Sherinian, Derek - 2003 Black Utopia

ARTIST: Sherinian, Derek
ALBUM: Black Utopia
LABEL: Inside Out
YEAR: 2003

LINEUP: Derek Sherinian - all keyboards * Simon Phillips - drums * Steve Lukather, Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Al Dimeola - guitars * Tony Franklin, Billy Sheehan - bass * Jerry Goodman - acoustic and electric violin

TRACK LISTING: The Fury * 02 The Sons Of Anu * 03 Nightmare Cinema * 04 Stony Days * 05 Starcycle * 06 Axis Of Evil * 07 Gypsy Moth * 08 Sweet Lament * 09 Black Utopia


I've always had a kind of hit-and-miss relationship with Derek's music. His contribution to Dream Theater's 'A Change Of Seasons' epic was great (it can't have been easy being the man who stepped into Kevin Moore's shoes), the more recent Planet X studio work scared the bejeezus outta me.

So, it was with my usual mix of fear, intrigue and excitement, followed by more fear, that I put 'Black Utopia' into my CD player. What does Utopia mean to you? (don't say Todd Rundgren). Peace, tranquillity, happiness? It seems only fair, then, that 'Black Utopia' would be far less tranquil and in places (many places, truth be told) is hard hitting, making it a fitting title altogether.

The Songs

As the album begins, the opening couplet of 'The Fury'/'The Sons Of Anu' is a complete shred-fest. With Yngwie at the helm, it's to be expected, I guess. Not entirely my cup o' tea though.

'Nightmare Cinema' fares better, despite its slower pace, it's still incredibly heavy. Zakk Wylde comes in with a real force. As well constructed as this track is, it's not until the next track that I sit up and take real notice.

'Stoney Days' lightens up precedings somewhat. The overall feel has a jazz edge. Who better to step in than Steve Lukather. Impeccable music from all concerned here, this Jeff Beck inspired composition is definitely a highlight.

There are often great performances from Luke, but here he's on top form, hooking up with Sherinian, who's in full-on 70's keyboard mode here, a great sound. As the opening sounds of track five emerge, the keyboard loop is unmistakable. It's a cover of Jeff Beck's classic 'Star Cycle', which Sherinian performs with the help of Tony Franklin on bass, and the Toto pairing of Steve Lukather and Simon Phillips, the latter must've felt like this was a trip back in time, having played it with Jeff on countless occasions. Before now, it would've been hard for me to imagine anyone other than Jeff Beck hammering his way through this, but Sherinian's choice of lead guitarist won me over instantly. Great stuff.

Another of the album's obvious standouts is the softly played, vibrato-edged 'Sweet Lament', which again Lukather plays to perfection (I really like Luke okay?). It's another great example of the instrumental rock ballad, not unlike 'The Loner' by Gary Moore, or, another personal favourite, 'Until' by current Ten guitarist Chris Francis.

The title cut comes with a heavy monster of a riff courtesy of Zakk Wylde. It's the kind of thing he plays effortlessly. Close your eyes, you can almost picture him in the studio during recording, hammering away relentlessly, with masses of blonde tressles flying everywhere. On lighter sections of the track, the main focus goes between washes of keys and finger-picking guitar parts. Awesome.

In Summary

As a closing thought, I'll leave you with this: Seeing as this is technically a Derek Sherinian solo album (it does have his name on the front of the sleeve after all), I'm surprised he's not the centre of attention here.

This album is very much the work of a man who enjoys making music with other people in the spotlight and therefore has shifted much of the focus onto the guest guitarists. Not that it's a bad thing, when you consider the guitarists who've stepped up to play. The only thing left for me to say is 'buy and enjoy'.

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