Mike's Music Reviews: M-S

 

  Artist (see also Other Related Artists)
** Album Title
Year Released
Somewhat Similar Albums (Artist)
My comments go here, and of course are just my opinion based on my own musical tastes. If I don't like an album at all, I won't include it here; however that doesn't mean lack of inclusion means I necessarily don't like it - I may not have it, I may not have typed a review yet, or aliens may have eaten it. In any case, all albums that are listed in here get a thumbs-up from me.

Ratings in the first column are as follows:
  *   means one of the artist's best albums
  **   means an overall must-have album (one you just can't live without!)

 


 

  Marillion (see also Fish)
** Misplaced Childhood
1985
Tales Of Mystery And Imagination (Alan Parsons Project)
Duke (Genesis)
The Thieving Magpie (Marillion)
This album is basically continuous from one end to the other. However, the dynamic vocals of Fish and the addicting keyboard and guitar textures will pull you in and make you want to hear it all many times. This is an involved story about a young man's search for himself, told through bold music that is reminiscent of Genesis, Yes, Rush, and yet not really being too much like anyone else. I think the best description of Marillion from this era is what Genesis would have sounded like had Peter Gabriel stayed with them into the 1980s. Misplaced Childhood is a very strong album as progressive albums go, and I highly recommend it as a good first exposure to a great band. Clutching At Straws would also be a good choice, but I like MC the most.
* The Thieving Magpie (La Gazza Ladra)
1988
Misplaced Childhood (Marillion)
Three Sides Live (Genesis)
This is a double live album. The first disc is a selection from albums including Clutching At Straws, Fugazi, and Script For A Jester's Tear. The second disc is a live performance of the entire Misplaced Childhood album (how could you break it up anyway??) All performances are strong, this is quite a good disc. There is a nice mini-poster of the cover artwork included.
  The Moody Blues
* Days of Future Passed
1967
Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (Rick Wakeman)
This is a strange concept album. It takes the same sort of orchestra music I never could stand for more than about 3 seconds and bends it into something quite enjoyable. It is not really rock, not fully orchestral... but whatever it is, I think it is quite enjoyable, romantic, and unusual. This one has a great atmosphere and is carried along nicely by the vocal parts. In places, it even gets kinda funky... and oh, those Mellotrons!! Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?) - known to most people as "Tuesday Afternoon" - and Nights In White Satin came from this album, they aren't fully representative of the whole album though.
  The Alan Parsons Project (see also Kate Bush)
* Tales of Mystery and Imagination: Edgar Allan Poe
1976, reissued 1988
A Curious Feeling (Tony Banks)
Okay, imagine taking Poe poems like The Raven, The Tell-tale Heart, (The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, and The Cask of Amontillado. Now, set it to experimental and high-tech (for 1976) Floydian music from the guy who produced Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon, and for good measure throw in some narration by Orson Wells to keep things moving along. Shake them all up until they are thoroughly blended to a smooth concoction, and you get this refreshing album. My mean old senior-year British Lit teacher would have been horrified!!!! That just makes it even better. This is the debut album that gave APP a well-earned spot on the musical map.
** On Air
1998
A Trick Of The Tail (Genesis)
It is hard for me to ignore any album covered with airplanes, and fortunately that's not all this has going for it. The album serves two functions: it thoroughly examines different aspects of flight, all the way from Icarus to the freedom of free falling and from Da Vinci to acrophobia. In doing this, The Project exhibits a sense of properly fitting the music to the themes which is superb even by Project standards. For example, the instrumental Apollo conveys the raw drama of the lunar landings with a fast, pounding beat and wailing guitar that speaks louder than words could. This is followed up with Christopher Cross guesting on a sensitive song about the Challenger disaster. All in all, this has become one of my favorite albums. It also includes a CD-ROM.
  Phish
* Junta
1988
A Live One (Phish)
This is jazz-rock-alternative. If you can appreciate jazz, you will probably love this double album. The lyrics often range from almost meaningless as in the song David Bowie to downright silly as in Contact or Golgi Apparatus. Phish, while a bit off the wall, is certainly a band of guys who really know what it takes to make truly good music... without losing the feel of having fun. This is the first album by Phish (far different from today's band) and like They Might Be Giants, it is hard to describe them without playing their music. At times free-form improvisation, at other times tightly structured, often some of both, Junta is quite a unique experience to hear. It's good to know that musicianship doesn't have to be too rigid to be complex, and it can be impressive without being overbearing. Don't let the Dead-head fans of Phish scare you, they actually have about as much in common with the Dead as, say, Mike & The Mechanics does.
* A Live One
1995
Junta (Phish)
This live double CD very quickly became one of the most-played albums I have. The recording is excellent, not like some of the bootlegs that Phish has built their fanatically devoted fan base on, while still effectively capturing the live feel to the performance. The only problem I have with this is that the packaging is all cardboard (which I HATE) but the nice graphics and the thick picture booklet inside made up for that. If I had to choose, I would say that this would be an excellent way to get into Phish, it has a small smorgasbord of stuff from their career, it shows some of their improvisational abilities, and generally kicks butt.
  The Police
  Synchronicity
1983
The Age Of Plastic (The Buggles)
This was the first tape I ever had, and still holds up as a great album. For anyone that doesn't know yet, The Police combine influences of reggae, punk, and new wave (well, 80's new wave anyway) with good old rock & roll and came out with a sound that still holds up as modern-sounding today. As usual, the two commonly-heard radio tracks Synchronicity II and Every Breath You Take are not the best of this album.
  ProjeKt Two (see also King Crimson, Robert Fripp)
** Space Groove
1998
Thrakattak (King Crimson)
ProjeKt Two is a sub-group of King Crimson including Adrian Belew on V Drums (no guitar!!), Robert Fripp on guitar, and Trey Gunn on touch (Warr) guitar and guitar synth. ("These smaller Crimson ProjeKts, or sub-groups [...] function as Research & Development units on behalf of, and for, the Greater Crim.") This instrumental improvisation double album absolutely, positively ROCKS!! While P-2 is only a subset of Crim, this is still a superb representation of the best Crim has to offer, which is among the best ANYONE has to offer, and even more incredibly it took but three days to record. I will defer to excerpts from the Star-Trek style liner notes that give a stunning and refreshing glimpse into the creative process: "There's an uncanny unity to our improvised exploration, as though our thoughts were somehow connected. Each movement followed by a countermovement as in some-unseen hold-game" ... "Sector Q-3 is a known hazard. To linger there may cause redundancy, even cliche. Still, I urge my partners to pay a visit to the legendary Snake Drummers." ... "Our final stop was a survey of the Deserts of Arcadia, beautiful for their endless symmetry (like a visual VDrum loop). The spell is only broken only when Mr. Fribble draws our attention to the horizon... we can see the outline of Mt. Juliet and we know we've returned safely." This closing sentences seem to sum up the whole album: "With no rehearsals, no repairs, and no overdubs, through sector shifts, key fluctuations, and rhythmic encounters, three sonic explorers had made it through to the other side. Even Mr. Fribble seemed elated. It felt good to be home..." As far as I'm concerned, it's a journey that needs to be experienced over and over again.
  Pink Floyd
  The Division Bell
1994
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)
This is distinctly Floyd, with a slight trend towards 90s rock. At times it seems to borrow a tad from past albums, but not severely enough to make one feel like you're hearing the same old stuff. If you like Floyd in general, you will probably find this CD to be quite enjoyable.
  Queensrÿyche
* Operation: Mindcrime
1988
2112 (Rush)
Operation: Mindcrime is an anarchistic and cynical view of the corrupt world we live in, telling the story of an underground revolution as seen through the eyes of a mercenary. Strong and intelligent writing make this album's message hard to ignore, and the heavy guitar-based metal is nicely complemented by keyboards and effective use of special effects and sound bites to help tell the story.
  Rush
  2112
1976
Fly By Night (Rush)
The title track of this album is a true rock / progressive "metal" epic (in the sense that Led Zepplin was once considered a "metal" band too), showing off both the musical range of the band as well as making a strong statement about the value of free thought and freedoms. (It's too bad they only used the beginning for the box set.) The Twilight Zone is a trip through the other side of reality, and the rest of the album is a good example of Rush's use of complex intellectual innuendos told through their melodic, complex, and energetic style. Unlike many of the heavier bands today, Rush started with truly talented musicianship and the restraint to save the thrashing for when it was appropriate, and not being afraid to be quiet when that best suited the message or emotional theme.
* Signals
1982
Grace Under Pressure (Rush)
This album hits the mark on the two things that matter: musically it is excellent, thoughtful rock, and its messages are (as with most Rush) very strong. This is an album about the signs of technology and confusion all around us. It is hard-core, solid progressive rock 'n roll too... this album just ROCKS any way you look at it. Subdivisions and New World Man are well-known songs from this album, and are reasonably representative although certainly not the whole story.
** Grace Under Pressure
1984
Signals (Rush)
This is a true theme album, a sort of Schindler's List-like warning told through kick-ass rock and roll. it is hard to explain this album in context unless you have heard it, but it is definitely one of the best albums Rush has ever done. It is solid, modern rock that makes no compromises.
  Test For Echo
1998
Empire (Queensryche)
Rush thankfully turned away from the grunge direction they tried on Counterparts and sought more fertile ground. This album still is quite "heavy" sounding, but the toneless 1-chord overdrive sound has been replaced by melody and a bit more of a flow. As always, the lyrics are intelligent, dealing with such topics as the dichotomy of human nature (Half The World), the television generation (Test For Echo) and the online experience (Virtuality.) Quite enjoyable and very respectable... Rush is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
  Chris Squire (see also Yes)
** Fish Out Of Water
1975
 
Chris Squire is, without a doubt, the most talented bass guitarist ever, with an incredible style closer to Jimi Hendrix than the rhythm instrument it usually is believed to be. Squire brings the bass from the back-up role into the limelight as a main instrument, and this solo album reflects it. Aside from his talents with the bass, Squire's songwriting ability is superb, with a very unique, funk/groove inspired style that is akin to some of his work with Yes, but definitely stands as a unique entity on its own. It is perhaps best described as "syncopated". His voice also suits the music well, with a unique quality to it. Squire also does an excellent job of one of one of the most difficult jobs in all of rock & roll, that of using an orchestra in such a way that it strengthens rather than weakens the power of the music. While it's great that Squire has never missed a Yes album, it is a shame he only did a single solo effort (although a large part of Yes's Open Your Eyes album was forged from the remains of a planned second solo album, that as yet remains unreleased.) Fish Out Of Water also stars fellow Yes members Patrick Moraz and Bill Bruford, whose styles are evident as well. This is an all-time GREAT album that is worth whatever effort it takes to find it.
  Supertramp
* Even In The Quietest Moments
1977
But Seriously (Phil Collins)
Talk (Yes)
This is Supertramp at their best. This album deals with different aspects of love and romance, and the title track is one of the most powerful love songs ever penned. The rest of the album is very good as well.

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