Pete Feenstra chatted to George Jones for Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, getting the background to the new album ‘State Of Dystopia’. First broadcast on 5 April 2020.
Cherry Red Records [Release date 27.03.20]
Son Of Man’s ‘State of Dystopia’ is a powerful rock album rooted in the Man band legacy, but closer to Classic Rock than the jam band tradition.
The music bristles with relentless energy and sundry ideas. It’s a big sounding album built on the Classic Rock staples of power chords, big harmonies and significant hooks, but with a bigger musical vision encompassing lyrical eclecticism which allows the band to impressively forge its own style.
There’s also an overarching aesthetic, from the art work and the intricately layered sound to the glistening harmonies, deep toned guitar lines, occasional electronic touches and enquiring songs.
‘State Of Dystopia’ is not a concept album as such, but embraces lyrical and musical triggers that resonate on 11 impressionistic tracks full of interrelated themes that are not delivered chronologically.
If Zappa gave us conceptual continuity, then Son Of Man leapfrog decades, with music born in the drug induced era of social protest, but refashioned and given a new context by the noire filled backdrop of our unsettled times.
They’ve ditched the drugs and pushed song craft and harmonies to the front of the mix, on tracks like the electronic processed alt.rock meets grunge influenced ‘Feeding Time’ and the faux Celtic grandeur of the anti war song ‘March With The Drum’.
It used to be said that a band’s second album was often the most problematic in terms of ideas and expectations. Son of Man buck that trend as they break through the damn with musical and lyric ideas that leave a significant cerebral and sonic imprint.
From the fazed opening of ‘Conscience’ to the synth-driven Congressional voice collage of ‘Too Many Questions’, this is a broad based musical journey full of interwoven themes voiced over big rock figures and framed by a booming production.
The powerhouse rhythm section of drummer Bob Richards and Glenn Quinn (doubling on lilting bass as well as guitar) provides the perfect foundation for George Jones and Quinn’s twin guitars and darting solos, while on the closing anthem ‘Too Many Questions’ Marco James’s layered keyboards evokes mid-70’s Floyd, offset by a lead vocal and harmonies that straddle John Wetton’s Asia and returns us to the opening track’s Uriah Heep influence.
Vocalist Richie Galloni resonant timbre and expressive phrasing is a lynch pin as he constantly seeks out lyrical meaning and feel, rather than indulging in clichés.
Given the band was originally formed to keep both Micky Jones and the Man band heritage alive, there are almost inevitably some subliminal moments to remind us of their musical antecedents.
Most obviously there’s the re-arranged version of the 1969 Jones/Leonard demo ‘Conscience’, which they turn into a galloping Uriah Heep style rocker with some interwoven Micky Jones style guitar from George.
George also evokes his late dad on ‘What The Man Said’. The opening guitar figure and tone is reminiscent of Man’s ‘Love Isn’t Love, before it heads into a synth layered bluesy feel punctuated by a heavy guitar line and the kind of stellar harmonies that Man never quite managed. This superbly produced track captures the band’s spark while delivery a polished radio friendly feel.
The other salient Man influences are to be found on the slide-led, Deke Leonard staccato feel of ‘When It Falls Apart’, which morphs into a Todd Rundgren Utopia era feel.
Then there the unexpected guitar-led coda of the closing melodic anthem ‘Too Many Questions’, which could have come from Man’s ‘Endangered Species’ album. Such is the impact of the album as a whole, that it acts as a link to a rich musical past that has been eloquently updated.
Keyboard player Marco James is also a big part of the arrangements. His subtle intro’s fills and embellishments glue together the albums layered sound. And if his synth pulses sometimes sound a little dated (as on ‘What The Man Says’), there’s enough variety and restraint in his playing to support the song rather than dominate it.
His keyboard parts and Galloni’s Jon Anderson style vocal makes ‘One With The Voice’ sound like a forgotten Yes classic.
In sharp contrast, there’s the AC/DC influenced powerhouse riffing of ‘Auto Devotion’ which anchors the album as a whole, complete with an 80s’ style chanted hook and a Who style filtered organ link leading to more heavy riffs.
George Jones moves centre stage for the lead vocal on the rock ballad ‘Reign In Yesterday’, complete with Tom Petty style jangling guitars and an uplifting chorus.
And while the above song has a feeling of grandeur, the songs are generally concise, the solos brief with the emphasis on the greater whole rather than extemporisation.
There can be few contemporary rock bands who effortlessly switch from riff driven rock to AOR and then to the Badfinger style pop-rock of ‘Bring Out The Best In Me’, but that’s the measure of an impressive album that musically repudiates every aspect of its own title, on a splendid effort. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 26 July.. In the first hour David pays tribute to the blues/rock guitarist Peter Green.
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