How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Now here’s an odd fish: Mark Stanley presents the barest thread of a musical sci-fi thriller about giant insects trying to take over the world. Mahavishnu meets Zappa in Lovecraft’s game room on this highly unusual but interesting endeavor.
The cover art immediately tips us off that this isn’t your ordinary fusion CD. On a comic-book alien landscape, spacesuit-clad caricatures of Dennis Chambers, Mark Egan and other musicians zap and stab these huge mutant bugs in an all-out battle. The music, for the most part, suits the basic theme despite its shaky foundation; only a few tracks have any narrative or singing to speak of, and those are pretty abstruse. On “Our Mission” Stanley profanely delivers the plot basics over a techno-hop groove: 23,000 years in the future, all the antiseptics and pesticides that humankind created over the centuries have backfired, resulting in swarms of big, carnivorous critters that could be destroyed by little other than music. (It’s kind of the flip side of Zappa’s “Joe’s Garage”, a vision of dystopia wherein music was outlawed by Big Brother altogether.) From that point on Stanley and friends pursue their noble mission to fry the buggers and take back the earth.
Stanley is one hellacious guitarist when the concept doesn’t get in the way of the music. “Worms” is a totally Zappaesque, up-tempo blast with respectable metal guitar passages and goofy vocals, melting down into a slower groove. The initial guitar work on “Niphila” is rather attractive despite the discomfiting minor chords, while “Smarty P-ants” is a fun 6/8 workout that comes close to the best of Satriani.
Perhaps the only real dog here is “Giant Ants”, which features unforgivably cheesy Casio beats (try and recall those $25 Radio Shack-type keyboards from the early 80s) that make you wonder just what Stanley was on at the time. Megan Stanley’s annoying Moon-Unit-wanna-be babble is the final nail in the track’s coffin, and not even Kyle Coughlin’s excellent sax work has any hope of redeeming this goo. The remaining tracks are pretty solid: suspenseful prog-rock majesty on “Marigold”, heavy grind on “Bloodfluke”, tender jazz on “The Beetles”. By the time Ms. Stanley shows up again to declare victory in a half-assed manner, we’ve just about run the gamut of fusion guitar styles.
The instrumental segments of this disc are certainly strong enough to have stood on their own without the contrived pseudo-plot behind them, and happily the tediousness of that theme isn’t enough to kill off one’s enjoyment of the musical talents here. Recommended for adults, as long as a few grains of salt and the skip-button are close at hand.
Track Listing: Our Mission; Worms; Niphila; Smarty P-ants; Crickets and Moths; Giant Ants; Angeldust (Butterflys and Stuff); Bloodfluke; Marigold (A Fly
Personnel: (Collective): Mark Stanley, guitar, bass, synth; Dennis Chambers, Sean Rickman, drums; Mark Egan, Mark Smoot, bass; Kyle Coughlin, sax, clarinet; Andy Milne, synth; Megan Stanley, Mike Gordon, vocals.