Relayer - Last man on Earth - 1999


No matter how calm you want to stay, when one has the opportunity to listen to the work of a band that names itself Relayer, our hands begin to tremble and our brain neurones advise the nervous system of the appearance of an aggressive Yes-clone that may threaten our ears with pathetic shrieks that aim to recreate the voice of (Saint) Jon Anderson in a Howe or Rabin (much worse) environment. Fortunately, and except in some scarce references that are appreciated –to say the truth – these Relayer have little if nothing to do with Yes. The authors of the album are four North Americans: John Sahagian (voice, acoustic guitar, keyboards), Tim LaRoi (guitars, piano, keyboards), Tom Burke (bass, keyboards, choirs) and Bill Kiser (drums, percussion, voice), with the additional help from Fred Bueltmann to the tuba and of John LaRoi to the tenor sax.


The CD consists of ten pieces with an average length that oscillates between the 2:54 of "Sara Lynn" and the 12:49 of "We swim". But let’s go slowly. It is evident that this album aims to become an authentic best seller (do best sellers exist in the progressive world?), with the typical chemically perfect American product that maintains that (difficult) balance of controlled heaviness, nice vocal melodies, and instrumental developments. OK, let’s now dissect, like a frog, the pieces of the album: The first track "Change for less" (8:19) begins with a guitar with good delay effects a la U2-Pink Floyd. Fortunately that is just an illusion and the song develops in Rush lands (very well played, by the way) with concessions to the supposed pomp drama towards the final section, although the real end is a bass solo a la Squire with a background of synthesizers a la Hemispheres. The musicians execute with correction their work and the song is listenable although I would have taken out a couple of minutes. "Paint me red" (4:30) begins with a hypnotic percussion that ends up in a quite repetitive topic. Weak. "I Destiny" (4:09) is a composition with an acoustic frame and "crescendos" that moves between U2, the slow topics of Angra ("Holy Land") and a tiny piece of Queen. Curious. The first long topic of the album is "Favorite day of the year" (10:34), initially not very pretentious in the verses but very interesting and luminous in the refrain. The double voices endow the topic with a special attractiveness and Queen-Styx come to mind. For the last four minutes of the song the musicians reserve us kind of a psych-jam with references to San Francisco's psychedelia (a torturing bass, lively percussion and guitars flying over all kind of effects). It is not completely bad but I am not able to understand the relationship among both parts.

Another very vital and luminous cut is "Last man on earth" (6:09), with a beginning a la Supertramp and a later development with neoprog nuances. It is nice to listen but it does not discover anything new; anyway I love the voice of Sahagian for its similarity to the style of Mercury and for its avoidance of the typical North American style."Comet" (4:54) is a mid-tempo piece, beautiful at the same time simple, with acoustics that serves as vehicle for the splendor of Sahagian and that concludes with a beautiful guitar solo. They return to delays a la "The Wall"-U2 for "Take a look" (3:32), a more "oriented-radio" song in which the flangers are shot and in which they seek to make a mixture of the heaviest Styx ("Edge of the Century") with more poppy elements. Of course, the pretensions are too high. "I always knew" (6:51) is the more Queen music that I have listened to in years; John's voice is forced to recreate Freddie Mercury's inflections and, incredibly, he does it well, the song could have been included in "Made in heaven" or "The miracle". Also, the song has enough rhythm changes and the essential elements so that we don't lose the interest in any moment of its listen. "Sarah Lynn" (2:54) is a short and countryside colorful acoustic piece and with a festival finale (Obladi, oblada), nothing else. To conclude the album we find "We swim" whose duration of almost 13 minutes makes it the most progressive proposal of the band. With a very Floyd leitmotiv on which is developed the first part of the suite and a good voice a capella of John. By the middle of the song we hear synthesizers that seek to change the general tone of the composition but that become quite monotonous until the appearance of a delicate sax that drives us to the end. To make things worse, the duration is deceiving because the piece really lasts only around ten minutes, then there is a fade and after two minutes we hear a small jam of one minute. In summary "We swim" is a couple of totally different united songs, plus an empty space and the mentioned jam.


I believe that the general valuation has been made clear. A very competent band instrumentally with an impressive vocalist, that want to play progressive but that at the end stay at halfway. I believe that the progressive tag is too high for them, although I would dare to recommend it to people that like well elaborated mainstream music, especially to fans of Queen, Supertramp or, to a lesser extent, U2. If Relayer continued expanding that side instead of seeking to open up a new road inside the progressive world I believe that they be much more accepted... ah, and of Yes we have not found anything, fortunately.

author - date - rating - label

Alfonso Algora - May 2000 -   - Rectangular Records