Secret Treaties - Secret Treaties

Year of Release: 2001
Label: Self-released, dist by Fossil Records
Catalog Number: EJCD-001
Format: CD
Total Time: 46:09:00

It's hard not to like an album that is so cheerful, happy, and accessible ? except that sometimes those very elements make an album seem lightweight and uninteresting. While I wouldn't say that about Secret Treaties, the vocalist ? and, in fact, the only member, playing everything himself ? Ed James sounds so darn happy ? like a fresh-faced cherub. In fact, he sounds very much like Herman Saming of Sweden's A.C.T. (especially on "She's Come Undone," which is not a Guess Who cover). On the other hand, his guitar tone and style is a bit more "mature," his leads being the best thing about this album ? fantastic playing (though I read elsewhere that drums are his main instrument*). And, he is certainly earnest, creating his 80s-styled, guitar based, AOR with a great deal of sincerity and gusto. On the other hand, it also makes the music seem overly familiar. You feel you have heard it before, though you can't quite place the artist (in some cases). But, the secret is that this album is very good, because it contains everything one likes about AOR. Yes, that's a lot of flip-flopping and "buts"?

While there is a soft-focus haze around the edges of many tracks, the album is otherwise well recorded and produced. You can't really tell that James is alone on this release, as he fits all the parts together seamlessly including spot on vocal harmonies. This album just picks you up and carries you along on 11 tracks of hummable, memorable AOR. On the back sleeve James namechecks Rush, Styx, Toto and Kansas, but none really crop up in his sound ? elements here and there, yes, but nothing that made me look for references (though having read Steven Ellis' review at Prog4You, and his hearing a bit of Geddy Lee in James' voice? well, I see what he means, but it didn't hit me right away). However, a Genesis reference can be made, but only because the verses of "Just The Facts" have the same rhythm as "We Can't Dance." But once we get to the chorus, the comparison ends. And I thought of Little River Band in the guitar intro to the punchier "Don't Follow Me" (think the "Down On The Border") which also made me think of a heavier Firefall (think of "Strange Way"). "Best Laid Plans" made me think of Nuclear Furniture-period Jefferson Starship, and yet the reference came backwards, in that it wasn't until hearing "Jane" on the radio that it came to me. But in no instance to the songs sound like those mention, just a general sense.

As you might have guessed thus far, this album is chock-full of hooks that will transport you back to the 80s ? I wouldn't call it prog, and I don't think that is intended to be (though there is an instrumental keyboard interlude in "Where Is Love" that wouldn't seem out of place on a neo-prog release, except that it is a little more poppier). But the sound lies somewhere between guitar rock and AOR/pop-rock.

The happiness is limited to the sound, however, as the lyrics are much darker in subject matter ? "She's Come Undone" details the emotional decline of a star on the rise (and one can't help but think of Marilyn Monroe); "Perfect World" takes a fatalistic view of humanities role in the universe (running counter to the message that one person can make a difference), "Best Laid Plans" might just as easily about the US' current occupation in Iraq, except that this album was recorded in 2001; "Windows" is about making choices in life. About the only track that doesn't take a weighty subject is the strutting, blues-rock styled closing track, "Swimsuit Body And A Catfish Head" ? bizarre male fantasy of his ideal woman? that I suppose if one were to analyze it with psychological ? Freudian or Jungian -- scrutiny, we'd find that it isn't lightweight either.

Secret Treaties is a great album, not just for what it is and what style it is, but just is. Ed James is an engaging guitarist, his leads coming across smoothly and prettily. It is pleasant and goes down quite easily. But (there's that word again), if you are used to listening to harder-edged material, or more challenging music (e.g. RIO), then this will seem very tame to you. But if you love classic AOR/guitar rock, then seek this one out.

Unfortunately it seems Ed James and Secret Treaties have disappeared except for references to this album (a few) and to its earlier (demo) incarnation as The Trade ? Perfect World. James seems to have released an album called Meet Ed James in 1999 and another, Poprocket in 2000 (?), too. You can hear tracks from Secret Treaties, as of this writing, at Fossil Records, who also have it available (it appears) for purchase.

She's Come Undone (5:06) / Perfect World (3:48) / Smoke And Mirrors (5:33) / Best Laid Plans (4:07) / Black And White (3:22) / Just The Facts (3:36) / Rudy (4:48) / Where Is Love? (5:23) / Windows (4:56) / Don't Follow Me (4:00) / Swimsuit Body And A Catfish Head (3:33)

Ed James ? guitars, keys, programming?

Ed James - Meet Ed James (1999)
Ed James - Poprocket (2000?)
Secret Treaties (2001) (aka Perfect World as The Trade)

Genre: Melodic Rock-AOR

Origin US

Added: January 11th 2004
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1398
Language: english


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