I have listened to Cosmic Danger’s “Universe at Large” several times and I have had mixed reactions on each pass. The music demonstrates hints of both early Yes and the Rabin /Sherwood years, Camel, Klaatu and Asia and is an interesting but somewhat frustrating listening experience.
There are nine tracks on Universe at Large logging in at about 50 minutes, with a mix of instrumental and vocal tracks. There is little information online about the band or this album including lyrics or story line. The quality of musicianship is excellent, but in both lyrics and music the album doesn’t flow well to these ears and the storyline escapes me.
First the good –these guys are exceptional musicians: the guitarist can rip like Howe during The Yes Album days, the drummer is tight, crisp, fast and well-mixed and the keys are always interesting.
The not so good-the name, the cover, the concept of the CD and the lyrics seem a bit too ‘space’ oriented, suitable as a soundtrack for Enders Game but less relevant than other progressive music being released today (BBT, Echolyn). This isn’t cosmic as in Jon Anderson/Yes, but cosmic as in “we are journeying into space and won’t be back” but the story doesn’t seem very developed. The bass seems a bit muted.
The mix is puzzling, with excellent drum/keys/guitars, but the heavy reverb and echo on the choruses and effects remind me of a late 80s release like Marc Jordan C. O. W or Yes’s Big Generator.
The first five tracks have vocals with big choruses, giving Universe at Large a strong AOR feel initially. “Champions” starts off the album with a heavy Argent sounding organ and a feel -good chorus suitable for the Olympics, although the words sound a bit hokey: “Champions give all they have, all along”. “Freedom Flier” also begins with a nice organ riff (Tony Kaye style), and the vocals remind me of Flash/early Yes. “Skydiving” sounds like a Moody Blues tune with strumming guitars and another heavily reverbed chorus and builds to a frantic conclusion where you can see how proficient these guys are as musicians. “Blue Sky”, the best track on the album, retains the Kim Bullard/Paul DeVilliers (Big Generator) feel with brassy keys and vocals reminiscent of Alan Parsons/Chris Squire. An excellent guitar solo leads to a nice counterpoint vocal chant of “Blue Sky dawning, Red Sky at night.”
With “Bug in the Wire” the vocals are a bit clearer and ‘grittier’ , sounding a bit like Kevin Moore/Chromakey, with music by Klaatu. At this point the album shifts to mainly instrumental focus, with “Endless Voyage” one of the most tasteful tracks on the album. “Moon Base Gamma” , the longest track on the album at 7 minutes, loses some of the momentum with some overdone synthesizer effects and cumbersome words about survival at Moon Base Gamma , with the repeating chorus of ‘where is home’ making this sound more like a space opera (think Intergalactic Touring Band). “Five Year Mission” has a frantic bass/guitar riff and the powerful drumming again demonstrates the proficiency of the musicians. “Moon Dusk” loses the momentum by concluding this ‘space’ journey with an overlong intro of heavy keyboard effects. Finally the band introduces some tablas and percussion, but just when the track gets going it abruptly ends with a heavily reverbed chorus briefly chanting the theme from the opening track “Champions”.
In summary, these excellent musicians have produced an interesting but not very original release. I am unclear as to the message and I am left with an ambivalent feeling about the full album. While the instrumental tracks are interesting, I think the album would be better paced if some the instrumentals broke up the early vocal tracks to help build the ‘story’. Certainly worth a listen and because of the obvious talent of the band, I look forward to future releases.
My rating: (out of 10):