As the keyboard player for prog metal supremos Dream Theatre, Jordan Rudess usually gets hidden behind a bank of thundering drums, amplified guitars and James LaBrie's piercing vocals. On his latest solo album, he's stepped outside the comfort of his band and takes us on a labyrinthine journey through the neural networks.
Although the album's title may give you some indication of the content of its themes, nothing prepares you for the keyboard wizardry that follows. Rudess' playing is impossibly frenetic for most of the album, but it's used on the title track as a commentary on our growing relationship and reliance on technology. In his desire to show us one possible Blade Runner/ Terminator hybrid future, it’s almost as if Rudess himself has had a chip implanted, rendering his keyboard playing somehow inhuman in its technical feat. That’s not to say it’s without feeling. The album brims with emotion and melodicism as it jumps from crazy electronica, to just about everything else; somewhere between Carpenter Brut and Ayreon jumping around in space and time. He even lets rip on the blues-tinged track Just Can't Win, where he unleashes his secret passion for the blues alongside Joe Bonamassa. There's even a customary ballad I can’t remember what number of days before the album finishes with a nod to Arthur C Clarke called Why I Dream - or perhaps that should be Why Do Keyboard Players Dream of Electric Sheep? The vocals are sporadic throughout the album and somewhat perfunctory compared to the soaring instrumental sections. There are also guest appearances from some of his band members James LaBrie, John Petrucci and even actor Elijah Wood. Even as the battle rages with computerised modern music and 'old school' instrumentation, Rudess' experimentation with sounds is a glorious reminder of what you can do with modern tech if you have the talent to back it up.
Groupie rating 4/5