After his collaborations with Ayreon, his wife Lana Lane, and mainly after “Into the Sunset” (see reviews section), his first solo album after his success with the band Rocket Scientists, the latest progressive keyboard hero (of course I´m not talking about pseudo keyboard-heroes like Royal Hunt´s Andersen) returns with a conceptual double album about the rise and fall of a genetically created rock star. A concept very bizarre. Anyway, the line up seems to be genetically created too. Write down: the vocalists are Kelly Keeling (MSG, Blue Murder), Mark Boals (Yngwie, Ring of Fire), Scott Kail, Robert Soeterboek (Ayreon, Lana Lane); the guitarists are Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser (Blue Oyster Cult), Peer Verschuren (Vengeance), Neil Citron (Lana Lane), the drummers Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio), Gregg Bissonette (David Lee Roth, Steve Vai, ELO, Joe Satriani), &Virgil Donati (Planet X); Tony Franklin (The Firm, Whitesnake) plays bass guitar, and Don Schiff (Rocket Scientists, Lana Lane) plays stick.
But look out.. two albums with lots of stars don´t always guaranteed a good product (am I right or not, Mr Bollenberg?). In any case the listener always thinks.. will there enough talent to fill almost two hours of music?. In “Music Machine” not at all, but definitely a 75%, so the listening is very dynamic and pleasant. There are twenty one tracks, so I´ll save words and I´ll highlight the most interesting moments.
The album begins with “Prologue: Project Blue Prince” (3:38). A very, very energic instrumental with all kind of keyboards. Before continuing with the review I´d like to state that the keyboards are a-ma-zing during the whole album, and Erik is a genius playing solos, composing arrangements, or creating. Norlander is the 21st Century Emerson. If you´re fans of keyboards stop reading this review and go to your local record store. The rest of the tracks of the first album (entitled “Rise”, guess the name of the second album) are hard rock songs with lots of progressive rock both in the keyboards and the long instrumental passages. Specially great are the keyboard arrangements of “Turn me on” (5:49), the impressive and Ayreonish “Turn of the Sprawl” (8:40), the spacey “Letter from Space” (3:16), and the last three instrumental tracks “Soma Holiday” (3:04), “Return of the Neurosaur” (1:39) and “Project Blue Prince Reprise” (1:12). The weakest points of the first CD are “Lost Highway” (5:12), very similar to Thin Lizzy and Gary Moore´s “Parissiense Walkways”; and a thing named “Heavy Metal Symphony” (6:31) that´s only basic hard-rock with a mediocre refrain.
The second CD (yeah, “Fall”) begins with “Fanfare and Interlude” (3:04) another pyrotechnic instrumental exhibition by Norlander. The rocker tracks “Beware of the Vampires” (5:18) and “The Fire of Change” (7:53), are followed by two very good songs: “The Fall of the Idol” and the instrumental “Metamorphosis” (3:14). “Fallen” (5:13) is a beautiful and intriguing ballad, and “Johnny America” (6:35) has some impressive Styx arrangements. In my opinion this is one of the best tracks of the album. The last song, “Epilogue: Sky Full of Stars” (10:14) is, definitely, the highlight of the CD. An instrumental and very atmospheric track with a Gilmourish solo played by Peer Verschuren.
I´ll be honest: Norlander is a great musician playing solos, composing arrangements and creating ambiences. And definitely he´s a genius in tracks 100% instrumental. But the vocal melodies don´t convince me because they´re are too hard AOR, very Ring Of Fire. Anyway the hard-rock tracks are drenched in impressive instrumental passages and keyboard explosions.
If you like the music of Ayreon or the bombastic sound of vintage keyboards you´ll enjoy as children with this Norlander´s latest album. In any case, an album that can be enjoyed by all kind of audiences.