Prog polymath fathoms the frontiers of his fantasies and pushes their envelope to enforce a breach into the great unknown.
There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy, yet the wisdom of “what goes around comes around” isn’t one of those, and Mike Keneally seems well aware of static implications of such a roundabout – otherwise, he wouldn’t come across as smiling at the end of this album when the many layers of multipart, oxymoron-spinning epic “The Carousel Of Progress” dissolve in silence. Of course, having a Zappa stint, short though it was, on a musician’s résumé should signal an artist’s penchant for perpetual experiment; however, Keneally inherited from his tutor not only sweet idiosyncrasy in terms of tunes but also unbridled fun in terms of delivery, albeit Mike never eschews seriousness of subject matter in favor of frivolity – no matter what his numbers’ titles may suggest.
Playing most of the instruments on the platter his followers were waiting for for seven years – puns about the itch are allowed in this context – the American guitarist is playing with the listener’s mind as well, so while opener “Logos” offers a Weimaresque quirk in its vaudevillian piano and angularly kaleidoscopic vocal polyphony, the piece’s crooked flow could imply both visual design and divine reason, which will go a long way towards understanding the record’s essence. And if the anthemic uplift and vibrant arrangement of “Both Sides Of The Street” betray Keneally’s classic-rock roots, the bass-spanked piece feels irresistible enough to let its reverie contrast the acoustic raga behind the acidic, sarcastic even, ballad “Mercury In Second Grade” that’s propelled by Eric Slick’s delicate beat, before pouring hefty riffs into the wordless “Celery” where other Frank alumnus, Steve Vai’s solos slither and writhe on the bedrock of Nick D’Virgilio-driven groove to a great overall effect.
Still, the artsy magnificence emanating from “Spigot (Draw The Pirate)” that’s focused on Mike’s fascination with Charles Schulz’s oeuvre is purely Keneally’s, and his breezy fusion passages – spread between ivories and fretboards – and soft voice don’t fail to charm, luring everybody to usher in the genuine jazz of “Ack” that weaves his scorching strings and guest violin through the breathy wall of brass and Bryan Beller’s bass. But whereas “Lana” unleashes a different kind of sonic assault, an assertive sort of harmonic mantra, “Big Hit Song” simply puts its titular pop-shaped ditty in the midst and mist of psychedelic panoramas which are pushed along by handclaps and Tobias Ralph’s drums to lead the way to the previously named, philosophically majestic finale – granted both solemnity and unpredictability through the main performer’s adventurous lines and Malcolm Mortimore’s theatrical thunder.
Whether all of this gel together to present the united front of an album, which was laid down in various places at various times, is a moot point – and a needless point to boot: a trip into the unknown can’t be linear by default, yet it’s got to be immersive and arresting. That’s the thing no knowledge can devour.