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Magellan

Symphony for a Misanthrope

Review by Steve Alspach

I've seen pictures of the Gardner brothers, the backbone of Magellan, and if I didn't know any better I'd have sworn that I opened up a 401k with them. They don't look like the prototypical prog rockers, but three CDs in my collection attest to where they stand in my book. "Symphony for a Misanthrope" is Magellan's latest CD, and it's all that you've come to expect from them: intricate arrangements, symphonic production, guitar lines that are razor sharp, lyrics that cast a sharp eye on the world around us, and Trent Gardner's tenor soaring over it all. As the title might indicate, "Symphony for a Misanthrope" has as its theme the animosity man sometimes feels towards his fellow man.

On this CD the Gardners are joined by other prog stalwarts as Steve Walsh and Rob Berry, and Dave Manion, Joe Franco, and Stephen Imbler play major roles as well.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Symphonette
This is an ornate instrumental with some decidedly flamenco influences to it. Steve Walsh added to the songwriting and keyboard playing on this as well as Dave Manion.
Why Water Weeds?
There's a line in this song that says "Chompin' at the bit because the father raised an idiot." Besides uncovering where Trent Gardner stands in relation to our President, "Why Water Weeds?" is a take-no-prisoner account of what many feel is American arrogance. Robert Berry gets a big role on this track, playing guitar, bass and drums. The introduction sounds much like 90215-era Yes. The song offers a little more dynamic range in its arrangement than do most other Magellan songs.
Wisdom
Acoustic guitars and synthesizers, a la Pink Floyd, hold down the arrangement on "Wisdom". Jeff Curtis' lyrics refer to the "idiot savants" whose "stupid wisdom" makes for one big conundrum of a planet.
Cranium Reef Suite

Part 1 - Youthful Enthusiasm
Magellan go for a simple 4/4 on this mid-tempo introduction. At times this almost sounds like Trent Gardner is toying around with writing a movie theme.
Part 2 - Psych 101
The song quickly shifts to a 6/8 mode. Wayne Gardner's guitar fills are rather simpler but they caught my attention. The lyrics are of the "don't try to figure me out 'cuz I'm bad news" mode.
Part 3 - Primal Defense
The third part to this, which finishes out the last thirteen minutes, continues on the theme of building a wall to prevent others to get to know a person. The song becomes a bit more complicated at this point. There are some bluesy tinges in some parts, some parts are a bit more grandiose than others, and a power-chord coda where Joey Franco lays down some incredibly powerful drumming.
Pianissimo Intermission
I have a friend who is an accomplished pianist - we're talking "I played with Pinchas Zukerman" accomplished - and he said that Bach's Goldberg Variations are among the hardest piano pieces to play. So a tip of the hat to Trent Gardner for bringing a snippet of culture to us prog-heads and playing an arrangement of Variation 1.
Doctor Concoctor
What sounds like a heavy song with power guitar chords soon shifts into a keyboard-laden track, complete with programmed drums that make the song sound like Howard Jones OD'd on steroids. "Doctor Concoctor" doesn't paint a pretty picture of health care, and Thomas Ewerhard's alarming art on CD booklet for this song may make you think twice before hitting the ol' HMO.
Every Bullet Needs Blood
There is a rather lengthy prelude to this, but by Magellan standards this intro is a bit muted. At 2:07 the song kicks into the main verse structure. There is a bit of a latter-day Yes feel to this closer. Joe Franco goes into a double-time motif to kick the song up to its fade-out finish.
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