Phenomena – Phenomena III- Innervision (reissue)
Explore Rights Management, 2018
Reviewed: March 2019
Reviewed by: JP
When I learned of the late 2018 reissue of the Phenomena Rock Opera trilogy I was very excited. This month I will review all three albums in the series. Please feel free to read all the reviews in the series. Fair warning, much of the material will be duplicated in these reviews in the introductory sections.
I actually bought the first two cassettes in the concept album series back when they came out and I never was really able to fully comprehend the series because the tapes didn’t really have any information in terms of liner notes or lyrics. I never did buy Part III, but I always felt that this project was something special that I needed to one day appreciate to it’s fullest. Now, I finally get to immerse myself in this amazing project.
The Phenomena project was an 80’s Rock Opera, really one of, if not the first Hard Rock/Heavy Metal of it’s kind. Overtime these types of epic series became far more common, (Rhapsody, Genius, Once And Future King, Avantasia etc) but at the time this was quite a unique and ambitious undertaking.
The PHENOMENA project follows nicely the 70’s traditional of works like JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (1970), Jeff Wayne’s WAR OF THE WORLD’S (1978) and maybe into something like Styx’s PARADISE THEATER. One could make a strong argument that the PHENOMENA trilogy is the biggest attempt of something on that scale up to that point in time. The project is the creation of The Galley Brothers from England, known primarily for their work with Trapeze and Whitesnake. The project spanned a decade and included a couple dozen artists as guests, members of bands such as Asia, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Magnum, Queen, Thin Lizzy, Trapeze, Whitesnake, Wishbone Ash and more. The project had moderate success around the world, but did not make much of a mark in North America but did very well in South America.
Explore Rights Management Ltd. has reissued each album with deluxe packaging, liner notes, artwork, lyrics, a huge essay, a family tree, memorabilia and song-by-song commentary by the creators. Originally released in deluxe gatefold vinyl the original contained specific, customized artwork for each song. In this reissue series, it is all lovingly reproduced and the original artist, Ian Lowe, comments on each and every piece he did for the project. They did a superb job.
INNERVISION was originally released in 1993 on Parachute Music. This was the only Part I had not heard and was the one I was most excited about. There were some big changes this time. Most noticeably a six-year gap between DREAMRUNNER and INNERVISION meant some big changes. In the early 90’s this type of music was well out of favour and virtually everyone who was involved with the first two was gone. The band no longer had major label backing and the whole film/video interactive concept had all been but abandoned. Even the Galley brothers had split leaving only Tom to carry on. By coincidence of geography (Queen was recording in the same studio at the time), Brian May got recruited to do a couple of guitar solos, and Scott Gorham was back, but pretty much everyone else was gone. Vocalist, Keith Murrell does a very decent job but doesn’t have that name marquee value of a Glenn Hughes for example.
Let’s face it, INNERVISION was a hot mess. There were two different versions of the cover art, a bunch of lesser-known dudes playing a heavy AOR style that was just not cool at the time. Paradoxically, this sound now, courtesy of labels like Frontiers Records, have been revived and is having a massive global resurgence, so the timing of this reissue is actually really good. I mean I personally love the big soaring AOR ballad style with big echoing vocals, heavy keyboards, big electro-drums, and some sweet guitar crunch but even I know it was very dated at the time. It sounds something like what King Kobra and Signal were doing back in 1985..which is really cool to my ears, but eight or ten years too late.
The original concept of Lucy and the telepathic computer has basically been abandoned now, and the songs take a more modern, contemporary flair with concepts of motorcycle races, car chases and gang warfare, all of it rather vague. I mean look at the song titles four of the ten songs have the word ‘love’ in the title, and three of the songs have the word ‘rock’ in the title! Compare these to cuts like, ‘Dance With The Devil’, ‘Hell On Wings’ and ‘Phoenix Rising’ from the debut the lyrics took a turn towards the more simplistic. I’m not judging, just observing.
In my final estimation, the project fizzled out. Instead of having a triumph return to complete the trilogy, after a very slight misstep with DREAMRUNNER, INNERVISION went further in the ‘wrong’ direction. I put the word ‘wrong’ in quotations because I still think this is a great album, extremely enjoyable, but not the follow up it could have been. As a stand alone album it is great!
Phenomena carried on to release (as of time of writing) three more excellent albums, PYSCHOFANTASY in 2006, BLIND FAITH in 2010 and AWAKENING in 2012. The Phenomena project still has some legs and there is some vague talk about a film and a stage production in the works. I’ll be the first in line! Until that time, grab this triple reissue set and enjoy an awesome blast from the past!