Troisi Blue Music [Release date 12.13]
‘The Front’ by TROiSi, (Mike Troisi the person and band are interchangeable) is a conceptual and musical triumph in the face of cliché. It’s a concept album that rises above the genre to make a stand for music outside of its commercial packaging.
The album begins by parodying our notion of a concept. The suitably titled opening track, ‘The Concept’ is anchored by a subtle funky groove and the first of several soaring guitar lines, before a Moxy Fruvous style rap announces: ‘The first rule of a concept album is you shouldn’t have to explain what it might contain, you need some characters, a really strong message and a story that’s fun, of which we got none’.
But TROiSi quickly moves from parody to his real intention: ‘There is some music here that we feel might be something that’s worth listening too, it’s the least you can do, not hard to listen too, just have to think it through, that’s something you can do, to help us all get through, this concept album’.
Ostensibly a commentary on the contemporary music business and its connection with big business, TROiSi views music as: ‘making art for arts sake’. But this is more than a mere vanity project as the messages – as heartfelt and hard hitting as they are humorous – pose interesting questions. There’s also enough good music to drag the unsuspecting listener into the good old fashioned notion of a concept album.
TROiSi is the seventh album by the indefatigable Boston musician Mike Troisi, an apparent musical off-spring of Frank Zappa. And while FZ spent his career roundly satirizing the music business, TROiSi sources Zappa’s ‘Joe Garage’ album to extend his focus to include governmental control, as he embraces the role of narrator in the manner of Zappa’s central scrutinizer.
The voice-over contributes continuity and commentary on tracks like ‘Back to Eighty-Four’, to outline a nightmarish vision of internet control. But it’s not all doom and gloom, because there’s enough moments of inspired music – a mix of proggy keyboard runs and ripping guitar solos – to lever the listener into the author’s intent.
TROiSi describes his music as ‘schizophrenic rock’. It’s a label intended to encompass the full scope of his music, but given the intellectual rigour and musical depth, it’s a label that falls short of describing the deeply rooted structures and interlocking musical genres. This is music that mixes contemporary analytical commentary with real substance derived from pulsating prog rock grooves and deep solos that draw unsuspecting listeners into the story.
Musically, the album encompasses the staccato intensity of King Crimson and never veers too far away from Zappa’s sense of the ridiculous, or indeed his musical ability, as evidenced by the outstanding guitar playing on ‘Disorientation’.
TROiSi’s web site asks the question; ‘when was the last time you sat down and listened to one of your favourite albums all the way through?’ The answer seems to be that that many of us don’t, as we’re cast in the role of docile listeners moulded by soundbite culture, a situation that can only be resolved by live music.
Almost in the face of his own conclusions, TROiSi has managed capture the spontaneity, spark and meaning of his music in a concept album format. If you dig deep enough you’ll appreciate the dazzling playing, his sense of humour and irony. There’s the warped vocal and insistent riffing of ‘Make Friends With The Government’ and the languid, hypnotic Floydian groove of ‘Tell It All’, before he slips back into the narrator’s role: ‘All right, now that you have been initiated and indoctrinated, the next step is to get you educated ……you will become good, Knowledgeable’.
And sure enough we’re into the funky ‘Knowledgeable U’, full of buzz guitar and synth improvisation, topped by a magnificent guitar work-out.
As with many concept albums the message sometimes overrides the music. Tracks like ‘Pop Muzak’ (credited to ‘some random broad’) makes its point simply with biting lyrics, in this case including a cute half rhyme: ‘I am truly a goddess’ I’m just being honest’. The problem is such songs aren’t always that interesting in their own right outside of their contextual continuity. ‘Money Makers’ is better, as Mike reconfigures the famous Lennon ‘Imagine’ line as: ‘Imagine all the money, its easy if you try’
On some occasions the music actually evokes the message as on the sonorous synth of ‘Reports From the Front’, while on ‘Makeshift Lawyer’ he superbly combines genres, mixing a reggae beat and a short booming rock guitar break with Zappa style percussion and another decent lyric: ‘A&R promotion, distribution, what was your career, you got guys in the court rooms now that used to be engineers….’
The album reverts to tightly wrapped prog rock on ‘Saturday Nite Life’ and a scorching guitar on the finale of ‘SNL Solo’. He then warms to his theme of government tyranny on the ‘The Facility’, backed up by some recycled but startling jail statistics. ‘The Bunker’ in sharp contrast, opens with tightly wrapped funky jazz fusion before being transformed into a percussive synth piece that might have come from Yellow magic Orchestra.
But whatever his concerns with society in general, the music business in particular and the way music has been commoditised, he still has a keen producer’s ear to recognise the efficacy of placing the uplifting anthemic ‘Another Place To Hide’, three quarters of the way through side two.
‘Try To Believe’ combines staccato prog-rock, buzz guitar and synth with choral vocals and an abrasive narrative, as our hero fights back against the forces of government and industry. The ‘Control Lost’ end-piece is almost a parody of a big film finale and comes with a guitar solo denouement wholly in keeping with a rock concept album.
‘The Front’ may paint a dystopian future comprising them and us (another Zappa concept), but it’s a vision that is deconstructed with enough humour, analytical precision and musical excellence to make this album worth recommending for prog fans and rock fans alike. ****(4/5)
Review by Pete Feenstra
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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