2009 was an excellent year for new music but, along the way, there were one or two surprising disappointments; one of which is this album from English singer-songwriter Steve Thorne. Into the Ether is a good album of rock-arranged songs, featuring first-class performances from some of the foremost progressive musicians of the age but, sadly, lacking the progressive verve and invention of Thorne's two excellent Emotional Creatures albums, Part 1 (2005) and Part 2 (2007).
Into the Ether is an album on which Thorne seems to have focussed more on the quality of the performance than on its substance. He has sought some prize talents to contribute to the music: Nick D'Virgilio (who plays drums on 8 tracks), Tony Levin (stick, bass), John Mitchell (guitar), Pete Trewavas (bass) etc. You get the picture, right? - the musical performances are top notch. Of course, progressive music fans have always regarded technical proficiency as an important factor in their music and no-one could be disappointed in that regard with respect to the album. The production, too, and the evocative 28-page CD booklet are excellent. Really, all that is lacking is a bit more sparkle in the music itself, in particular for those fans, like me, brought up on and loving the Emotional Creatures albums.
The strongest song on the album, and the one closest to the previous progressive-leaning ethos, is "Victims", where Thorne's intermingling of musical quotations from the Beatles "All You Need is Love" adds extra spice that pricks your ears up. Elsewhere the songs are too close to simple "folk" or "rock-pop singer-songwriter" tunes with electric arrangements. In this style, "Feathers" is an early highlight, with its catchy lilting rhythm; on "Paper Tiger" Thorne then shows that he really doesn't need all of these guest musician stars (does the kudos they bring really sell that many albums for him?) as he lays down a gorgeous guitar part. "Into the Ether" has a bit more menace about it but fails to explode as it should and thereafter we get a bit of repetition-syndrome creeping in. Thorne's own guitar is again effective on "Granite Man"; "Sons of Tomorrow" is quite catchy; the love ballad "Valerie" is the most basically arranged, it wouldn't be out of place in a folk-club and then with "Victims" and after the album peters out in similar fashion. The overall sense is one of what might have been: there are no moments to match the strength of "Well Outta That" and "Every Second Counts" from Emotional Creatures Part One or "Wayward" and "Hounded" from Part 2: Emotional Creatures.
If you're a fan, then you'll probably want to buy this anyway, but even if you're not then you may well have heard of Steve Thorne's name because of the positive impact of his first two albums, and you may be tempted to buy this because of the stellar musician guest-list; but my advice to you would be to invest in the Emotional Creatures project first.
I hope Thorne finds his compositional progressive wand for his next album...
1) Kings of Sin
3) Paper Tiger
4) Into the Ether
5) Granite Man
6) Black Dahlia
7) Sons of Tomorrow
10) The End