With this second solo album from Nick D’Virgilio, his first being 2001’s Karma, Nick (or NDV, as he is known) has been part of the prog framework for a very long time, first appearing with Spock’s Beard in 1995.
Invisible is a concept album – don’t groan – about a man on the fringes of the mainstream seeking to discover himself, a cog in the wheel, not the presentation or showpiece. Without paying attention, their import is overlooked. The bass player or drummer, not the bare-chested, medallion wearing lead singer. Parallels? I don’t think so, but it is nice to know that there are people who consider the smaller cogs and wheels.
The consequence of this is ultimately, how to review? Do you pick out the great and good, or do you follow the narrative? The great and good are just that, no weak pieces, different styles, and in the sense that progressive is all styles, it is indeed so. We shall follow the storyline.
Prelude is not unlike an introduction to a Powell & Pressburger epic about someone’s life, it’s a big thematic piece that makes a statement. This is BIG – expect the unexpected. When a successful career has continued over many years, variety is the norm. It’s cinematic from the classic build up and no less anthemic as our journey begins. Look out for composer Carl Baldasarre’s work, as Nick puts it, he has a good ear for classical composition.
Invisible begins our hero’s story, a synopsis of who he (or she) is and their analysis of their life to date. This is a great piece, never sitting still. Hard to define, and generally just a great listen. Money is a cover. Hmm, covers are notorious for making, breaking or just largely ignoring an artist. It is always important to make some sort of statement. The Beatles – straight rock and roll. The Flying Lizards – love or loathe, you’ll never forget it. The NDV treatment is cinematic, slightly Sam Spade film noire, The Maltese Falcon. A statement is made, unless it’s a cacophony, a good cover brings something new to the table, and this does. It is not unlike watching a movie – intro, story, narrative, conclusion (and if reading my mind, the lyrics to Where’s the Passion? seem to repeat my thoughts – amazing, but we shall come to that in turn, mustn’t read the last page…).
A ballad, and to be honest I was not taken with it. Nick’s voice was great as he wrung the heart and soul from every word and note, but I felt that the track pace was too slow, out of keeping with before and after. Ballads can be like that, and unless the mood and atmosphere are just right, can be dismissed. I listened in the studio in the dark and reassessed. The song resonates, the emotive voice hitting its target. It at last seems just right, and having found that understanding, it remains in place when repeated in the motor vehicle.
Where’s the Passion? was the first single from the album, I like it a lot, and my first thought was if Burt Bacharach did prog, it would sound something like this. It has a show-like structure that carries the narrative through highs and lows, telling a story, as all good prog generally does.
Now the process of analysis is intrinsically dull, track by track, note by note, repetitive, not a label to be displayed here. The story continues with its ups and downs, a really wonderful suite of tracks to end. They gel so well together, and I would – do – have difficulty in trying to listen individually. Though you will listen many a time, I would not wish to destroy the tale in its telling the first time around.
At times, throughout the album, it feels a showtune influence, and given Nick’s background with Cirque du Soleil, I should not be that surprised. If it were not for the tendency of having a “named artist”, I could quite easily see him carrying off a Bond theme tune. His contribution to Big Big Train’s Grand Tour was one of the highlights. I thought that I might not like it, but I find the blending of styles enchanting, with the rock ‘n’ roll and performance rock providing the mortar for the brickwork. It grows with each listen, and more so with the critique mode of the listener switched off. The best of both worlds, it serves well as a background, but is equally at home with those ‘bury yourself in the story and listen’ moments, so accessible beyond the sometimes narrow boundaries of prog.
It will be an album you will find yourself revisiting, more as a listening in one sitting than a dipping album, but that is the nature of a conceptual beast. I like it very much. Where it will fit come year end, I don’t know, but without the boundaries on genre, definitely top ten.
It has been out for over two months now; this review will hopefully persuade those not previously committed to make the purchase. When remembering 2020 and all its shenanigans, it should fit nicely on your shelves. It is also an album that will grow over time and will have some longevity. Progressive? Yes, no, and definitely maybe, a multi-instrument singer-songwriter who ticks all the boxes and can throw in the odd but appreciated curve ball. Much pleasure is to be had here. So I reflect, there are so many influences here, it is a great album, many hours of listening to be had, just the sort of pointy-edged thing for that soon-to-be-filled Christmas stocking, and like the best presents, enough surprises to make it special.
[You can read Tony’s interview with Nick D’Virgilio HERE.]
01. Prelude (2:22)
02. Invisible (3:52)
03. Turn Your Life Around (7:45)
04. I’m Gone (4:00)
05. Money (That’s What I Want) (4:50)
06. Waiting for No One (2:47)
07. Snake Oil Salesman (3:34)
08. Where’s the Passion? (6:50)
09. Mercy (7:15)
10. Overcome (5:21)
11. In My Bones (4:21)
12. Wrong Place Wrong Time (4:11)
13. Not My Time to Say Goodbye (7:02)
14. I Know the Way (5:05)
Total Time 69:13
Nick D’Virgilio – Lead & Backing Vocals, Drums & Percussion, Electric Piano, Keyboards, Synths, Loops, Acoustic & Electric Guitar, Bass
Carl Verheyen – Acoustic & Electric Guitar
Jonas Reingold – Bass, Fretless Bass
Randy McStine, Don Carr, Tom Hemby, Stan Cotey, Paul Gilbert, Rick Nielsen – Electric Guitars
Jem Godfrey – Synth
Dave Martin – Bass
Tony Levin – Bass, Fretless Bass, Chapman Stick
Don Carr – Electric Guitar
Phil Naish, Ed Goldfarb – Keyboards
Jacob Dupre – Piano & Keyboards
Jordan Rudess – Piano, Synth
Michael Omartian – Piano
Doug Moffet, Mark Douthit, Sam Levine – Saxophones
Beth Cohen, Kat Bowser, Nathan Heironimus, Sophia D’Virgilio, Jason Eskridge, Anthony D’Virgilio – Backing Vocals
Abbey Road Orchestra – Strings, Brass
Record Label: Sweetwater Sounds
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 29th May 2020