What happens when you take the lead singer of Yes, the guitarist of The Flower Kings, and smash them together? You spawn Anderson/Stolt and their album Invention of Knowledge; something less inventive than a dinosaur, and more painful to sit through than passing a kidney stone.
I’ll be the first to admit that enjoyment of lyrics and vocals is very subjective. Typically it’s silly to judge a band based on these elements, because everyone will experience them in a different way. The problem is that in the case of Invention of Knowledge, the vocals are amped up to the point that they were jammed into my ears and washed out the rest of the band every time Jon Anderson opened his mouth. At best, the vocals are monotone and pitchy, at worst they had me clawing for the pause button. With the vocals so prominent, I expected that the lyrics might blow me away, but my expectations were too high. The lyrics match the vocals, at least in the sense that they are one-toned and only talk about overly positive and vague themes that act as a patronizing guide to happiness. I have nothing against optimism, but any album with a run time longer than an hour needs a dynamic approach to its lyrical themes, or cut them out all together.
Even without the singing, however, the album still doesn’t quite work. Without the lyrics, Invention of Knowledge sounds like Dream Theater and Jethro Tull (neither in their prime) collaborated to create the world’s most confusing Christmas album. Outside of the occasional keyboard or guitar solo, the sound is non-committal, floaty, and never swept me up in its tune. The lack of focus neuters any impact the music could have and adds the bafflement.
While the music is mostly sub-par and unremarkable, it manages to have a few high points. Rare sections of jazzy piano and rolling bass riffs sparked my attention and made it possible to finish the slog through the album. There are also moments that sound like a film’s score and possess distinguishable character and texture. Had these oases in this desert of an album been more plentiful, I would be singing a very different tune.
Invention of Knowledge has its moments, sure, but they are much too sparse to save the day. The decision to highlight vocals that only serve as a detriment seemed like a terrible decision until I realized that what lied beneath was even less substantive. The most remarkable aspect of the album is that the sound suffers from an unfocused approach that creates an overall muddled performance. On the other hand, the vocals are too focused and become uninteresting as a result. Maybe I just didn’t “get it” but Invention of Knowledge seems like a rocky start for Anderson/Stolt’s partnership.