Near the middle of Paul Cusick's album Focal Point, the track 'Touch' features some repeating samples of recorded voice answering services. Unsurprisingly, it quickly gets quite irritating.
What is surprising is that it is probably the first real misstep of the album. As an album written, produced, mixed and performed (excepting the drums) entirely by one part-time musician, a civil engineer by day, it has no right to be anything other than a bloated vanity project. Instead, it is a powerful, concise and thoughtful blend of progressive rock and metal.
Proceedings open with the mathematical and neat title track, the last note hangs for a moment, allowing room to introduce the soaring metal of 'Everblue', an album highlight. It is a very promising opening, and the energy isn't wasted as the album continues, mixing strident rockers like 'Soul Music', 'Big Cars', and the excellent 'Scared to Dream', with more thoughtful slower numbers pieces such as 'Fade Away' and 'Hold On'. Despite a couple of stumbles there is plenty of engaging material throughout the album.
The mix is good enough to be reminiscent of Peter Gabriel's later work, although in truth Cusick doesn't quite manage to match Gabriel's instinct for a hauntingly perfect melody, at some points he gets uncannily close.
Cusick variously sings, amongst other things, about childhood memories, longing for partners, modernity, the fragility of life: themes that can so often yield mawkish sentimentality in the wrong hands. To his credit, on the most part his evident maturity gives the material a gravitas it might not have otherwise had, although on some occasions he veers into mushy territory that blunts the emotive force of the music.
Nevertheless, this remains a very satisfying helping of progressive rock. Not without the odd flaw, but a very worthwhile addition to anyone's collection. All credit to Paul Cusick for taking the time out to create this surprising solo debut.
1: Focal Point
2: Ever Blue
3: Fade Away
4: Soul Words
5: Scared To Dream
7: Senza Tempo
8: Big Cars
9: Hold On