The Unknown


Inside Out, 2003

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Pete Frame, where are you when we need you?

Alright then, we’ll just have to do this the old-fashioned way.  The material intended to comprise first full album from the team of Yes bassist/harmony vocalist-for-life Chris Squire and sometime Yes utilityman Billy Sherwood – under the name The Chris Squire Experiment -- ended up becoming Yes’s 1997 album Open Your Eyes.  The subsequent Squire-Sherwood collaboration was credited to the two men jointly and titled Conspiracy.  The third in this loose trilogy -- disjointed in some respects, but musically quite cohesive -- came with the 2003 Sherwood-Squire album The Unknown, this time credited to Conspiracy, a group consisting of Squire, Sherwood, and Jay Schellen.  The latter being the drummer from World Trade, the band Sherwood was leading when Squire first sought him out in 1989.  Oh, and there’s a song called “Conspiracy,” but it’s on this album by Conspiracy, not the previous one called Conspiracy.  Still with me?

Good.  The third Squire-Sherwood collaboration finds the duo bouncing back from the rather lifeless Conspiracy album to deliver a significantly more entertaining disc.  The music is still fundamentally arena-prog in the 80s Yes vein, but the melodies are stronger, the music more varied, and the playing more dynamic. 

Squire in particular has a great time with the bounding bass lines of cuts like the opening “Conspiracy,” a thumping arena rocker with creative changes and strong harmony vocals.  In an immediate shift from the samey-ness that infected my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Conspiracy, “Confess” follows with an acoustic opening that rapidly builds into a propulsive tune with a bit of an “Open Your Eyes” feel. 

The seven-minutes-plus “New World” is an early highlight, full of superb Squire riffage and enough musical shifts to push it to the verge of blossoming into a prog-style suite.  It’s an entertaining ride, if you can just ignore the string-o-cliches lyric (“All aboard now / Rolling across the nation / Station to station… It’s the New World train on a one way track / It’s a one way ticket and there’s no way back”).

“Half A World Away” and “There Is No End” aren’t especially memorable, but do at least add some variety to the duo’s standard slick AOR palette, as the former takes advantage of Squire’s choral approach to arranging the duo’s tandem lead vocals, while the latter features Sherwood laying down some uncharacteristically bluesy guitar.  From there it’s more shiny-pretty arena prog in the Asia-Trevor Rabin vein until the closing title track, where things take a turn for the cool.

“The Unknown” is the only epic-length tune here at 11 minutes, and offers a welcome shift from the template as guest guitarist Jimmy Haun layers rich helpings of acoustic string-bending over a funky, unpredictable time signature.  Meanwhile Squire pumps out slow, fat bass notes that function more as decorative elements than rhythmic markers.  The track moves through multiple shifts in tempo and arrangement, not always hanging together perfectly, but displaying tremendous chops and bravado along the way.  Among them, Haun’s squirrelly electric soloing in the middle and latter sections evokes Alex Lifeson, a compliment indeed.

What’s interesting to this Circa fan is to consider how this album both presages and stands apart from Circa.  Given that both groups feature Sherwood, Schellen and a founding member of Yes, why is Circa -- which also features Haun -- so much stronger?  Haun’s guest shot on “The Unknown” points to the answer, which really comes down to the old baseball principle of putting your players at their best positions.  Sherwood handles himself respectably on guitar and keyboards, but he’d be the first to tell you that (a) his best instrument is bass, and (b) Tony Kaye and Jimmy Haun are world-class players.  

The Unknown is a pleasant-enough conclusion to the Sherwood-Squire trilogy, too sheeny and Rabinesque for this reviewer in places, but plenty engaging and dynamic.

Rating: B-

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© 2010 Jason Warburg 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 Inside Out, and is used for informational purposes only.