This album is unusual for SynthTopia. Instead of being synth heavy electronica, the tracks are almost entirely acoustic instruments. But they are acoustic instruments most of us have never heard before, playing in a style that fits right in with the modern pop-rock electronica sensibility.
And it is, of all things, a Concept Album. We hadn’t seen many of these since the 70’s.
Nevertheless, the Blue Man Group’s album The Complex is a concept album from a concept group. The Blue Man Group, for the two of you that haven’t heard of them, is a bunch of nameless bald guys made up with blue makeup so that they look a little alien. They create stage shows that feature new instruments made out of stuff that you’d see at Home Depot: vent tubing, PVC pipes, fiberglass tubes, and aluminum sheets. Most of the instruments are percussion, but many have an almost electronic sound, because they are outside the range of standard rock and orchestral percussion.
This album is themed around the ideas of loneliness, paranoia and individuality that people can feel living in a city. The album features guest appearances from Dave Matthews, Tracy Bonham, Esthero, Venus Hum, Dan the Automator and others. Most of the cuts are new for this album, but the album also features some covers.
The opener is a standout. It features a variety of acoustic percussion, and is reminiscent of some of Afro Celt Sound System’s work. Up to the Roof is a rocker, featuring Tracy Bonham. Bonham contributes a great vocal to a tune that combines the bizarre percussion of Blue Man with a straight-ahead rock song. Venus Hum helps with a great cover of Moroders “I Feel Love”. This cover is largely acoustic, but the alien percussive sounds work perfectly with it.
The album has a few weaknesses. Some listeners will be tired of Dave Matthews, who nevertheless adds a great performance to the record. A few of the cuts feature an announcer discussing various “rock moves” that are seen at a rock concert. These cuts probably work great in live performance, but not quite as well on an album.
The CD has a few extra treats. It’s an enhanced CD, and has an interesting video for the song Sing Along, with Dave Matthews and the Blue Men doing their thing. It also has a video on the making of the CD. If you’re interested in the new instruments, this is worth a watch!