Review Summary: Richard Barbieri brings his trademark sounds to the foreground, and the results, while interesting, are somewhat dissapointing
Richard Barbrieri, keyboardist of Porcupine Tree and Japan, returns with his second solo album, Stranger Inside. Throughout his 30+ year career, he has crafted a reputation that sets him apart from others in the genre. He doesn’t play incredibly fast and virtuosic like the Jordan Rudesses of the world, but instead Mr. Barbrieri creates ambient soundscapes that are unrivaled in the progressive rock genre.
Well, how does his album stack up against his past work? It is clear that Mr. Barbrieri is a programming genius; on his solo works he brings his ambient sounds that is usually in the background of Porcupine Tree albums and brings it to the foreground. Constructed over the ambiance are truly unique synth melodies and various percussive beats that convey his master hold upon the programming element of music.
Despite his proficiency with technology, the songwriting factor just isn't here. The songs just don’t really connect with any emotions. There are some interesting ideas, such as "All Fall Down" ,which is based upon a sample of children singing “ring around the rosie” accompanied by drummer Gavin Harrison (also of Porcupine Tree), as well as vocal samples donated by Suzanne Barbieri and Tim Bowness. The song begins with a looped piano pattern and the layers just keep building for the next two-and-half minutes with synthesized guitar sounds, fretless bass, and other keyboard instruments. As mentioned above however, there really isn’t anything to connect with as the listener. The next song, "Hypnotek," brings to mind Massive Attack, with another piano introduction atop a trip-hop-esque beat. The second half of the song, however, transforms into where only Richard can go: the beat picks up and what can only be described as a strange wah synth line enters and together with some more vocal samples, continues for the next five minutes.
The rest of the album continues in that same vane: strange synth and keyboard sounds accompanied by various samples and beats. The pattern is broken with "Decay" and the title track, which each take a slower, more ambient path than the rest of the album. To conclude, Richard Barbieri is a brilliant keyboardist and programmer, bringing originality and uniqueness to today’s music, but without David Sylvian or Steven Wilson to give songwriting direction, it seems his talents can’t completely come to fruition