Cyclefly - Generation Sap Cyclefly
Generation Sap

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the release of Cyclefly’s debut disc since I first heard their manic single "Crawl Down" three months ago.

It was worth the wait. Generation Sap is a sumptuous feast of buzzing guitars and dangerously alluring melodies.

Cyclefly is a European quintet led by androgynous singer Declan O’Shea that pound out a wild mash of melody and metallic angst. There’s a touch of David Bowie glam to O’Shea’s attack mixed with the modern rock power whispers of Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan and the possessed flair of Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell. But ultimately, Cyclefly is its own incomparable beast — a thrashing sharp-toothed creature with an evil wink in its eye and a slash in its claw. When O’Shea croons the opening to "Supergod," a lightly strummed melody that builds to a climactic Cranberries-esque finale, his twisting pipes leave you wondering if this singer is a man or woman. And that’s part of the appeal of this band; the sound is fresh, universal, and tough to pin down. "Crawl Down" is a gutter punk anthem, "Whore" is a swirling hymn of promises that explodes into a grandiose strings and throbbing guitar climax, and "Violet High" has a dinosaur stomp mix of guitars and a vocal delivery that brings to mind early Rush.

This is potent, no-holds barred stuff, not for the faint of heart, but definitely for those looking for a new take on a primal sound. This album rocks!

(Cyclefly play in Chicago at Thurstons on Saturday.)


Rick Wakeman - Return To The Centre of the Earth Rick Wakeman
Return to the Centre of the Earth
(EMI Classics)

Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman has revisited an old project of his — a Journey to the Centre of the Earth. It was 25 years ago when Wakeman first did a music and narrative recording following the gist of Jules Verne’s novel with the London Symphony. That recording, as he notes in the CD jacket, was limited by the recording technology of the time. Now, thanks to the wonders of modern studio technology, he felt the time was right to record an expanded new take on the story: Return To The Centre of the Earth again pairs the London Symphony with Wakeman (who wrote the original story about a group of travelers who try to duplicate the route of the original travellers). The disc is set up with Star Trek’s Patrick Stewart reading the text of the story over light keyboard and symphonic backgrounds on every other track. In between, Wakeman pairs up with an array of guest vocalists to deliver symphony augmented songs meant to spotlight particular points of the narrative. The result is that you can listen to the whole story with frequent song breaks, or you can program your CD player to play odd numbered tracks and just listen to Patrick Stewart’s rich voice reading the story or play even numbered tracks and just listen to the songs.

While some of the songs don’t quite gel — some of the lyrics not even seeming totally in sync with the point of the narrative, it is certainly interesting listening. Wakeman has paired Ozzy Osbourne’s snarling vocals with a huge orchestra and angelic backgrounds by the English Chamber Choir in "Buried Alive." Bonnie Tyler handles a grandly somber track in Andrew Lloyd Webber tradition in "Is Anyone There?"

Fellow one-time Yes-man Trevor Rabin handles the rock vocals on "Never is a Long, Long Time," Katrina Leskanich resurfaces from Katrina and the Waves obscurity to handle "Ride of Your Life" and Moody Blues frontman Justin Hayward croons the gentle string-driven ballad "Still Waters Run Deep."

It’s an ambitious project that both hits and misses. There are moments of symphonic brilliance and excess. But Wakeman deserves kudos just for the attempt if nothing else. And there is something else. Patrick Stewart’s narrative voice is magical, Hayward’s ballad is dreamily calming and often the orchestral arrangements truly transport the listener to a different land.

New on the Shelves:

Mary Chapin Carpenter has released a 17-song "best of and then some" disc celebrating more than a decade in the record-making business. Party Doll and Other Favorites on Columbia Records collects hit singles like "Passionate Kisses," "Shut Up and Kiss Me" and "I Feel Lucky," along with live recordings of favorites like"Can’t Take Love For Granted" recorded on a 1995 David Letterman performance and "Down at the Twist and Shout" recorded at the 1997 Superbowl. The disc also pulls together songs from disparate projects like "Dreamland" from the Til Their Eyes Shine various artists compilation, "Grow Old With Me" from the John Lennon Tribute Working Class Hero and "10,000 Miles" from the Fly Away Home soundtrack. There are also two brand new Carpenter originals and a somber strumming cover of Mick Jagger’s "Party Doll." Carpenter will bring these and other songs on tour with her this summer at Ravinia...

Donna Summer
is having a resurgence thanks to the help of VH1. She’s currently out on tour (she’ll also play at Chicago’s Ravinia — on August 15) and has just releaseda new CD — VH1 Presents Donna Summer: Live & More - Encore! The disc is taken from her just-aired VH1 special and includes new live performances of her hits "MacArthur Park," "This Time I Know It’s For Real," "I Feel Love," "She Works Hard For The Money," "Bad Girls" and "Hot Stuff." Australian pop singer Tina Arena joins Summer for a duet on "No More Tears(Enough is Enough)." There are also two brand new stuid tracks from Summers one of which, "I Will Go With You" was first recorded in Italian and became a European hit by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman.