Doug Rausch's debut album - a triumph for determination and self-belief over adversity – is a refreshing venture into musicality. At a time when the music industry is changing, at a time when even most of "progressive" rock is anything but progressive, comes along this young man, with a clear passion for music, and delivers an album that sets down a challenge to the world. The challenge is this:- "STOP what you are doing, and just LISTEN to my music; it will reward you."
Rausch is clearly a talented musician; but whether he goes on to fulfil the promise shown by the debut album will depend on many factors, most of which will be out of his control. I say that because it is not easy being a musician these days, let alone a progressive one, despite the fact that the genre seems to be increasing its popularity again. So, as you listen to the Bohemian Rhapsody undertones within the opening track (also a single), "No Fair", you might want to consider that that particular track came on Queen's fourth album. Another band whose piano playing and composition Rausch brought to my mind are also British, the "art-pop" 10cc, whose stunning "Une Nuit a Paris" adorned their third album. Now, neither Queen's debut, Queen, nor 10cc's very own 10cc, were anything other than good, perhaps very good, albums that showed promise. Which is what we have in Rausch - a good, perhaps very good, album that shows oodles of promise. The problem is that he almost certainly doesn't have the forward-looking contracts that those iconic bands did. But then, that was the 1970s!
However - and I will digress here a bit from the review per se – guys like Queen and 10cc were producing albums at the rate of one or more a year, and doing extensive tours in between. Ok, you get more music on a CD, but how can you stay in touch with your audience when you're not putting out discs and gigging? Blogging is not enough, I'm afraid. Apparently it took years for Rausch to produce this album, then some more time to get it released – if he is to become a success he is going to have to up that rate! This is a relevant digression – no, that's not a contradiction – because Doug Rausch is clearly on a mission to "save music history".
Still, Rausch could have done worse than produce a very good album. He has done well to associate himself with some fine musicians and professionals who have added their class to this endeavour, to its benefit. Joining Rausch on guitars and bass is Shadow Gallery player Gary Wehrkamp, and Joe Nevolo plays drums. Richard Mouser did the mixing of the album. Rausch himself plays piano and occasional guitar (all of it on "Ode to Pain"). The CD's sound is good, the playing is good, the music is good. It's a very good debut which stands apart from today's other progressive music – Rausch has brought his own compositional style and ideas to the feast.
Rausch's piano playing is particularly impressive – it is the sonic highlight of the album. The piano is played melodiously and emotively. Rausch's singing voice complements this basic element perfectly; it is soft and supple, able to carry the melody so that Rausch is occasionally able to do that most wonderful of things – pare everything down to a single instrument (not always the piano) and let the music speak in a very clear way, the melody being the key, the emotion in the voice, the story-telling in the lyrics. It's not always like this, of course, this is a rock band album after all, but sometimes stripping away the clutter brings great beauty. The overall feel of the album is that of a rock opera such as The Who's Tommy. I sense that, overall, Rausch is trying to tell a story but, if so, I failed to grasp the thread that unites these songs, though, unless the thread, loosely speaking, is "struggle" – the struggle to get to this point in life.
This melodic strength that I've mentioned does not undermine the album's progressiveness, rather it enhances it because it makes it more accessible to many listeners. The cleverness and flexibility in Rausch's compositional style is beautifully illustrated by the wonderful "Minimalism", which is a clever pastiche of a pop song with amusing, almost self-mocking lyrics, and turns out to be the catchiest track on the album – it's the one you'll be singing in the shower. 10cc would have loved to have written that song (alright, Doug, Freddie Mercury too!). Just prior to this comes the album's finest moment, possibly the most progressive, in "The Pros & Cons of Linear", featuring a gorgeous symphonic arrangement and some very tasty guitar from Wehrkamp.
On the down side, the album loses a little appeal in that one senses that Rausch is almost trying too hard; venting too much pent up emotion and frustration through these songs; and by forcing the listener to be really attentive some of that anxiety is passed over.
So, after this fine debut, what we need are a couple of quick-fire, perhaps shorter, albums, featuring some of that pop sensibility amongst the prog, add to that some touring; then we'll be ready to save music.
I'm looking forward to album number 2!
1) No Fair (4:57)
2) Bipolar (6:31)
3) It Happens (6:14)
4) B.P.M.S. (4:24)
5) Ode to Pain (5:01)
6) The Pros & Cons of Linear (6:39)
7) Minimalism (4:18)
8) Survival instincts (6:23)
9) Slow Suite: I – Grey? (4:05)