Intelligent Music Project: III Touching The Divine
As the title of this album from the rather cumbersomely named Intelligent Music Project alludes, III Touching The Divine is the third album from producer Milen Vrabevski and his assembled cast of stars. And indeed stars they are, Simon Phillips putting in a sterling shift on drums, Toto's Joseph Williams and ex-Asia man John Payne handling the vocals (with wonderful help from Carl Sentance), while Nathan East provides bass and Tim Pierce guitars. Add in a brass section, symphonic orchestra and other assorted musicians and IMP is actually quite an undertaking.
Similar in style to the first two albums from this collective (the first which featured ex-Uriah Heep singer John Lawton on vocals, the second Lawton and Williams) this outfit specialise in theatrical AOR delivered with positive, uplifting lyrics; the title of this third volume alluding to its slightly more blatant Christian leanings. Although the 'positive mental attitude' message and 'things will always get better' ethos of the lyrics is undoubtedly the driving force. Also similar to the previous albums from IMP is the slow manner in which the themes and melodies seep into the mind, initial feelings that there isn't really all that much going on, slowly but very surely worn down by the top class musicianship and subtle choruses. In a way that may sound like the very antithesis of the ever so instant AOR genre, however while the choruses are catchy from the off, that they stay the course and become more seductive in the process proves in this album's favour.
Long known for his theatrical "stagey" vocal delivery, the inclusion of John Payne behind the mic for roughly half the songs pushes the album more in that stage show, musical drama direction, something the arrangements also allude. A little too often the guitars sit dip in the mix and while "Sky", for example, does allow a grittier riff to come through, as often as not it is layered vocals, piano, keyboards and choral/orchestral arrangements which take centre stage - possibly another reason the album is such a 'slow burn'.
Unsurprisingly, with a production job of the highest order (and thankfully the levels haven't simply been ramped up to make the album loud – that's what the volume knob is for…), the separation between the many different aspects are expertly brought together. An aspect that proves a real strength of the album overall. Highlights come thick and fast, "Sky" a super catchy riff laden burst of pomp which allows Williams to shine, "Coming Soon" Payne at his showy best, while the self explanatory "Simply Feels Good" allows the pair, alongside Carl Sentance, who steps up from his backing vocals duties to help out on lead, to combine quite superbly.
For some what Intelligent Music Project excel at will prove dangerously close to dated and twee. However for those with a little hankering for a slice of Boston with a touch Styx, via Payne era Asia and an unexpected showy nature, Touching The Divine may well prove to be rather special.
1. Opening (feat. Joseph Williams) (Cool Inside)
2. Escape (feat. John Payne)
3. Sky (feat. Joseph Williams)
4. Stay up (feat. John Payne & Joseph Williams)
5. A Smile Away (feat. John Payne)
6. We Can (feat. John Payne)
7. Simply Feels Good (feat. Carl Sentance, John Payne & Joseph Williams)
8. Dream (feat. Joseph Williams)
9. Coming Soon (feat. John Payne)
10. Life (feat. Joseph Williams)
11. Fate (feat. John Payne)
12. Roots (feat. Joseph Williams)
13. My World (feat. John Payne)
14. Mind Projection (feat. John Payne)
Added: December 6th 2015
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Intelligent Music Project online
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