Seconds Before Landing



Seconds Before Landing: The Great Deception (SBL)

First, let me say that, setting aside a quibble or two, this is almost certainly my favorite album of 2013. And that has less to do with any specific personnel, "song," or individual aspect of the album than it does with the fact that the old adage "they just don't write 'em like that anymore" does not apply here. This is a "progressive" album in every sense of that term, and is somehow able to both evoke the heyday of a particular genre of progressive rock (i.e., have a certain "timeless" quality to it) and to be both timely and relevant in the present.

The primary writer here is John Crispino, about whom little seems to be known except that he is a "composer and musician." (He plays drums, keyboards, and percussion, and provides most of the vocals.) He is joined by a distinguished group of musicians, most notably Trey Gunn (King Crimson) and Tim Bogert (Vanilla Fudge, Cactus).

The effects-laden album -- which is a somewhat loose concept album about a dystopian future -- is quite dark and grim most of the time, evoking some of the darker aspects of Pink Floyd and King Crimson. Indeed, if I had to describe the overall effect of the album in one sentence, I would say that it was the bastard child of Pink Floyd (particularly parts of The Wall, The Final Cut, Momentary Lapse of Reason, and Division Bell) and King Crimson (particularly parts of In the Court of the Crimson King, Construktion of Light, and Power to Believe), with a dash of Porcupine Tree and an overall "atmosphere" of Alan Parsons. [N.B. It is astounding to me that of all the possible influences on this album that have been noted in dozens of articles, not one of them mentions Parsons -- yet it is his overall approach to concept albums (as well as writing and production) that jumped out at me almost constantly.]

In fact, the associations here are quite remarkable. Parsons, of course, engineered Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother and its genre-definitive Dark Side of the Moon. The engineer on The Great Deception is Andy Jackson, who assisted on The Wall and The Final Cut, and was primary engineer on Momentary Lapse of Reason and Division Bell. And Trey Gunn provided bass guitar on Construktion of Light and "Warr" guitar on Power to Believe. [N.B. All of this makes me wonder (without taking anything away from Mr. Crispino) how much influence both Mr. Gunn and Mr. Jackson had on the writing here, and not simply the guitar playing or engineering.]

Of course, few bands were as able to evoke dystopianism as Pink Floyd (particularly with The Wall and The Final Cut). And although those dystopias were in the past, the near-future dystopia evoked here owes much to those albums.

Approximately half the tracks on the album have actual lyrics, while the other half have either spoken-word vocals and/or "recorded" voices. Regarding the former, Mr. Crispino sings all but one of the songs, and has a pleasant voice that is (mostly) expressive of the particular song. As for the latter, we get both male and female spoken and/or recorded voices, the latter being mostly of the type heard in some Pink Floyd tracks (think "Run Like Hell" or "The Trial" from The Wall). The female recorded voice is used to excellent effect in a few places, where her oh-so-calm voice is betrayed by what she is actually saying (mostly castigation and threats).

The music tends toward heavy bass lines (including a few truly infectious rhythms), with most tracks featuring a guitar solo at some point. These solos, mostly by Mr. Gunn (using a variety of electronic effects) are evocative of (in order of percentage) David Gilmour, Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp, and John Frusciante, and are all quite good, and always appropriate for the track.

One of the more…interesting aspects of the album is the inclusion of mini-ads for a variety of products, which appear between tracks (a dozen in all). These ads (which may or may not be for real products) evoke ads of the 1940s and '50s. On first listen, I found these ads somewhat jarring. Even now, I can only think of two reasons for their inclusion. One is to simply break the "grimness" of the overall album. The other is to evoke a sense of "normalcy" amid the dark, dystopian atmosphere (which would also explain why it would be ads from the '40s and '50s). In either case, I am not certain they needed to appear between every two tracks on the entire album; half that number (or even fewer) would have sufficed. (This is one of my quibbles.) For the record, these ads include hats, cigars, foodstuffs, iron and vitamins, and a variety of bathroom products (hair cream, nose drops, pimple cream, shampoo, et al.).

My other quibbles? The inclusion "opening/guitar solo/closing" structure of almost every track; and the inclusion of the song "Mikey Get Your Accordion." While it is a truly lovely, even haunting, song, I am at an even greater loss as to its presence on the album than I am about the ads.

Yet, all that said, The Great Deception exhibits an excellent channeling of its influences, and superb musicianship, production and "atmospheres," and is a fabulous achievement in progressive rock. I can hardly wait for the next album.