The Enid is one of those bands that I really like, at least in concept. I try to hear every album they release, though I do miss some, as I realized tonight. The band has been around for centuries, but most prog fans still have never even heard of them. Nonetheless, they have a distinctive style that makes them very recognizable to me. Yet, unlike with my favorite bands, The Enid constantly annoy me. Yes, annoy. Their albums are difficult to digest or even sit through most of the time. So, here I am again, listening to the new release “Dust”, part two of a trilogy, as I understand it. How does “Dust” fare?
That’s quite an interesting question, and, like with their other albums, the answer isn’t easy. When I saw some of the adjectives being used in the marketing, such as “ground-breaking”, I began to worry, as those kinds of words are reserved for albums that are generally crappy and dull. “Dust” certainly isn’t crappy or dull, but it does ride the edges. The newest incarnation of The Enid has been focusing on a more classical, theatrical approach. If I had to describe them concisely, I’d say their newest sound is like a combination of Queen, prog rock, theater, and show tunes. It’s full of faux emotion, chippy melodies, sweet guitar solos, and lots of deep vocal harmonies. If you watch the video for “Someone Shall Rise” (below), you’ll see turtle necks, lots of awkwardly sensual arm movements, and then a bunch of old dudes singing backing vocals. It’s a strange combination when I really think about it.
What does all this mean for “Dust”? Well, it means that it is not prog rock, per se. It’s definitely progressive, as the choppy (overly so) structures, the loud-quiet changes, and the odd time signatures all help to point to that. However, it is not rock, and it’s also more akin to a theatrical performance. In my mind, then, this entire album could be performed without the band or backing vocalists, and it would still be just as good. The music itself isn’t really all that important, and that’s a damn shame.
The musicians involved here are Joe Payne on lead vocals, old timer Robert John Godfrey on keyboards and orchestration, Jason Ducker on guitars and bass, Max Read on choir, vocoder, and programming, Nic Willes on bass and orchestral percussion, and Dave Storey on drums. Just from reading through that, you can tell these guys aren’t making your typical prog rock. Yet, even though all the performances are great, you can’t help but feel the album is almost empty when it comes to instrumentation outside of the orchestrations and the odd guitar solo here and there. It’s almost as if they go too far and achieve very little. It’s like the whole album is vocals and (admittedly) awesome guitar solos, courtesy of Jason Ducker.
Now, I really do like the sound The Enid has created, but, just like with albums like “Invicta”, the band has this awful habit of writing one incredibly amazing fantastic stupendous track, and then the rest of the album is just kinda there. Additionally, most every track sounds exactly the same, which is ironic given Robert John Godfrey’s recent comments about the state of modern prog. Aimless and wandering, “Dust” is yet another album from The Enid that drives me nuts! Over and over, we are almost served a giant, satisfying melody, but they decide to cut it short or layer it with other parts of the verse. Even worse, sometimes they decide it’s better to have backing vocals drown out Joe’s lead vocals, making the song sound stifled and, let’s be honest, downright ugh.
Let’s talk about Joe for a second. Joe’s voice, without any exaggeration, is one of the best voices I have ever heard. He has range, he has emotion, and he has a silky smooth tone that always makes me stop and think, “Oh, yeah, that’s why I like The Enid”. Above, I mentioned that “Dust” has one track that is simply amazing. Well, that track is “Someone Shall Rise”, easily one of my favorites this year. Why is this track so successful? Because they actually let Joe sing! There are portions were he *gasp* actually gets to sing solo and doesn’t have to fight through the layers and layers of awful backing vocals. In my mind, Joe is the very center of this band, even if he is a relatively new member. He is literally the only reason I bother to listen.
Furthermore, because of his talent, other songs on the album become a little less annoying, as there are moments where he gets to shine. Obviously, “Someone Shall Rise” is the best, but I really like “When the World is Full” and also “Trophy”, as they both have great choruses and some very bright spots. The final track “Heavy Hearts” evokes some nostalgia, as it uses parts from “Who Created Me?” (one of my favorites songs by any band) off of “Invicta” and also, for some reason, reminds me of a James Bond opening credits song. So, even though this album annoys me to death, I can see myself listening to it more than other albums they have composed. Baby steps?
“Dust” is another album from The Enid that has so much potential, but simply misses on several levels. From the awful, almost Gregorian backing vocals to the overly choppy arrangements to the very empty feeling to much of the album, “Dust” overdoes it, but also doesn’t do enough. Thankfully, Joe saves this album. His vocal talent makes this an album you should hear this year, and, hopefully, we can one day see him do some solo work or maybe join another band that appreciates and utilizes his abilities more. Fingers crossed.