(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

Visual Audio Sensory Theatre , 6/10
Music For People , 5/10

VAST is the project of San Francisco-based multi-instrumentalist Jon Crosby. Visual Audio Sensory Theatre (Elektra, 1998) is an exercise in indiscriminate melodrama and pretentious arrangement. Here opens with Moody Blues-style symphonic strings but is soon overcome by crunchy guitar riffing and a heavy industrial rhythm mutating into a tribal drumbeat and into a middle-eastern groove. The emphatic singing and the recurring spasms of thick orchestration evoke an everyman's version of Nine Inch Nails or the natural evolution of 1970s' progressive-rock (Yes, E.L.P., King Crimson). Temptation revel in the same ambiguity.
The method is best represented by Dirty Hole, that boasts an organ building the intensity of a requiem and backing vocals that recall an Indian pow-wow. Equally compelling, I'm Dying and The Nile's Edge mix gregorian chanting and spiritual-like crooning by Crosby (U2's Bono fronting Deep Forest or Enigma) over a thundering beat.
Touched couples a looped sample of Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares with a forceful hard-rock attack.
The balance between rock and synthesized music is broken by Pretty When You Cry, a hypnotic beat-driven track aimed at the dance-clubs, by the facile middle-eastern groove of Somewhere Else To Be, and by Flames, a mournful string-driven madrigal. The tenebrous soundscape of You evokes a gothic atmosphere and marks the zenith of Crosby's arrangements: not bombast but sensibility.
Crosby uses all that technology allows him to concoct a new kind of pop melodrama.

Whatever stylistic ambiguity remained, it was routed by Music For People (Elektra, 2000), an album that smells of U2's dance-rock from the one-two punch of Free and The Last One Alive. Strings drown the heartbreaking ballads I Don't Have Anything and We Will Meet Again, bombast overflows from Land Of Shame. All in all, the disco-beat of What Else Do I Need (with samples of medieval choir) and the syncopated shuffle of My TV and You fare much better. Crosby has opted for a polished and accessible sound that dispenses with the cacophony and focuses on the melodies. As an experiment in radio-friendly arena-rock, the album is certainly stunning; but it is still radio-friendly arena-rock.

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