Darwin's Radio - Eyes Of The World

Year of Release: 2006
Label: independent
Catalog Number: DR002
Format: CD
Total Time: 57:50:00

Continuing my 2007 festival season preparation, we continue with the following:

While Eyes Of The World is Darwin's Radio's full-length debut, there are at least two names in the band's line up that are familiar to followers of UK prog - Mark Westworth (keyboards, backing vocals) and Sean Spear (bass, bass pedal). They were once part of Grey Lady Down, who released three albums in the mid-nineties, split, made a brief comeback in 2001, but dispersed again. The other pair of the quartet are Declan Burke (vocals, guitar) and David Pankhurst (drums, backing vocals); Burke was previously in the Rush tribute band Spirit of Rush (along current drummer Tim Churchman). Incidentally, I was all set to point out that the band has nothing to do with the Greg Bear sci-fi novel Darwin's Radio, but in making sure was true, I learned through an interview at Prog4You, written by our own Joshua Turner, that Westworth and Spear were indeed inspired by the title and the overall theme of the novel, and adopted it as the band's moniker. But, there does not seem to be any direct lyrical references between the songs and the novel.

I've deliberately not gone back to those GLD CDs so that I can judge Darwin's Radio as its own entity. Though if you liked Grey Lady Down then it's expected that you will like Darwin's Radio. I do. It's the kind of progressive rock that drew me into the genre to begin with.

There is no doubt that Darwin's Radio are UK prog. It's a style, a mode, a mood, a flavor we know well. In its mix you will definitely hear echoes of Marillion, Jadis, Pallas, Pendragon, and ELP. Perhaps the first mostly, especially in the mellow, acoustic-like, and balladic "Windows To Your Soul;" that mostly in the epic construction of the piece and emotive, spacey guitar playing (think "Easter," "Estonia"). (And you just know that I love Steve Rothery's guitar playing). Although the piano-like keyboards hint at some sections of Misplaced Childhood, for the most part they direct away from Marillion. Burke sounds a bit like Steve Hogarth, however; if raspier, which in other tracks also makes him sound a bit like Steve Walsh (and, in scanning Scott Pierce*'s review, I agree with him on the Richard Marx comparison; that does capture Burke's voice best).

What sets Darwin's Radio apart are the jazz touches that can be found throughout (notably in "Erase?Rewind" and "Amber Skies") and more a reliance on harmonies. And I find Burke's guitar solos more direct than his prog-brethren; during transitional sections within a piece, the guitar phrases become Rothery like - feathery, breathy, subtle touches.

Genesis is channeled in the opening to "Erase ? Rewind," which opens the album. It doesn't sound like "Watcher In The Skies," but there is some compositional references, and certainly, there's more than a bit of Genesis-like stylistic flourishes to the intro. The organ is a bit more organy, the drums a bit more declarative, however. This blossoms into pure, modern, UK prog. There's some 70s soft-rock warm-fuzzies about this piece, too, but not the kind of stuff that will make you groan.

"Stronger" and "Eccentric Orbits" pick up on the heavy throb of Rush. "Stronger" is an upbeat track, that sets the guitars quietly churning behind a strident drum, all with a pop-rock catchiness. "Eccentric Orbits" puts busy guitar work at the forefront over a pulsating drum and bass beat (it recalls various classic Rush tracks, including "YYZ," "Leave That Thing Alone" - it's an instrumental, too), and adds the un-Rush like element of perky Hammond organ; it's a hint fusiony, lacking the kind of fire say Niacin would throw in, but doesn't mean it isn't fiery, it just a heat of a cooler temperature. And I can't say that drummer Pankhurst isn't trying to channel Peart in his brief drum solo. Woozy, bubbly organ and keyboard phrases seem Emersonian. Live, I suspect the band could throw in a few "prog nods" into the mix and they'd flow right in.

"Glass Tiger's Eye" has more a mid-west rock kick to it, "pure" rock 'n' roll, but it's also at times a bit like Styx, a bit like Kansas, but not quite either exactly. Organ pants alongside sparse percussion; screaming guitar is sometimes buried in the mix. And it seems to play it's rock-out feel close to vest; almost as if the band aren't sure they want to go full-steam rock 'n' roll here.

The spacey, airy "Lapse Of Sensation" reminds me of Window Of Life-period Pendragon (cf. "Stargazing"), but lacking the Floydian guitar textures, even as they have Barrett-like guitar phrases (cf. "Stargazing"). That's before warm, Steely Dan-like keyboards come in to cast this with a different character (they almost hint at "Josie"). These then give away to something darker, cooler, even some chilly-parpy keyboard phrases, and eventually, it becomes very dark and growly (the guitars - not Burke vocally). Even the Emerson-like parpy organ has a somewhat sinister lighting? The latter portion of this track reminds me a bit of Subterreanea-period IQ, even as Burke has a smoother, "sweeter" voice.

The mellow, piano/vocal-centric piece "Amber Skies" recalls, at least to me, Discipline, Echolyn, and Spock's Beard. This is a pop-jazz like piece, warm and misty, and also very evocative of the 70s?

More than a sum of its influences, Darwin's Radio truly takes on a musical life of its own. I've said it more than once, what you have here is a band using an established palette, then taking those colours and mixing them with other non-traditional colours. Highlights for me are "Windows?" "Stronger," and "Amber Skies," but I like the whole album. And it's the kind of album that I can see my esteem for it growing as time goes by, as it will surely keep finding its way into my player. The rating below is conservative; as I'm not sure whether it's yet a full-on 5/5, though I think it will be in my top picks come the end of the year.

*In the same interview referenced above we also get a name-check for our own Scott, who put a good word for DR in to RoSFest's George Roldan. Good call, Scott? and George, 'natch.

Erase ... Rewind / Stronger / Windows To Your Soul / Glass Tiger's Eye / Lapse Of Sensation / Eccentric Orbits / Amber Skies / The Vast Within

Declan Burke - vocals, guitar
Mark Westworth - keyboards, vocals
Sean Spear - bass
David Parkhurst - drums, vocals

Pictures (ep) (2003)
Eyes Of The World (2006)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: November 5th 2006
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.darwinsradio.co.uk
Hits: 1681
Language: english


[ Back to Reviews Index | Post Comment ]