Sometimes it’s really refreshing when you get a hold of a record that is nothing at all what you have expected. Frontiers Records is a record company that specializes in AOR, melodic rock and at times straight forward hard rock, but every now and then, albums pops up with bands in different genres – I have gotten links with both heavy metal and power metal bands. And sometimes prog rock bands shows up as well. But usually, AOR and melodic rock is what I find in my Haulix – and that’s the kind of music I often expect when I get an album by a band I know very little – or nothing at all – about. So, when I saw the link for the new World Trade album and saw who was in the band, I was pretty sure that this was another AOR / melodic rock band / project. See, World Trade is a band I had never either heard or heard of before and some of the members has a really strong AOR connection. But boy was I wrong about that – World Trade are not another project put together by the label but a band/project that have existed – albeit sporadically – for a very long time. And they’re a prog rock outfit.
The band was formed back in 1989 by bassist and lead singer Billy Sherwood (Yes, Toto, Circa and am million other projects), guitarist Bruce Gowdy (Unruly Child, Stone Fury, Glenn Hughes, James Christian), drummer Mark T Williams (brother of Toto singer Joseph Williams) and keyboard player Guy Allison (Unruly Child, Air Supply, Doobie Brothers) who released their self-titled debut album the same year. In 1995 they released their second effort Euphoria where Williams had been replaced by one Jay Schellen (Unruly Child, Hurricane, Stone Fury, Asia, Circa), but after that the band went on hiatus that took 12 years. But now they’re back together – with Williams back behind the kit). Now, with the members’ other bands’ musical orientations, it’s not that strange that I assumed that World Trade were an AOR or melodic rock band.
“The New Norm” opens the album. It’s a mid-tempo prog-rock-pop tune complete with string parts and a big keyboard sound. It brings Yes to mind, especially their 90125 (1983) and Big Generator (1987) albums, but I also hear arrangements that makes me think of Flying Colors. It goes more for melodies and harmonies than the most hard listened prog, which I like. Yes (sic!), I like the tune even though I don’t find it great. “Where We’re Going” also goes in mid-tempo. It’s proggy with a groove and where the verses are slow, the pre-chorus builds an opening for the chorus to hit pay-dirt – very catchy in a non radio-friendly way. Great stuff. They go a bit more pop with “Pandora’s Box” without giving in on the prog elements. It’s quite dramatic as well. There’s a refrain that really nails it but the verses are somewhat forgettable. “On Target On Time” comes in a faster pace and is very dig-friendly, like it was written with the stage in mind. It also comes with a very hook laden chorus that – again – brings Flying Colors to mind. This is the best song so far. “Gone All The Way” sports a Yes rip-off intro after which the song takes an acoustic guitar slow turn which in turn brings the song into a bona fide prog ballad. The big catchiness makes it almost arena rock, like Yes and Marillion got together and wrote a 1989 sounding power ballad. Brilliant stuff.
The title track is upbeat, more prog laden and probably the least catchy song so far together with the opener. It’s a pretty good tune but it doesn’t stick – a bit too forgettable, I’m afraid. “For The Fallen” is a slow-paced prog rock number, mellow and somewhat dark – close to a ballad but not quite. It’s not bad but it doesn’t make much impact either, it kind of fades away in the background. “Life Force” is much more positive sounding and more of a slightly proggy hard rock song with lots of hooks and a memorable melody – and the pop elements are everywhere. As close to a hit song they can get. Brilliant! “Same Old Song” is more laid back, dreamy and even spacey in a somewhat psychedelic way but there’s also a chunk of 70’s prog rock waved in there. The song takes a lot of turns and are both dark and heavy at times which makes the tune unpredictable – very good. Closing track “Again” continues the somewhat spacey road with a floating arrangement but it also contains heavy riffs and a tough beat. It’s slow and soft but at the same time pretty rough. A good song and a perfect closer for an album like this.
I have to be honest, even though I do like this kind of music, it’s hardly my first choice. I like what I hear but I seldom get the urge to put it on, so that’s the criterion for this review. That said, I find this a good album but since I haven’t heard this band before, I don’t have much to compare it to. Musically, this is a progressive pop-rock album with AOR vibes and even though I like the production, I find it a bit too clean – a bit heavier on the production side wouldn’t have hurt. Yes is obviously a big influence here, but there’s also Toto and Kansas in there. The musicians are – and that’s not even under debate – über-talanted and the songs are really good, but the problem is that a lot of it sounds too alike and at many times not memorable enough. Still, I have a feeling that I will pick this album up again because I think that it might grow on me. But as for now, I will rate it good, not great.
1. The New Norm
2. Where We’re Going
3. Pandora’s Box
4. On Target On Time
5. Gone All The Way
7. For The Fallen
8. Life Force
9. Same Old Song