paul Rissettio deserves special mention here, as he goes completely berserk behind his kit, without sounding forced or overdone.
Remco: RPWL had a major hit with their debut album God Has Failed and are now back with strong symphonic rock album, even though the name of the band should have changed as the P (bass-player Postl) has left the band. I haven't heard the first album, so I cannot compare the two.
The opening track is a very strong one, with an extremely catchy melody that nested itself in my brain after only two listenings!
Ed: When reviewing the first RPWL album, God Has Failed, one of my minor complaints was that the music needed some more power, a bit more aggression like in the song It's Alright. God Has Failed has since grown into one of my favourite albums of the last couple of years - and as such I appreciate it even more than I did back in 2000 - but it still remained relatively 'tame'. When playing this new album for the first time, I was both surprised and shocked at the same time. The band had obviously taken on a harder edge, which became clear in the title track and (even more so) Sugar For The Ape. It took a couple of spins to get used to it but I really got to like this heavier approach and raw energy.
Note how the band once again named their album after the shortest track on the CD, only this time it's the opening track instead of the closing one. The track contains great tension building and melody hooks. The weird Eastern intro that leads into the fine guitar riff is a fine extra addition. A track that fits quite well into the melodic guitar oriented revival of common day music.
Waiting For a Smile
The middle bit has a keyboard solo in the vein of Floyd's Rick Wright, yet the following guitar solo sounds more like Steve Hackett to me. A nice combination of styles.
Ed: Perhaps my most favourite song on the album. It's got a great atmosphere and melody, being both very sad and with a spark of hope. As such it has the same emotional potential of a song like Marillion's The Great Escape, which when in the 'right' mood still drives me to tears. Waiting for a Smile tries to recreate the feeling of leaving loved ones behind, brought in a fine 'Gilmourian Floyd' style. Thereby this is a continuation of the style that is very much present on the band's first album. The middle part of this 7 minute song consists of some fine keyboard solos. Simply beautiful !
BJ: With this track the Genesis reference limits itself to the title, as the song takes a completely different direction. Musically it is quite an interesting track, with a sitar providing an eastern flavour. However, the simplistic lyrics and Lang's monotonous vocals turn the song into a standard pop-song, making it the weakest of the album.
I Don't Know (What It's Like)
Remco: I Don't Know (What It's Like) is a funny hybrid between all three giants: late Floyd, late Yes (think Rabin's Talk album), and Genesis (or maybe that is just imagination, as the title is very suggestive of I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)). A very weak point throughout the album are the lyrics. In particular on this track, the lyrics are very repetitive, up to the point where the constant repetition of the same sentence becomes truly annoying.
Ed: It's no big secret to loyal readers of the CD review column that I'm a sucker for a good combination of prog and pop. As a matter of fact, I often prefer catchy pop tunes in a proggy style to long overdrawn epics that don't seem to go anywhere. I therefore don't have any problem with this tune, and it's simple chorus. The sitar and the short guitar solo that's played backwards are a nice experimental icing on the cake.
BJ: A silly interlude connects the previous track to Sugar for the Ape. A very nice touch is that the interlude is programmed as a blank space, so you only hear it when you play the two tracks consecutively.
Sugar for the Ape
Sugar for the Ape starts with a very heavy riff and the vocals are distorted during the verses, while the choruses feature close-harmony vocals. RPWL is entering Porcupine Tree territory here and the track sounds quite like Four Chords That Made a Million.
It's an excellent track, which finishes with a delightful piano-reprise of the chorus.
Remco: Sugar For The Ape was described in the accompanying letter as a "slightly psychedelic rocker". Hmmm. it's hardly psychedelic, but very bluesy, I'd say. In a sense, it reminded me of the heavy opening of the live version of Have A Cigar that Floyd played during the 1977 USA tour. It also reminded me, oh shock, of Rick Ray when he does his Devil impersonation. Fortunately, the composition, guitar playing (some very cool solo work here!) and production are way better !
Ed: As I mentioned, this was quite a shock when I first heard it but it has turned into one of
my favourites on the album. The sheer raw power and anger emanating from the distorted vocals is overwelming and the nice Henrix/Kravitz guitar lick provides the necessary contrast and break in the music.
We all know those songs that start quietly and slowly get more and more aggressive (e.g. Russia on Ice or Starless). The interesting thing about Sugar for the Ape - what the hell does that title mean ? - is that this approach is reversed; the song starts extremely heavy and punchy with roaring guitars, halfway through when the 'send me an angel' chorus starts it gets more gentle, without losing the energy and by the end of the song, only the piano playing the chorus melody remains (not unlike the piano-only live version of IQ's Nothing at All). This way the song hits you right between the eyes in the beginning and let's you catch your breath again by the time it ends. Described by the band as their "Mr. Hyde" side.
Side by Side
The second half of the track is a beautiful instrumental atmospheric piece of mainly acoustic guitar and synth effects. You could compare it with the likes of Gandalf or some Mike Oldfield, or the ending of the track Rites of Passage by Fish.
Although it may drag on a bit too long for some people's liking, I think it's a beautiful, serene resting point for the next track.
Remco: Side By Side is very much Gilmour-based. It is a mix between Poles Apart, A Great Day For Freedom and Coming Back To Life, in my opinion the weakest tracks of The Division Bell.
Ed: A song with a very pastoral Floydian feel, not unlike some tunes on the pre-Dark Side of the Moon albums (like e.g. Pillow of Winds). Again, this means a return to RPWL's style on their first album, but a very nice and soothing one indeed ! This song also features the first Gilmour-ish solo. Side By Side seemingly was a left-over from the Violet District sessions that was expanded on. The long ambient second half, which tries to recreate the feeling of lying in the grass, watching the sky, features a female voice played backwards. I recorded it and reversed it, but it's still quite hard to make out what is being said. See if you can figure it out. ;-)
BJ: With You RPWL enters common prog territory. Neo Prog, or whatever the politically correct name is nowadays, anyway, think IQ, or Arena, you know, with pounding drums, a distinct, analogue keyboard sound and slide guitar. The vocal melody is more in the vein of Alan Parsons or Camel. Not very original, but very nice indeed!
Remco: You is a nice sympho ballad with enough twists and hooks not to become too sweet.
Ed: Another fine piece that switches between peaceful, quite verses and powerful choruses - the latter also featuring and ascending line of notes (think A Day in a Life) and yelping guitar - thereby creating a great contrast of mood changes within its 7 minutes. Again a song very much filled with lots of emotions, and a wide range of keyboard sounds covering the whole history of prog rock.
BJ: Sound effects that sound like radio transmissions from a space-craft (once again programmed in blank-space) connect Tell Me Why with You.
Tell me why
Tell Me Why is once again a catchy, more straight-forward rock song, more AOR than prog really. The bridge in the middle sounds quite like Porcupine Tree again (once again the distorted vocals) and in all the track is certainly not a bad one, but not too interesting either. A nice, U2 inspired guitar solo at the ending makes up a lot too.
Remco: Tell Me Why is probably the weakest track on the album, where not very much is happening and the chorus is rather cliche. It's closing is quite strong however, again in the vein of Porcupine Tree.
Ed: The song starts with a nice processed groovy drum rhythm, which returns half-way through the song. Once again there's quite some contrast between the verses and chorus. The song eventually moves into the same 'danceable' U2 guitar style that Marillion also used at the end of Between You And Me.
BJ: After Side by Side, You, Tell me Why and now Believe Me, you could start wondering whether the band couldn't have come up with less cliched song titles.
With Believe Me the band stays in AOR territory. Bands like Foreigner or Boston spring to mind when hearing the massive chorus and somehow I can't help but thinking of Brian Ferry when hearing Lang's vocals. Good stuff!
Remco: Believe Me reminded me very very much of Colin Bass. It could easily have been a track on Outcast Of The Islands. Unfortunately it also suffers heavily from the chorus-sentence-repetition virus.
Ed: A nice emotional ballad, featuring a re-appearance of the sitar. The acoustic guitar solo in the song is quite 'Gilmourian', reminding me a lot of some of the acoustic tunes on The Division Bell.
BJ: Once again the band reminds me a lot of Camel or The Alan Parsons Project with the vocal melody of this song. Of course, once again this comparison can be carried back further to the ever-present Pink Floyd influence. Mind you, I think there are some tracks on Meddle (or was it Atom Heart Mother?) that come rather close to this one. However, the AOR-style choruses of the previous two tracks are also still present, so this song can be described as a nice mixture of most of the above. It's a pity it ends with a fade-out, as they could easily have extended the song for a another minute or two.
Remco: Sunday Morning has this relaxed ELO feel to it in the intro. The chorus made me think way back to my youth when my parents had a Neil Young album (Harvest I believe, but I can't recall the name of the track it reminds me of). The track ends with a nice little piano part.
Ed: Another song that seems to have been inspired by the pastoral pre-Dark Side songs of The Floyd. In this song Yogi's voice isn't to far removed from David Gilmour's in songs like Fat Old Sun or Pillow of Winds. A fine piece of work with a delicious closing piano solo.
BJ: Once again, sound-effects encoded in the blank-space connect this track with the previous one. Home Again is supposed to be the epic closer of the album, and it does so in a satisfactory way.
The ghost of David Gilmour pays a blatant visit with a long guitar solo, pretty much in the vein of Comfortably Numb. However, the band makes the wise decision of creating an ending that is completely different from Comfy Numb, thus retaining some of a unique identity.
Remco: The highlight of the album is the last track, clocking in at almost 9 minutes. Starting with psychedelic noises, it immediately bursts into a strong chorus melody, more massive than anything else on the album. More A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, so to speak. Also the guitar solo is first and only truly Gilmouresque solo on the album, slow yet very powerful with both very deep and very high notes -- Comfortably Numb! Superb track.
Ed: The 'psychedelic noises' that open the track as mentioned by Remco are actually the heartbeat of an unborn baby, as can be heard through one of those gynaecologist's gadgets.
I fully agree with my DPRP fellows that this is a splendid track. The vocal melody and overdubs in the chorus are splendid and the Rickenbacker bass is a delight. After the marvellous guitar solo, the reprise of distorted fragments of the chorus, while the songs fades out, is a nice atmospheric touch.
BJ: Ed's main criticism about their first album was the lack of variation, and it seems the band had come to that conclusion as well, as their second album shows a wide variety of styles and influences. The Floyd influence is ever present, but not too obvious, and there are plenty other influences to point out as well as styles that range from Alternative Rock (Trying to Kiss the Sun and Sugar for the Ape) and AOR (Believe Me, Tell Me Why) to Pop (I Don't Know) and Neo Prog (You).
The compositions are very accessible, with catchy melodies and choruses. For die-hard prog fans it may sound a bit too commercial, but I'm sure many fans of above mentioned bands will appreciate the album.
The only criticism I can have is about the lyrics. These are a bit too simplistic and often too repetitive. However, one must not forget that this is a German band, and English is not their native language. At least you don't get that horrible accent some other German prog singers have.
In conclusion I'd say it's not a great album, but certainly a good one and thoroughly enjoyable, thus worthy of recommendation.
Remco: Although the band is often compared in style with Pink Floyd (an obvious reference as they started out as a Floyd cover band), this and other tracks also contain a lot of Porcupine Tree elements. Other references are Camel (or even better Colin Bass' solo effort Outcast of the Islands) and early Genesis (the Mellotron and Hackett-like guitar playing on the mellow Waiting for a Smile for instance).
In conclusion a very nice album, nice booklet too. Especially recommended for those who enjoyed The Division Bell. In that sense it represents the progressive and symphonic rock scene of the early nineties. As that is about the time I became interested in the genre anyway, it may come as no surprise that I like the album. Be careful however as the Floyd reference you are hearing about in my review is valid for The Division Bell only. The basis of all Floyd/Waters compositions as Waters once told in an interview is deep personal anger. This feeling is completely lacking on this album. Here, it's more "quite desperation, knuckles white upon the slippery rail". It must be a real something to see this band live (imagine seeing the Floyd for a small audience...) so go check them out soon if you can!
Ed: Great diversity, superb production ! Lyrically the songs seem to deal with relationships; always good material for songwriting. I personally don't think the lyrics are all that bad. Not only do they cover the subject matter quite well, they are also miles away from the bland Floyd and Yes plagiarisms that could be spotted all over the band's first album.
There's so much sheer emotion in the album that at times I find it almost overwhelming, but that's probably partially because of the way I can relate to the subject matter. Listening to the album, one is swept along on waves of anger, despair, regret, love, incredible sadness and eventually hope.
The Floydian influence is still present but it's much more of an influence now than an unnecessary copy of elements like on the first album. The influences mainly seem to originate from some of the early pastoral work of the band (Fearless, Pillow of Winds, Fat Old Sun, some of the stuff on Obscured By Clouds) and the Division Bell album. I'm delighted to hear how the band have managed to work into their own musical direction, while still maintaining a diverse variety of musical styles.
All of the musicians are in top form, and the new keyboard player (who already joined the band during their 2001 tour) and bass player are blending in perfectly. At times I miss the chunky Rickenbacker play Chris Postl, but that doesn't mean that newcomer Ebner isn't doing a fine job as well.
An album that's a very worthy successor of God Has Failed. Already RPWL have proven in the studio and on stage to be a band not to be neglected, and this CD has all the rights to become one of the classics of 2002. It already stole my heart and my appreciation of the album continues to grow every time I play it. Simply amazing.
Who needs a grumpy old lazy guitar player when the legacy is build upon in such an breathtaking way. Should you purchase the album (which you should !), make sure you visit the band's web site and check out all of the background information on the songs.