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Unitopia: The Garden

Vocalist, Mark Trueack and Keys man Sean Timms developed the ideas for the band after being introduced by a mutual friend in 1996. This impressive double album release by the Australian septet from Adelaide takes them beyond the potential of which they gave notice in More than a Dream, their debut album of 2005. The two disks are individually titled, the first adopting the overall album title whilst the second is sub-titled "The Journey". The style, at least on disk one, is firmly in the symphonic and neo-progressive camp with similarities to other modern proponents such as the Flower Kings, modern-day Kaipa, Jadis, Cryptic Vision and Magic Pie. The presence of a tasteful wind player in the excellent Mike Stewart on Flute, sax and clarinet adds to the richness of the rock orchestration and enables a delicacy and hint of whimsy in the compositions.

Conceptually the album is a flight through time and space starting with the imaginings of the central point of reference in the 'garden' where the prologue and title track use a mixture of instrumentation and natural sound effects to set the scene for the mental flight of fancy. The title track itself takes up half of the first disk and moves through a good range of influences with careful development, from its organic opening sounds which could have come from a Jade Warrior album through the rocky Beard-like 'Hieronymus' section and the eerie 'lost' feeling of the central section, to the more uplifting 'underground' part which follows. This blend always has a very melodic sensibility to it, even at times perhaps a tad too sweet for its own good. There's some nice sax work as the track comes towards its conclusion and a return to those organic rain-forest sounds which were evident at the start.

Moving the tempo up a notch, "Angeliqua" takes on a sound akin to Spocks Beard or Magic Pie or maybe Cryptic Vision, particularly in the pounding Hammond work. Guitarist Matt Williams gets a chance for a rock solo at the end. A short news-extract narrative takes us to a Camelesque flute/guitar acoustic opening to "Angeliqua's Dream", with orchestral keyboard washes and plaintive vocal. A short reflective ballad follows in "Here I am", like one of those pleasant little Collins interludes you used to get on Genesis albums. "I wish I could fly" has a wistful, Floyd-like, lullaby theme as our character takes flight for the journey 'on Icarus wings'. A bright guitar and keyboard duet and driving rhythm announce the last track "Inside the Power".

In disk two, the sub-title track is again of epic proportions clocking in at 16 minutes, kicking off with an almost metallic riff which fairly quickly shifts down to a series of synth arpeggios and bright electric guitar peaks. Adding wah-wah effects, the intro is joined by Mark's pleasant vocal contribution. As with The Garden, the track combines heavy and delicate sections, although it is in total a more aggressive mix than its counterpart. There's even a nice twist of jazz with electric piano, cymbal shuffle and sax at one point. In the last half things get very heavy with a virtually screamo style vocal, a challenge which Mark delivers well.

"Give and Take" is a fairly straight forward ballad over a symphonic keyboard and sax arrangement underpinned by a rapid rhythmic structure. Another of those radio-news extracts regarding the invention of the RCA Stereo recording introduces "When I'm down", a lament for love distant. Sadly this is a rather turgid, unimaginative piece, the weakest track on the album. "This Life" soon returns the album to form though with a clever swing and interchanging twin motifs with a good hook on 'gateway to the other side'. I'm less sure about the rather out of place wild guitar solo though. The gentle "Love never ends" features female vocal embellishment and hand percussion as new attractions, fading out eloquently to a closing lyrical duet between Mike and (I'm assuming) bassist Shireen. A dramatic series of piano cascades colours the short instrumental, "So far away". "Don't give up love" has a poppy flavour mixed with something of a Men at Work idiom raided mid-way by a rather prog-standard series of flashy synth arpeggios before reprising the opening theme. Overall it doesn't quite work for me.

The final track, '321' is a worthwhile codicil; a tribute to the courage, ordeal and eventual rescue of men caught up in a mining disaster at Beaconsfield (321 was the number of hours they were trapped). Using metal 'mining' tools to embellish the percussion, the song could be accused of borrowing a little from Genesis' Driving the last Spike but it stands well on its own merits.

Somehow the second disk doesn't have the cohesion that I get from the first, and it certainly relies on more mainstream, less progressive approaches. Despite this the double album overall is a strong work of prog-influenced rock/pop that should be accessible to a wide range of musical tastes. Its not original enough to come close to achieving classic status but the care and professionalism the band have exercised in the writing and mastering make it stand up well to its peers. If I'd been rating disk one alone it would have had a 4.

Track Listing
Disk 1 - The Garden
1. One Day
2. The Garden
3. Angeliqua
4. Angeliqua's Dream
5. Here I am
6. I wish I could fly
7. Inside the Power
Disk 2 The Journey
8. Journey's Friend
9. Give and take
10. When I'm down
11. This life
12. Love never ends
13. So far away
14. Don't give up love
15. 321

Added: December 4th 2008
Reviewer: Richard Barnes
Related Link: band Website
Hits: 3777
Language: english

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