A.C.T - Imaginary Friend

Year of Release: 2001
Label: MTM
Catalog Number: 0681-31
Format: CD
Total Time: 58:13:00

With A.C.T. on the bill for Progpower Europe 2002, I had certain expectations of what they might sound like; without being obvious, progressive or power metal -- Symphony X or Balance Of Power, for example. Or like Threshold maybe. Well, what came out of my speakers when I first put in Imaginary Friend did meet my expectations -- for about a minute or so. I would describe A.C.T.'s overall sound as what might happen if Saga and Spock's Beard collaborated on project, bringing in a bit of a Yes influence and a whole lot of a Queen influence to the music, with both Phil Collins and Steven Tyler (Aerosmith) on vocals. What does that mean? It rocks with an over-the-top dramatic flair with a lot of harmony.

If you dismiss this after one listen as being too pop with not enough prog or metal content - you miss quite a bit: heavy guitars, neat keyboard textures, nice harmonies, cello, violins... there is a great deal of intelligence behind the accessible arrangements. It's popish, sure, but that is its charm. It's Broadway with a wink and an infectious enthusiasm. No, it's not an album you can listen to over and over again, as the energy can be tiring, though I have been listening to it all of yesterday and most of today. I mean, if you hate Phil Collins as a vocalist, you might dislike the squeaky, cherubic way that Herman Samling sings, even though he sounds more like a Phil/Steven hybrid... Yes comes in with the vocal harmonies. Saga comes through with the chunky guitar rhythms (notably on "Biggest Mistake"). Spock's Beard is in the structure of the songs -- if you think of the vast, epic feel that Spock's Beard have, and put a more Broadway spin on it... If you think of all the great Broadway shows, how the music is big, playing to the nosebleed seats, where the gestures are grand, that's what you get here. The exception being the almost mournful "Catherine" (or, as on the sleeve, "And They Lived Happily Ever After"), the most serious moment on the whole album - a song about a father's remorse over the effect divorce is having on his daughter. Maybe not the wisest choice to end the album, though there is a longish span of near silence separating the two. And, the latter half of the CD is called "Relationships - The Long One" so... the song of it being over is, thematically, the right note to hit, but... it comes in stark contrast to the cheerfulness of what came before.

That bit of Yes comes in during some harmonies in the first track, "Take It Easy," but most of the rest of the album has the feel of Queen's A Night At The Opera. Not quite as diverse as "Bohemian Rhapsody" but you can hear how it certainly was of some influence in "No Perspective" -- here played up to the hilt. Musically, at times I also thought of more recent Savatage. Which is very diverse kind of sound. Yes, sonically it's very textured, somewhat frenetic, yet nearly always with a hard rocking drive. One will think of Queen certainly during "Hippest Flop," though the initial bouncing rhythm made me think of Billy Joel's "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" (from Greatest Hits Vol 1. & 2., and this time not the vocals). You'll hear Steven Tyler in the vocals of "A Supposed Tour," which also makes me think of the more "humorous" Genesis pieces - "Harold The Barrel," "Robbery, Assault, Battery." Also with "Biggest Mistake," which is like the ensemble piece that features the entire cast. "She/Male" sounds a bit like "Mr. Blue Sky" by ELO... There's a beautiful moment that comes in "Gamophobia" that is quite dramatic and epic all done with keyboards it seems - tinkling over hear, groaning over there. A bit like Marillion in a way, actually, and a bit like Steve Roach -- a moment that hangs there... a word like "sublime" comes to mind.

There is a great deal of humour in this album, which is very subtle, as you really need to pay attention to the lyrics. Take "Mr. Unfaithful," for example and the lyric of the chorus "Mrs. Unware, please wake up and kick that husband out the door / he should wipe the floor, that lump / Working late, business trips, traffic delays / Lady he's lying, don't stand there and gaze / Aim at the ball and say: "No do you feel OK? / You're a classic case for Jerry. Springer." Well, infidelity is a serious matter, of course, but... well, they're right. A cheating husband just might need a kick in the... "Imaginary Friends." Who are these imaginary friends? Flickering images on the TV - mainly they are referring to soap operas, which can be so involving for hooked watchers that it becomes reality. I have to say that I can totally identify with the song as I have come in the middle of conversations by my co-workers and having to wait a moment before I realized they were discussing General Hospital or One Life To Live.

Not every song is humourous, mind you, "Biggest Mistake" isn't really. Thematically it asks how might the person who receives confirmation that there is, indeed, life "out there" feel? The implication that these aliens will be hell bent on earth's destruction... "No Perspective" is a bit creepy... "A Supposed Tour" is based on their band's experiences in trying to tour with Saga in 1999. After their show in their hometown of Malmö, errors by the booking agent, meant this was their only show on the tour. A year later, they toured with Fish in Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

Imaginary Friends is an interesting album, and the band's an interesting choice for Progpower, I think. It's likeable and cute, but not in a way that becomes wearing after a while -- though, as I said, the energy might wear you out.

Take It Easy (4:27) / Hippest Flop (4:48) / A Supposed Tour (4:41) /Biggest Mistake (7:49) / Imaginary Friends (5:50) / She/Male (4:47) / At The Altar (0:38) / Svetlana (3:42) / No Perspective (1:06) / Second Thoughts (0:54) / Mr. Unfaithful (7:04) / Gamophobia (0:46) / Little Beauty (4:18) / And They Lived Happily Ever After/ Catherine (7:23)

Jerry Sahlin - synthesizers, vocals, backing vocals, vocoder, and synthetic drums (11)
Ola Andersson - electric and acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Peter Asp - bass, backing vocals
Herman Saming - lead vocals, backing vocals, silent trumpet
Tomas Erlandsson - drums, percussion, backing vocals; lead vocals and keyboards (14)

"The Acting Orchestra"
Anna Blomkvist - violin 1
Karolina Sjöholm - violin 2
Diana Crafoord - viola
Lisa Fagius - cello

Additional musicians

Pelle Saeter - backing vocals (4, 5)

Today's Report (1999)
Imaginary Friend (2001)
Last Epic (2003)
Silence (2006)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin SE

Added: September 29th 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.myspace.com/actworld
Hits: 1099
Language: english


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