A few years ago, I raved at great length about L.E.O., a loose collective of (largely) indie label power-pop veterans joining forces to pay a “stylistic” tribute to Electric Light Orchestra without covering any of the band’s existing songs. I’ve always held ELO and Alan Parsons Project in a similarly high esteem – both of them routinely turning out engrossing, lush music with stellar production – so it’s good to find Rubber Universe, a band which offers up a similar “stylistic tribute” to Parsons.
Where it was easy to figure out the object of L.E.O.’s musical affections, Rubber Universe is almost like a tribute – or, better yet, a whole new entry – to prog rock in general. The band states up front that their chief inspiration was Parsons, but in a couple of places (namely on the tracks “Paint My World” and “Nine Minutes ‘Till Midnight”) they also remind one forcefully of the Moody Blues at the height of their early ’70s experimentation (i.e. when their every release was mind-blowing and not just in service of a paint-by-numbers tour), and occasionally – especially in those songs with a healthy dose of female vocals – Clannad comes to mind.
Not that Rubber Universe is slavishly imitating anyone. The admission to having sprung from a tribute/cover band may be a way to automatically grab the attention of a certain fanbase, but Parliament Of Fooles is a fresh new entry in the prog rock pantheon on its own; the whole “former cover band” line in the publicity material may end up being counterproductive. The project (no pun intended) may have started as a cover band that wanted to do something original, but while Parsons fans will appreciate it, it’s nothing that screams “Hey, they’re trying to sound like the Alan Parsons Project.”
Though in a few places, they kinda do, with a little help from their friends: Project guitar god Ian Bairnson contributes to one track, while Godfrey Townsend, Parsons’ current touring guitarist, plays on another. The real coup, however – if those two weren’t enough to lend it the seal of Parsons Project authenticity – is a spoken-word intro for “Let Me Rule Your Heart” by the Project’s most famous vocalist and co-founder, the late Eric Woolfson.
If there’s one trap that Parliament Of Fooles falls victim to, it’s a tendency for most of the songs to hover in the same mid-tempo territory. The good news is that, when a song that breaks that mold comes along (i.e. “Romance Of The Illusion”), it instantly stands out, but much of the album sticks around the same tempo; any second effort from Rubber Universe would do well to vary things a bit more.
But for a freshman outing by a new band, especially one that has one hell of a musical and production pedigree to live up to, built into its mission statement, Rubber Universe is an outfit that bears close watching – and repeat listening. Though fans of the Alan Parsons Project, they’ve proven that they’re more than ready to carve their own path, and with Parsons’ own output having dropped to less-than-prodigious levels in the past 20 years, I’d welcome a new entity making music with the same expansive feel.
- Negative Spaces (4:23)
- Dream Catcher (6:53)
- Romance Of The Illusion (2:16)
- Madness In Slumberland (4:18)
- Garden Of Earthly Delights (3:54)
- Let Me Rule Your Heart featuring Eric Woolfson (5:36)
- Paint My World (3:35)
- We Insist (Place De Greve Mix) (5:05)
- Goodbye My Love (2:02)
- Trying To Go On (4:40)
- Nine Minutes ‘Till Midnight featuring Godfrey Townsend (4:04)
- Parliament Of Fooles featuring Ian Bairnson (5:47)
Released by: Rubber Universe
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 52:33