Chimpan A - The Empathy Machine

Kev Rowland

Only 14 years on from the debut, Robert Reed (keyboards, drum programming, guitars, bass) and Steve Balsamo (vocals, throat singing) are back with the follow-up. They have also brought in some additional singers, most notably Robert’s Magenta bandmate Christina Booth. Interestingly this is not an album which has just been thought of, but one they have actually been working on since the debut in between all the other projects they work on. Musically there are bits and pieces which sound like some of Robert’s other work (especially his Mike Oldfield-style electric guitar), while some of the female vocals are quite Floydian, but generally this is set to focus on Steve’s vocals, supported by wonderful keyboards.

This is a modern singer’s album, with wonderful accompaniment, and I did find myself asking questions as to why I have not previously come across Steve as he is a wonderful singer, working on projects such as Balsamo Deighton, Jesus Christ Superstar (where he played the part of Jesus ), Eric Woolfson and Jon Lord. Someone who performs in high profile musicals on major stages knows what exactly is needed from him night after night, and his partnership with Robert allows him to show his breadth and diversity. The end result is something which is very polished, modern Marillion combined with Coldplay and Magenta to create something which for the most part is very special indeed. I have been reviewing Robert’s music for more than quarter of a century, and he is one of my favourite musicians and yet again he proves there are few to match him in the accompanist stakes.

However, there are some elements on the album which I did find not to my liking. I could have done without the dance section in “Stars”, and I certainly do not enjoy hearing electronically treated vocals (also on the same song), while the album as a whole calls out for a real drummer. However, putting these to one side, this is still a wonderful album which is going to be appreciated by a huge base of fans, even those who think they would never listen to a progressive rock album, as this is very much on the crossover spectrum moving into modern theatrical (the delicate female vocals towards the end of “Stars” is actually one of my favourite sections) with both rock and pop influences as well. A great musician, a great singer, with more wonderful female vocals in support, combined with interesting songs, this is certainly worthy of investigation.

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