This American band was founded as a Rush-inspired trio way back in 1990, disbanded in 1997 only to reunite a decade later. So far they have delivered four studio albums and a recording of their reunion gigs, but I have managed to NOT listen to anything from them in all that time. Well, about time to get that fixed. Doing a bit of research on the Background website I notice that their last release from 2012, The Long Division (see review) (see Jury's Verdict) met with mixed responses. Some people struggled with 3RDegree's eclectic approach while the “mixture of different styles seems to work perfectly” according to our main editor. So expectations were pretty high on my part for my first actual (conscious) encounter with 3RDegree's music.
The album (packaged into a nice slim digipack that illustrates the title) is some kind of a concept (with a possibility of a sequel, if I understand the “Volume 1” correctly) that takes us a few years into the future. It deals with what happens when the current trend of consistently upgrading personal electronics extends beyond the simple items like a phone. What happens when technology starts to mend with biology? So we are introduced to Valhalla Biotech, a firm that can help you doing such upgrades and around which the story seems to revolve.
There's a short intro with electronic sounds and a female computer voice before The Gravity starts the album quite un-prog-like with poppy and very loose wandering (harmony) singing that reminds me of someone. Is it Beach Boys? Not quite. Not Polyphonic Spree either (although both come close). Maybe Maroon 5? I would say that Steely Dan is definitely an influence of the band as witnessed by the way they merge a fusion tinge in almost anything they do. The music underneath does contain some mild references to Rush in any case, even though not quite all too complex or heavy.
The rocky This Is The future has an answering machine message halfway through and then launches into fast-paced prog-pop piece where the light-hearted singing actually works against the band. I think they would have benefited from a heavier/rougher singer here instead of the rather thin lead voice of George Dobbs (who is a great and distinctive singer, make no mistake!). Life also starts with an advert and I wonder if the sci-fi adverts in-between the music aren't going to be tiring (or even annoying) over time. I've experienced this with other conceptswhere I have found that effects may get in the way of songs (in the same way that some announcements on live albums can wear out over time), so I wonder if the band shouldn't have indexed these adverts and messages on the disc so they can be skipped. Anyway, I haven't reached the saturation point yet, so I'll stop complaining about this.
When I played the album at first, I found that I lost a bit of my attention halfway the album, not really helped by the fact that pieces flow into each other and are pretty much alike. But, upon repeated listening to the album I started to discover more and more details that stand out, like the wonderful guitar solo in the Steely Dan-like Circuit Court, What It Means To Be Human has some pretty convoluted vocal lines and interesting rhythmic patterns or the electric piano on closing piece More Life. What stands out in any case are the great harmony vocals- five out of six band members contribute to the singing and they do a great job. Which also applies to the instrumental work that is fairly complex, yet interestingly sounding, really accessible, funky (!) and easy.
In conclusion I must say that 3RDegree has a remarkable original sound unlike pretty much any other progressive rock band (although I still have that nagging feeling in the back of my mind that the vocals remind me of another group, but I can't remember which one - must be my age...). I'll have to get my hands on their back catalogue and discover if it's as interesting as this new disc!
**** Carsten Busch (edited by Astrid de Ronde)
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