Saturday, June 17, 2006

John Petrucci - Suspended Animation

Against a backdrop of matte black, interspersed with coruscating glimmers of distant stars, rode a gold-decorated chariot, pulled across the sky by two large calluses harnessed by a set of size 9 Ernie Ball nickel-wound lashes. Inhabited by thin men with spade shaped heads, the chariot rainbowed through the misty essence floating north of the moon’s halo. Then, without warning, a second chariot raced into view, this time transporting a cargo of William F. Buckley incisors, their dirty little faces etched with disdain for the hypodermic hussy’s that used to hang around the neighbouring molars.

Then the night’s ceiling of invisible cloud diffused in a circle of expanding radius, as if swept away by a massive wallop of headstock. There were juddering spikes of ionic discharge as the chariots now multiplied, joined by others in this crowded skyline, even a few Volvos were said to have been seen accelerating up the shadow of Orion, as if it were an armadillo-laden freeway. Then from the hollowed blackness above, drifted down a fretboard adorned with the kernels of fervency, the zest of zeal, and all was stopped. Frozen in mid-yell, trapped in a time impasse with no turnoff, stuck on the flypaper of temporarily, the chariots stationed without a whisper in their elevation. Their prior animation wretched from kinesis by a monolith, one that makes that Kubrick domino a jealous shade of pale in comparison, and now sits upon the firmament like a worthy deity.

What has caused this overblown hoopla is none other than John Petrucci’s solo album, the Dream Theater guitarist’s first. Long slaved over, stained with sweat and various other juices of creativity, the album, incidentally going by the moniker of Suspended Animation, was released in March 2005, and is a fully instrumental opus of music. Its audio engravings are unsurprisingly guitar-orientated, and all composed by Petrucci himself. His guitar is seated right at the forefront of the mix, enjoying a prestigious clarity and power, while at the same time he is backed by bass players and drummers who undoubtedly have seen a session or eight in their time (although let it be known, they do a brilliant job).

The omniscient presence on the album goes to the prodigious playing of Petrucci, his inventive riffs and streaming solos clearly propelling the music. And more than that, it sounds huge, especially for a solo guitar record. On my first listen I was blown away by its cavernous sound; it’s a mighty behemoth of depth. Petrucci’s done a fantastic job of producing this, and the mixing is superb.

The album opens with the ululations of a chugging seven-string in ‘Jaws of Life’. Does it chomp and chew as suggested by the title? Well, um, yeah. But not the sort of chewing that necessitates a bib for fear of upsetting nearby diners. And if there was a bib involved, it would be constructed out of atomic palm mutes, and would give off the reverberations of an intricate scalar phrasing. The song comes to a head with a layered feast of harmonious shredding sidekicked by an accompaniment of intensity.

Some commentators have labelled this album as simply Dream Theater minus the keyboards of Jordan Rudess and the vocal stylings of James LaBrie, and perhaps this is a fair remark, after all it is Petrucci who conjures a lot of the DT musical roster. But to say this - to spew the words on page, air, or binaries – is to deal out an injustice and miss the excellence of what has been created here. Let us choose to not do it, let it stand alone out there in the culture, fully ready for inspection.

Second ditty ‘Glasgow Kiss’ seems to have become the big favourite in some quarters; I know it was when I first saw it performed on the G3 Tokyo DVD that the revelation of ‘purchase that damn album you vile fiend’ really smacked me in the jowls. And I did. Don’t go thinking this is a download job - I assure you my hard-earned monies are now jostling in Mr Petrucci’s wallet. Best place for them I say. The licks of ‘Glasgow Kiss’ flip around like some manic etude, catchy and buoyant, an upbeat sequence of tones and semitones. It becomes apparent at this point that the album is not some uniform vehicle of monotony, where each sibling track follows the other, like an octet of twins.

Nope, each track presents something different; following the rambunctious meandering of ‘Glasgow Kiss’, comes the smooth surf beats of ‘Tunnel Vision’. After that we get the emotive balladry of ‘Wishful Thinking’. The electronic drum intro of the former contrasting nicely with the mid-paced vibrato of the latter. ‘Wishful Thinking’ also offers up perhaps the album highlight in a wonderful, fluent unison section that appears halfway through its runtime.

‘Damage Control’ is the other song included on the G3 Tokyo DVD. It opens with a set of percussive power chords, and subsequently muscles along through a multitude of disparate passages, at times evoking the mysticism of Eastern music, at others the grass-nibbling spasticity of bluegrass. It’s the perfect example of that ability to change course mid-song, mid-riff, mid-note that Petrucci imbues in his music; just marvel at that atonal breakdown three quarters in.

The most energetic and jaunty track here is ‘Curve’. It is also the simplest, consisting of basically three riffs topped with assorted fret-gymnastics. But that’s no criticism, it is probably the most fun track on Suspended Animation, the layering of wah-lead and sun-drenched rhythm works a charm.

Penultimate song ‘Lost Without You’ is a slow contemplating one. The bluesy lead playing gesticulates towards Santana, while the sparse drumming signals the tenets of stadium rock. Unfortunately this is the only track that can be branded with the name-badge of anonymity; it’s got an atmospheric aura but lacks any memorable punch.

The final song is, thank your gods, proof that the best has indeed been saved for last. ‘Animate-Inanimate’, the somewhat title-track, is a rip-roaring feast of musical delicacies, complete with little let up in ferocity. It’s beautiful; an open-string meditative measure transfigures into an odd modal lead section, which in turn surges into a boisterous multiple-guitar fete of a riff. The song drags you through its residence, allowing just enough time to succulently indulge in each room’s sonorous charm, before hauling you off to see what the next doorway has in store. A resplendent, adrenalised efflux of musical virtuosity races you to the end, where an Eastern-flavoured part, not unlike DT’s ‘Home’, follows you on your way out through the fade.

I’m still trying to find out if those broken windows in the album sleeve were caused by Petrucci’s Mesa Boogie Road King, but what I do know is that this album is rife with excellence, germinating with quality, a sublime composition of symphonic ingenuity. It’s obvious where the shredding on DT’s last album Octavarium relocated to, it has been alive and well living in these eight songs, and fucking hurrah for it. Kudos to you John Petrucci, you’re a credit to humanity.

And so, the great monument of Suspended Animation retreated upwards into the heavens, forever to be worshipped by the tiny souls below, its prophesised miracle no longer a secret, now available for all to hark till their days go dark and fade like the last notes of John Petrucci’s solo album.


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