THE PROG COLLECTIVE – Worlds On Hold

Purple Pyramid 2021

THE PROG COLLECTIVE –
Worlds On Hold

Stop-gap grandiosity sees the host of veterans flock in to stand against all things mundane.

Most interesting fact about this ensemble is that it’s not a collective per se, but rather the ultimate prog rock project run by Billy Sherwood who, temporarily free from touring commitments with YES and ASIA and not having enough on his plate with regards to involvement in ARC OF LIFE, returned to the remote collaborative approach which goes beyond the American’s regular homages to various artists and has legendary performers contribute to his own pieces. Still, unlike the fluid team’s first two offerings – their eponymous debut from 2012 and 2013’s deceptively named “Epilogue” – “Worlds On Hold” features both originals and covers, without interspersing them, so the album’s inherently uneven. More so, there’s a contrast between the classics’ tuneful unpretentiousness and the fresh cuts’ deliberate sophistication.

Not that Sherwood’s numbers suffer from the lack of melodic luster – on the contrary, clusters of gripping grandeur shine through the title track’s stereo panorama, where Billy’s vibrant, albeit solemn, space is invaded by Todd Rundgren’s stentorian vocals and pervaded by L. Shankar’s cosmic violin, sonically linking the record’s onset to its finale, which will see David Clayton-Thomas & Geoff Downes waltz into the symphonic depth of “Nights In White Satin” to heighten the overall drama. But Geoff Tate and Bumblefoot fail to infuse “Two Trajectories” with this magnificent theatricality and go for the numb, by-numbers bravado – as opposed to the nicely textured swagger of “Eye In The Sky” – Joe Lynn Turner and Martin Barre are too experienced to rid a pellucid song of emotional charge – while “Anything But Goodbye” leads Jon Davison and Patrick Moraz too close to their motherload to be truly enjoyable.

Yet “Meant To Be” can boast of a pleasant AOR bounce, Jan Akkerman’s guitar flurries complementing Sherwood’s multi-instrumental edifice, whereas the folk wonder that Sonja Kristina and Steve Hillage bring to “Brave New World” makes it transcendental – the feat which Arjen Anthony Lucassen and Steve Hackett struggle with trying to lift the quirky “Glory Days Ahead” off the ground. Instead, the light fills Roine Stolt’s unimaginative reading of “Solsbury Hill” before the mighty pipes of Graham Bonnet take “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” to the end of the rainbow. This record’s CD version is expanded with three previously issues bonuses from Sherwood-driven tribute projects, thus tilting the covers-vs-originals balance to the former and undermining the album’s entire point. Less bombast and reliance on perennials would serve “Worlds” much better.

***1/2

March 30, 2021

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