Review Summary: Not the expected start...but a start nonetheless!
Soup is good. In a soup, you can put a variety of different ingredients to create a mixture full of flavors. One thing about this recipe is that, usually, it tastes better a few days after you first cooked it. Why? Simple. The flavors had time to mix themselves together after a while and the taste became more rich while keeping a natural feel about it. Supergroups could be seen like soups that combine a load of fantastic ingredients but no one never tried that formula yet…perhaps because those ingredients don’t mix themselves well together in the first place. On Office of Strategic Influence the ingredients fit but the soup still tastes a bit too much like other soups.
OSI is a supergroup featuring some legendary progressive musicians (Jim Matheos, Kevin Moore, Mike Portnoy, Sean Malone and Steven Wilson) with a strange mix of electronics and prog, lyrics and themes based around the agency of the same name (The Office of Strategic Influence was a propaganda agency created by the US goverment after the 9/11 attacks. It was disbanded shortly after the story went public.) So could this band live up to the hype surrounding it? The answer is : Of course not. This doesn’t mean the product here is bad…it just feels as if the soup wasn’t thought through enough.
From what I understood, Kevin Moore left Dream Theater because the band didn’t suit anymore his personal interests. Chroma Key was born out of it. This project led to two (at the time this album was released, now it’s three) interesting electonic albums featuring some calm atmospheres with Moore’s almost spoken vocals. It helped understand who Kevin Moore was : a progressive musician with an interests for electronic music and atmosphere. The most important thing about those albums was that they felt fresh… at least for someone listening to progressive music. Then, he worked with Matheos on two Fates Warning albums and a bit after, OSI was born.
The first track, «The New Math (What He Said) » already asks a question to the listener, a short but important question. Why? What is the purpose of OSI? Why form a supergroup if it was to bring back old ideas? The album opens with different samples and keyboards to forms a build up that explodes in… basic progressive metal. The song sure is technically impressive but it’s prog standart, even with a good bass line near the end the song, it just sounds a lot like most other bands out there, the difference here is that something was expected from that one. The same is true with the other metal oriented instrumental, « Horseshoes and B-52’s ». Again, Malone does some great lines and tries to keep the song alive, but even him seems uninterested. Safe.
Another problem is the lengh of certain songs. « ShutDOWN » is obviously the pièce de résistance here. It drags. A lot. It doesn’t builds on itself preparing for a breath-taking climax, it’s not catchy, Wilson sounds quite bored, same for Portnoy and Matheos, the song just drags and could be seen as a Porcupine Tree rip-off (most of the record shows influences toward the British act, but here, with Wilson on the vocals, it’s quite striking.). Five minutes shorter and the song could’ve kept it’s intensity while not getting predictable. The same goes for the other way around. The closer, « Standby (Looks Like Rain) » is short and seems to be the closure of the entire album. It was a good idea to give a lighter tone after the three last songs which had a dark and heavy atmosphere. It’s freaking two minutes, it barely gets to those couple of minutes, that being a shame since the song had a cool feel to it. Just like rain.
A lot has been said about what’s wrong about this album but a lot can be said about what’s good. The pair of middle songs (« Head » and « Hello, Helicopter ») each introduces us to what this band is really capable of…also showing that the first two instrumentals were even more pointless. The fifth and sixth track blend exactly the atmosphere that Moore developped in Chroma Key with the great guitar work that Matheos is capable of. The two songs each have their own feel and that’s what makes them so great. « Head » being a quite catchy tune, using a heavy guitar tone and different Keyboard effects (the oriental sounding one is quite effective)to create a remarkable song. « Hello, Helicopter! » on the other hand is a mysterious ballad type-of song, which at first can be seen as filler, but with further listens will prove to be rewarding with it’s layers of accoustic guitar, keyboard lines, spoken words sample, and almost mutted percussions. While this is true for most of the album, here, Moore’s vocals are top notch, making the music seem to float in a relaxing way.
« Dirt From A Holy Place » and « Memory Daydreams Lapses » are also great songs. While being different from the fact that the former is an instrumental, the two tracks have a more haunting and dark tone then the first seven tracks. They feature more subtle musicianship and a great blend of the electronics with the prog metal foundations. One could say that the instrumental shifts too quickly between it’s different parts and that « MDL » drags a bit. Not a big deal because it doesn’t diminish what these songs acheive:being a great blend of electronics and progressive metal.
All in all, this is a good/great album, perhaps it didn’t acheive everything that it could’ve or should’ve, but the band sure wrote some great tunes. The bad ones just shows that the album was maybe rushed a bit.The title track and « When You Are Ready » being examples of good ideas that seem a bit undevelopped. One thing is sure though, if they were a bit more reckless, they’d have all the right tools to shake the foundations of progressive music…at least make the pillars tremble a bit! I look forward for the next soup.