Lalu – Paint the Sky (2022)
The positive reactions on this album are pouring in from all sides and Paint the Sky was also crowned as a “fat currant” in our own magazine IO pages and was number 1 in the top 10 for months. My expectations were therefore high, also reinforced by the fact that Damian Wilson is responsible for the majority of the the vocals. Moreover, there is a series of illustrious guests, so what could possible go wrong? Well, it seems that something can. I've tried it many times, hence the late review, but I can't get my head around this one. The vocals are indeed superb and Vivien Lalu, composer and keyboard wizard, himself plays very virtuoso and guest musicians such as Jordan Rudess, Gary Wehrkamp, Marco Sfogli and Jens Johansen also play very impressive solos. Lalu’s parents both played in a progressive act called Polene and the genes have clearly been passed on. Where on previous albums, Oniric Metal and Atomic Arc, the offered music was leaning heavily towards prog-metal, that is slightly different on this album and most of the songs are more prog-oriented. But there are still lots of pieces that are pretty heavy, so progmetal fans, don’t worry.
So what am I missing? What do others hear that I don't?
The answer to these questions is simple, the melodies don't touch me. Opener Reset to Preset is a rousing song with variety, dynamics and fast solos on guitar and keys. Something that normally should suit me perfectly, but it doesn't work for me this time. Even a song like Paint the Sky with the iconic Steve Walsh (Kansas) can't convince me. In Standing at the Gates of Hell there are very jazzy parts and that provides a lot of variety, but you have to like it. Well, I don't like it that much, but I know that many prog lovers do and for them this is a possible added value. What is also striking is the fact that many solos belong in the category fast, faster, fastest and therefore contain less emotion and I just miss that, feeling. The Chosen Ones is also a song with a lot of dynamics and is beautifully sung by Wilson, but the great playing technique is also paramount here. Sweet Asylum is a short instrumental on acoustic guitar and is nice for a change. The wonderfully floating beginning of We Are Strong begins with some nice picking on acoustic guitar and then fine accents on electric guitar are added and this song does remind me a bit of Yes, partly due to the Anderson-like vocals of Wilson. For me one of the better songs with very striking and present drumming. As said, the musicianship is excellent but the tracks don’t hit me despite the force that is within them.
As a bonus we get the title track again, but now played by a slightly different line-up and that does make a difference. With Simon Phillips on drums, the song starts swinging and the mix has clearly fallen less towards metal. This is by far the best song of the album. To me the whole album should have sounded like that.
I know I'm clearly part of a minority and many fellow proggers will love this album. So go listen and see if you can relate to some of my criticism. The album is doing very well and this Frenchman absolutely deserves the attention.