Plastic Yellow Band – Above Gravity

Plastic Yellow Band - Above Gravity

Progressive rock (especially the classic variety) can feel like a stale dish these days. It’s a wonder to see how much that can change when it’s fused with another sensibility. In the case of Gerald Jennings’ Plastic Yellow Band, the progressive lean is paired with something some progressive purists would sooner turn their heads and flee from. I would be referring, of course, to pop music. The lion’s share of Jennings’ influences are still derived from the golden age of rock music, but simple melodies and good songs age better than anything I’m aware of. In many ways, Plastic Yellow Band‘s second album Above Gravity is a trip through many different sounds of the bygone 1970s. Pop and prog are big pulls here, yes, but so are many other flavours we’d now tend to pass off as ‘classic rock’. For the most part, Plastic Yellow Band does a solid job of bringing these sounds back with enthusiasm. Above Gravity might even have been great, if its blast from the past wasn’t so damnably inconsistent.

I could namedrop some classic artists in reference to the music Gerald Jennings has brought to bear on Above Gravity. While I’m not usually into the idea of leaning on comparisons, it would feel like a wilful obstruction to go without mentioning Elton John, Pink Floyd, Electric Light Orchestra, or The Beatles, with a noted emphasis on John Lennon, both during and beyond the confines of his flagship band. Plastic Yellow Band is ultimately a project born from a sincere love for the classic sounds, and Jennings has gone to some lengths to pull them all together under one roof.

Certain songs, like the piano-driven “America” are great enough to fit in alongside the tunes that inspired YPB in the first place. Some others, like the tepid “When I Rock” feel pretty lame in spite of how hard they’re clearly they’re to, well, rock. Yellow Plastic Band is unsurprisingly at their best when they veer away from the rock n’ roll fare (a sound that sounded dated even by 70s standards) and towards the intelligent pop. At heart, Gerald Jennings is a solid songwriter with a sharp ear for melody, and it’s great to hear the songs here that emphasize that fact.

Special emphasis should be placed on the album’s 21 minute centrepiece. Any album with a multi-part epic will be defined as such, and Above Gravity is no exception. “Starlight” is a far gentler sort than the typical multi-stage suites we’re used to hearing in progressive rock. There are livelier riffs to break up the tenderness but not enough to give it the usual sweeping dynamics of prog. Even so, “Starlight” really does take the listener on a journey. A piece “dedicated to all who have lost someone they deeply loved” (in other words, everybody?), the sentimentality is handled with sincerity, and that’s what makes Plastic Yellow Band‘s gentle touch work so well. The first minutes of “Starlight” are what instantly sparked the association with Phideaux; even though PYB are working with proggy forms and textures, but their passion ultimately lies with pop songwriting.

My impression of Jennings’ voice changes depending on the style. He sounds great on “Starlight” and “You Lied to Me”, and jarringly out of place on “When I Rock” and “Heaven Can Wait”. While Above Gravity doesn’t have the gleam of a particularly hi-fi release, it’s been competently recorded and performed across the board. While the success with the different rock styles varies pretty drastically, there’s enough to prove that Gerald Jennings has what it takes to be a great songwriter when he’s in his element. It’s hard to see Above Gravity may not congeal into a consistently engaging album-length experience, but Yellow Plastic Band is clearly passionate about the musical threads they mean to revive. As structurally scattered as the finished result may be, there’s good reason to look into these guys, especially if you share their enthusiasm for the classic era.

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