GPS - Window To The Soul

Year of Release: 2006
Label: InsideOut
Catalog Number: IOMCD 247 / SPV 48852 CD
Format: CD
Total Time: 00:00:00

So, let's navigate our way through this release from the trio of GPS. While I won't give you turn by turn directions, I will give you some highlights along the way, point out points of interest, and let you know when we've reached our destination.

John Payne is a name many of you might recognize as the one-time vocalist for Asia. His tenure ended when the original line up reformed, meaning that Payne, Jay Schellen and Guthrie Govan were out. But not down and out, as Payne resurfaced with Schellen and Guthrie in this configuration, GPS. Payne also has his solo career, releasing the compilation CD Different Worlds last year, and this year also live release under the moniker Asia featuring John Payne. Guthrie Govan, in addition to Asia and GPS, is or has been in various other bands including Erotic Cakes, his own band. Jay Schellen has been playing drums in various groups since at least 1981 including a stint with Badfinger, Stone Fury, and Hurricane. Also guiding the music is keyboard Ryo Okumoto of Spock's Beard.

So, what you're probably wondering is: does GPS sound like Asia? No, not really, except that GPS trade in the same progressive leaning AOR rock. This GPS until is hard plastic and scratch resistant glass with well insulated electronics. You can drop it and it won't break. Or, in human terms, melodic rock that is often ballsy and aggressive without shifting into metal, all with an epic feel with harmonized choruses and big sweeps of sound. GPS is a bit heavier, punchier? masculine. Maybe that's because has a husky voice that reminds me of Russell Allen, but rather than Symphony X being the comment, it should be Allen's Atomic Soul project, although this isn't as bluesy. Or maybe because Schellen can drum like a mad man - hear him pounding away at one point during "Heaven Can Wait" for example. But mostly it's because they do muscle their way through Window To The Soul's 10 tracks. There is no shortage of guitar solos either, and Govan has a clear, sharp sound - a precision instrument with a lot of expression. Govan I mean, but the guitar, too.

The path is laid down from the outset with throbbing, pounding title track, "Window To The Soul." One thing that shies this away from metal is the lack of double-bass from Schellen. He's a far more dynamic player that he doesn't need to rely on that. Even Okumoto's widdly keyboard solo has heft, it's darker in tone and attitude than the term "widdly" would imply. "Neo-prog"-esque, in a way? certainly wouldn't out of place on a Marillion, Arena, or Pendragon release, say.

"Heaven Can Wait" is a track that serves as this album's highlight. It?s a mid-tempo power ballad of a sort. Although Payne's grizzled vocals can be a tad to grizzled at times, its Govan's easy, breezy playing that makes this track work. My favorite moment though is at the 4:30 mark - when we get a sweet keyboard solo. Ok, that short section does make me think of, on occasion, Styx's "Babe," but that shouldn't be seen as a minus at all. My second favorite moment is Govan's solo at the 6:45 mark - fiery without being over the top or wild; and Okumoto's keys churn and pump away beneath.

"Written On The Wind" is a piece that follows a road that Kansas has been down. That means to me a mid-western feel in rock context. Not country rock - Okumoto's pretty, rolling, classical, jazzy keyboard phrases certainly take it out of that; and Govan's tight and throaty solo is, I think, too wild and complex for a country tune. But, like many another song about the westward expansion of the European settlers of what is now the US and the subjugation of Native Americans, there's a sense of swirling dust and the feel of the great outdoors. It also has a touch of an old-world feel with the acoustic guitar intro. No violins or anything else that's particularly Kansas-like, but? it has a warm, open feel.

"The Objector" begins as if they'll breaking into a version of "White Room" goes off into a dialog between guitar lead fusion (and mostly guitar) and lacy, shimmery guitar phrases. Oh, during the solo, keyboards joining for some energetic interplay, but the drums in both sides stay steadily mid-tempo. Not that there isn't a lot of drum work, but the focus is Govan and Okumoto. Tying the two aspects together is the vocals of Payne. Subject wise, the objector is a fellow who was taught "how to love / And they showed him how to feel" and is sent off to war and dies because he didn't shoot. RPWL addressed the topic similarly in "Stranger," although from the soldier's point of view rather than the third person perspective here on "The Objector." And this is to be expected, I suppose with the conflict in Iraq going on even as the setting could be any conflict past, present or future.

"Gold" takes me back to the 70s, and does so convincingly. And it is the other time where I thought of Asia. It's a slinky, strutting piece, filled with slightly fuzzy guitar phrases, brief snatches of organ (noticeably right at the beginning). The track shimmers and glistens and is so? so very 70s. This first time I thought of Asia was in "New Jerusalem," a track where an epic wash of keyboards open, followed by a shimmery guitar and mid-tempo, throbbing drums that form the core. It's also where the band get the most proggy when we get to Okumoto's keyboard solo, as on "Window" (which it follows), it is has some "neo-prog" aspects, but also circus-music like phrases cartwheel down, given the whole affair a dizzying swirl.

Muscle is what they do going through "Since You've Been Gone," which is an unsentimental track. Perhaps because there is no sentiment involved. This is not a guy gettin' all emo over a lost love. Rather, it's more like he's declaring triumph. False bravado? No, it doesn't play that way. Who knows, maybe it's not about a romance at all. It's a mid-tempo, easy going, and otherwise unremarkable track. I mean it's good, it's catchy, but also seems generic. The ending is a little "twee," which takes all the "manliness" out of what is a tough, uncompromising track with some high pitched male vocals -- the rest of the band contributing backing vocals. (Elsewhere they don't suffer from this wimpiness).

"Taken Dreams" is another blustery rocker, one that shifts for a moment into near "neo-prog" realms owing to some keyboard parts from Okumoto. Again, Govan's guitar playing takes us back into AOR/hard rock territory. I don't mind the near neo aspects, and they don't seem out of place in this track.

There are some pieces that are ok, but don't quite work entirely for me "I Believe In Yesterday" and "All My Life" are two such tracks. In the latter, I just find myself wanting something a little more, a little more life in Payne's vocals. And the whole chorus comes across as awkward. Govan's guitar solo here could have been shrill, but it comes just shy of it, leaving it as a highlight. Listening to this song, I can say that 70s AOR is alive and well, even if it's not very lively.

Having reached our destination, what can we say about the journey? Well, you won't get lost listening to Window To The Soul - one, because it's not so distracting that you'll forget where you going, and two, because they aren't charting new territory so there are enough signposts to chart your way. It's not tired or anything, as there is certainly enough vim and vigor in the performances that you don't feel as if they doing a retread. They don't intend to be a trailblazing progressive rock band anyway (I'm not sure who is anymore, at least of anyone with "traditional" rock idioms involved?). You will enjoy the journey and find it a nice accompaniment to any road trip. The highlights for me are the guitar playing of Govan and the keyboard work from Okumoto.

Window To The Soul / New Jerusalem / Heaven Can Wait / Written On The Wind / I Believe In Yesterday / The Objector / All My Life / Gold / Since You've Been Gone / Taken Dreams

Guthrie Govan - guitars
John Payne - vocals, bass, guitar
Jay Schellen - drums, percussion
Ryo Okumoto - keyboards

Window To The Soul (2006)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: June 16th 2008
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1650
Language: english


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