So Exactly Where Are We?

Lightspeed

Lightspeed Records, 1992

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/09/1998

Progressive rock is a creature that is revered by some, reviled by others. To its fans, it is a form of music that, not unlike jazz, embraces the exploration of the musical instruments and pushes them to their limits. To its critics, it embodies the excesses of music and formless display of talent (or lack thereof).

In one sense, that's why I was surprised that Canadian band Lightspeed blatantly touts itself as a progressive rock band, possibly alienating a group of fans that might have otherwise been drawn to them. But "progressive" is quite the misnomer for the band, as heard on their 1992 debut So Exactly Where Are We?, an independent release. If anything, they are more of a rock band than in a progressive vein - and though there are a few rough moments, they show why they have become quite popular in their homeland.

For their first recorded effort, vocalist John Persichini and crew have crafted some solid works that, at times, do echo strains of progressive rock, but they remind me more of a stretched-out Survivor than a King Crimson wannabe. Guitarist Gene Murray proves himself to be a more than capable axeman - to his credit, he is just as interested in crafting a rhythm line as he is a solo. Bassist Rod Chappell and keyboardist Sandy Nemecek provide a solid anchor to the music, while drummer Terry Crawford doesn't often show his true talents on the skins. In fact, the two live tracks at the end of the album seem to give Crawford more freedom, and his work on these songs is both admirable and jaw-dropping.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The biggest criticism one could level against Lightspeed is a fixation on progressiveness while occasionally failing to hit that target. Songs like "The Bottom Line" and "Miss You Now" are decent enough tracks, but I'd be hard-pressed to compare them to such progressive acts like Yes or Gentle Giant. It almost is like they lose their focus, and the songs tend to drift a bit from center.

The songs on So Exactly Where Are We? are quite cerebral, not unlike their country-mates Rush. "The Bottom Line" is a scathing attack on the way business operates, worrying more about profit than people, while "Visiting Hours," on which Crawford and Persichini switch places in the band, is a poignant tribute to someone in the clutches of mental illness whom the protagonist cares for.

But it is when the pop aspects of their work come out that So Exactly Where Are We? succeeds the most. "Shine On" is a decent rocker with great harmony vocals, while the live numbers "Restless Heart" and "Bring Back The Fire" are simply incredible performances and songs - and it is nice to hear Nemecek turned up a little more in the mix of these songs. (It's often said of up-and-coming bands that they're better live than in the studio; with all due respect to Lightspeed, these two songs blew me away more than the studio efforts.)

Lightspeed's reputation has been cemented in Canada (or, at least, in the province of Ontario), but they have yet to break into the big time in the United States. So Exactly Where Are We? was a very good first effort, but didn't bring them heavy airplay, hit singles or a lucrative recording contract. And in truth, this may have been the better thing to happen to them - for they have now had a few more years to hone their skills, and have released another album in the interim. (If I remember reading correctly on their Web site, they plan to have a new album out this year.)

So Exactly Where Are We? is a great introduction to Lightspeed, but treat it only as a rough sketch of the band's power that was still being refined. They needed to refocus their sights on the music, and not the labels attached to it - that would be half the battle. Did they succeed? You be the judge.

Rating: B

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen 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 Lightspeed Records, and is used for informational purposes only.