music morsels
March 2008

BOX SET REVIEW - by Mark E. Waterbury

Looking Backward

Rocket Scientists - Looking Backward
Think Tank Media TMV-1005

Unless you count the more pop versions such as Yes and Kansas, prog rock is still very much an underground music genre. Even prog behemoths like Dream Theater do not enjoy a widespread popularity beyond the prog loyalists. Flying just below the radar of bands such as Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree and Spock’s Beard, Rocket Scientists have been moving closer to climbing that ladder into the realms of prog royalty. Already peers of the aforementioned bands when you consider their prodigious musical talents, more prog fans are finding their way into the Rocket Scientists camp; through highly regarded performances at prestigious events including Cal Prog and Rites of Spring Festival, their upcoming show at Baja Prog, and the critical praise from fans, press and radio alike for their 2007 release “Revolution Road.” Perhaps the boost that will send this rocket into orbit is the release of their history spanning box set “Looking Backward.” “Looking Backward” includes Rocket Scientists' first three releases;  "Earthbound", "Brutal Architecture" and "Oblivion Days", as well as a CD recorded in 2007 that has reworkings of some of the early songs, and a companion DVD which includes the 2007 sessions, “home movies” from previous band recording sessions, and other features.
“Earthbound” - This is the Rocket Scientists debut but that hardly means it is a rough or tentative effort. The talent pools of the principle core; keyboardist/producer Erik Norlander, guitarist/vocalist Mark McCrite, and bassist/stick player Don Schiff prove to be deep in both the writing and musical prowess veins. The songs tend to be melodic to the shade of Moody Blues or Marillion, with a power that burbles just below the surface. The instrumental intensity, impassioned vocals and thought provoking lyrics hold your attention. Chris Amato adds punch with his stoic yet intricate drumming style.

“Brutal Architecture” - Although “Earthbound” had the earmarks of being made by seasoned musicians, “Brutal Architecture”shows growth of Rocket Scientists as a band. There is more frenetic instrumentation, a bit more rock edge and overall stretching of the songwriting horizons. Greg Ellis takes over as the primary drummer making for a potent rhythm tandem with Don. The songs gain more complexity with key and time signature changes and a more symphonic quality while avoiding the occasional prog trap of being bombastic or overly drawn out.

“Oblivion Days” - This is the most intensely rocking of the CDs, with the one-two punch of “Aqua Vitae” and the title track bearing a thundering testimony to that. The power is more tempered at other points in the album, but it appears that the band really let their hair down on this one. When top notch musicians can still make you say, “wow!” on their third release, you know they have something special going. Comparisons to Dream Theater seem apropos, although it is apparent by now that Rocket Scientists have their own style and are very comfortable with weaving their influences and talents into jaw-dropping musical pieces.

“The 2007 Sessions” - Eight years after the release of “Oblivion Days,” Erik, Mark and Don decided to rerecord some of their favorite songs from the first three albums.  “Picture Show” and “Carry Me Home” even display a more modern edge; think The Killers on the later. “Mariner” becomes a vocal opus with this soaring version as sung by current TSO vocalist Kelly Keeling. “Earthbound” has a grungy feel during some passages. Great musicians always think they can improve, and to hear some of these masterpieces taken to an even further level is truly amazing. The Rocket Scientists obviously have an ongoing further exploration of their talents which adds a fresh and welcome perspective to their already excellent songs.

The companion DVD is worth the purchase price on its own. Studio performances of “The 2007 Sessions” interspersed with candid and informative interviews really afford you the opportunity to get a more personal look at the creators of Rocket Scientists. The home movies of previous recording sessions are equally entertaining, and the featurette on Emmett Chapman and his instrument the Chapman Stick which is the favorite weapon of choice for Don Schiff is intriguing to musicians and music fans alike. If all of this is not enough for you, the box set includes a thick booklet included with more perspectives, recording information, interview snippets, and pictures.

Whether “Looking Backward” can be considered an introduction to those who have never heard of the band before, a historical perspective for those who discovered them on “Revolution Road” or a collectors item for long time fans, Erik Norlander and his cohorts have outdone themselves here. URL:
Division of Serge Entertainment Group