Origin of Species is a big album. By this I mean it’s big in terms of concept and in terms of length. Its 17 tracks stretch to over 80 minutes in total, and the tale it tells focuses on matters close to all of us. It’s typical of a classic prog album, being rather hippy-ish and throwing in a multitude of styles with individual songs sounding like they could have come for a variety of different albums.
Then you look at the people involved – individually and in terms of numbers. The album features legendary drummer and producer Simon Phillips, who engineered, mixed and drove the production on the album, Matt Bissonette (vocals, bass), DarWin (guitars) and Jeff Babko (piano). The album also features guest performances from the likes of Greg Howe (guitar), Dennis Hamm (keyboards), Ernst Tibbs (bass), Katisse Buckingham (flute, soprano sax), Masala B (spoken word), The Origin of Species Quartet, The Reykjavik String Quartet and The Chamber Orchestra Of London (conductor Matt Dunkley). Phew.
So what’s it all about? Well, the year is 2028 and the world is, predictably, shafted. Climate change and continuing conflicts have caused the human population to drop, and the good old Gaia is pretty much trying to shake us off like a dog with a bad case of fleas.
The album follows DarWin, a man who wakes up in a cave one morning with no memory of how he got there. On his travels, he is cybernetically augmented by a group of women and the powers he gains could help save himself and, indeed, the Earth.
As I said… all very hippyish and prog, and also very sci-fi. Importantly, it works incredibly well with the music. Origin of Species really transcends the category of “album” and is very much a multimedia project. The album ships with a beautiful graphic novel, and the videos being produced alongside it bolster the story too.
The music is fantastic and as I hinted at earlier, it’s an eclectic mixture of songs. At opposite sides of the scale are the balladic, female-vocaled “Cosmic Rays” which wouldn’t be out of place on an Aretha Franklin album if she was feeling a little maudlin, and “War Against My Mind”, which closes the album and which (for half its length anyway) is a belting rock track, fading into a lengthy and intricate guitar solo with string backing.
Such is the album, and it pretty much defines the phrase “greater than the sum of its parts”. Each of these 17 nuggets of music is superb in its own right, but glued together as they have been with an overarching theme, and the kind of choreography you could expect from a hit Broadway or West End musical results in something very special indeed.
An album to wallow in, or to lie back and let it wash over you, Origin of Species is too polite to demand your attention – instead it just makes you realise that it’s more important than whatever else you were doing and invites you to listen to it intently. Nigh on ninety minutes of the highest quality progressive rock I have heard in a very long time.
Origin of Species is out on November 30th