A concept album about space travel? From former Toad the Wet Sprocket member Glen Phillips? Quelle horror, right?
That’s what I thought, anyway, when I read about Secrets of the New Explorers, the six-song EP Phillips released a few months ago, complete with worrisome cartoon cover artwork. Having enjoyed bits and pieces of Toad’s output — and all of Phillip’s solo albums, even the too-glossy-by-half Winter Pays for Summer — I read the press kit, groaned, and quickly buried New Explorers in my office’s “unsorted discs” shelf, never to be unwrapped.
Except then Phillips’ publicist, who is dependably awesome, has terrific taste in clients, and — unlike most of her peers — can actually manage to send out an e-mail or an artist bio without committing horrible crimes against the English language, kept asking me if I planned to review the EP, and on account of all those qualities I just listed, I found myself unable to say no.
Which is a good thing, really, because Secrets of the New Explorers doesn’t sound anything like its description. There are no 10-minute song suites, no hokey sound effects, and no lyrics that give the listener the impression that Phillips has been listening to old Yes LPs. It’s just a home-brewed collection that happens to be about privately funded space travel, for no apparent reason other than that Phillips’ collaborator on the project, John Askew, suggested the topic when Phillips admitted he was at a loss.
Fittingly for an album inspired by new frontiers, Explorers is a bit of a sonic departure for Phillips — the songs are moodier and have the lab-created feel of a Pro Tools project — but there’s still plenty of room for the acoustic guitars and earnest vocals that Phillips’ fans have come to know and love. It won’t replace Mr. Lemons at the top of my list of favorite Glen Phillips solo albums, but it’s an interesting detour, and if there’s any justice, it’ll either generate enough shekels to fund his next full-length release or earn enough buzz to dry the ink on his next contract. He can explore space all he wants, but there’s no reason for this guy to be wandering the unsigned wilderness.
(Seeing as how this is an EP, we aren’t sharing any tracks here. Sample the disc at Phillips’ MySpace page — and then buy it, you cheap bastard.)