Covered Mirror Vol. 1: Smooth As Silk

Unitopia

Birds Robe Records, 2012

http://www.unitopiamusic.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/11/2012

This disc is billed as “songs that inspire Unitopia,” which is a polite way of saying that this is a covers album. An odd move for a band’s fourth studio disc, as it seems to signal a lack of ideas, but judging by the liner notes, it appears the band is recording two or three new albums in the next couple of years.

So, Covered Mirror ends up being a way station between releases, a chance for this Australian seven-piece neo-progressive-rock outfit to stretch out a bit and pay homage to the founding fathers of art rock as we know it. Is it successful? Not quite, but neither is it a waste of time.

Unitopia is one of the few current bands that consider themselves progressive rock, which is a catch-all term for bands that play very long songs with spacey or sci-fi-inspired lyrics, or that favor instrumental virtuosity over passion. Where this band differs is their use of New Age music and instruments, which creates an atmosphere that is meant to transport the listener to another place.

The problem is that so much of this atmosphere sounds like simple keyboard whooshing over slow world beats; rarely does the music rise and fall, tense and release, grip you and hold you. That approach transforms a few of these songs into something truly remarkable and leaves the rest to elicit a shrug.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Unitopia has a gift for melody that, along with their tendency to play everything slow and serious, can be compelling. Notable examples are the Korgis cover “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime” and the Alan Parsons Project’s “To One In Paradise,” both of which offer a beautiful melancholy. Supertramp’s “Even In The Quietest Moments” is made in a similar image with added strings; it is as good as the take on Led Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song,” which has a quiet beauty totally different in sound, but not spirit, from the superb original.

One would expect a progressive rock band to have something present by Genesis and Yes, and Unitopia does so in the form of two ten-minute medleys. The Genesis medley is fine – singer Mark Trueack is a dead ringer for Peter Gabriel anyway – starting with a vastly improved “The Silent Sun” and moving through three other snippets before ending with a slowed-down “The Carpet Crawlers.” Fans of old Genesis will enjoy it a bit, though it is hardly worth revisiting more than a couple times.

However, the Yes medley is a disaster. The band does nothing more than noodle with those New Age atmospherics while Trueack emotes dramatically from the slower portions of “Awaken,” “Soon,” the middle of “Close To The Edge” and “Onward.” The thing then closes with six minutes of “Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” stretching it out painfully and needlessly. Whether you like Yes or not, the whole thing is just awful.

A cover of Todd Rundgren’s “Can We Still Be Friends” is deadly serious and dull, while “Man Of Colours” and “Easter” don’t go anywhere and “Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft” is silly and repetitive. Side note: Unitopia heard the Carpenters’ version of this song (!) first but covered the Klaatu version. “The Way The Waters Are Moving” closes things out on a sleepy note.

Covered Mirror should have been so much more, especially coming from a group this talented and with such great source material from which to draw. It works as a relaxing and moody trip but too infrequently rises to the level of which it aspires, although the best moments here are worth hearing by fans of the original bands or modern progressive rock.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 2012 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Birds Robe Records, and is used for informational purposes only.