by Jeff Watson 8/28/2000
Fusion rock: now there’s a genre that usually scares the living hell out of music journalists. Much maligned, fusion (so named for its tendency to fuse rock with jazz elements) eschews formal song structures in favor of off-kilter time signatures, angular chord changes, impeccably tight performances and lots (and I mean lots) of soloing. Fusion rock is the premier haven for “pro” musicians to flaunt their technical prowess. Walk into any Guitar Center across America and you’re guaranteed to hear at least three fusion licks screaming out of the amp section. Although technically impressive, most fusion acts just seem primarily concerned with showing off what each member learned in music school. Does the world really need an album of shredding? I think not. Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” was all we needed, amigos.
However, the debut release from Planet X, Universe , thankfully avoids the endless masturbatory soloing that permeates the genre, which is surprising since prog-guitar hero Tony MacAlpine and ex-Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian comprise two thirds of this group (drumming is handled by skin-basher Virgil Donati). Nope, this is a rare excursion into fusion land – the kind that actually has a semi-cohesive melody intertwined with the stop-on-a-dime performances. The only thing this album shares with others in its genre is a penchant for Dr. Who -like sci-fi titles, such as “Clonus,” “Pods of Trance,” “King Of The Universe,” and “2116″ (the band must’ve had Rush in mind when writing this one). It’s really too bad this is an instrumental album, as I would have loved to read the lyrics to “Pods of Trance.” The title sounds like the song could be a lost Spinal Tap track.
Still, as solid as this record may be, you’re going to have to be a real fan of fusion-rock to appreciate Universe, or at least someone that can admire its technical flash. You won’t be singing along to any song off this collection of eleven structured instrumental jams, but hey, that’s the nature of fusion rock, no? This is one of those albums that will make ya say, “Shit! Them boyz can sho’ play!” Indeed they can.