A few years back this bloke named Jem Godfrey decided to take a break from producing megahits for Britain's pop music industry. His antidote was a studio band named Frost* and the album Milliontown, a dazzling, invigorating masterpiece where progressive metal met symphonic pop packed with bright melodies, dark rhythms and some amazing sounds. It didn't hurt that one or two of the songs were about zombies.
Given the side-project nature of Milliontown, I didn't expect a follow-up. Like Toy Matinee, this was going to be one of those one-off albums that exists in solitary brilliance. Fortunately, Jem still had some kinks in his system that needed to be worked out, resulting in Experiments in Mass Appeal.
Instead of grabbing you by the ear, yanking you off your feet and pulling you along while they giddily speed past at 80 mph, as on Milliontown, this time it's a bit more tempered. Just a smidge, though, as it's still an exhilarating ride with quite a bit of good fun to be had amongst the whopping helping of excellent music. Of special note are "Pocket Sun" and "Dear Dead Days." "Pocket Sun" starts with an almost industrial guitar sound before the pace skyrockets and some amazing drums come in, playfully tossing around driving yet angular guitar rhythms that will certainly get your feet moving. The vocals here, as on most of the album, are very similar to Foreigner in that they are clear and crisp, never going shrill. A giant blast of keyboards in a roaring flurry of anticipatory arpeggios opens "Dear Dead Days" before becoming a downer with dour vocals and piano. Fear not, for soon a pounding staccato pulse enters, leading the way to an invigorating and vivid chorus full of instantly appealing pop luster akin to those found on the classic 80s Yes album 90125. "Toys" is another astounding song crammed with gooey radio goodness and the kind of positive power pop energy stolen from Cheap Trick that will hook you like a kid after his first cotton candy.Â
For whatever reason Experiments in Mass Appeal failed to strike home with me as much as Milliontown. Each of the 10 keyboard-driven songs on this album is impressively strong, packed with emotion and performed with jaw-dropping skill. While I'm listening to each song I find my brain and heart engaged, as well as my feet, much to the chagrin of my office mates. I love the radio-friendly 80s prog-pop songs by bands such as Asia, Yes, and Genesis, and this album falls right in line with these giants, albeit pushing the sonic boundaries into more modern waters. But for whatever reason, once the album ends it ends. There's no pleasantly finding a vocal melody or instrumental passage bouncing around my brain later in the day, just an album of really great songs â€“ a very respectable nine following in the footsteps of an 11.
Originally published 2009 in WhatzUp.