Artist: Mike Michalak Band
So progressive rock has always had a flair for the dramatic. Mike Michalak Band is no different. With darkness and acid rain falling on Super Pig as it flies over the kingdom it surveys ("Super Pig"), there can be no doubt. But there's also no arguing the appeal of the track's Faith No More-style doubling of gorgeously-toned electric guitars.
I'd also argue that outside of some fantastic flute playing, any progressive outfit worth its salt will have a guitarist who can manage a lick or two. Suffice it to say, MMB has its own Alex Lifeson. On a song like "Really Want to Know," we get southern rock guitar giving way to snake-y Slash-like riffs, ending in what I would conservatively term a shred clinic. But it's not limited to that song: Nearly every track features sonically arresting guitar work, including song-appropriate solos and textural definition.
And the song-writing is just as good. After "Another Day," an album-opener reminiscent of the splendid "Sister Havana" by Chicago's native sons, Urge Overkill, we get the standout "Times Like This." It starts with some low-in-the-mix guitar sounds, being panned, adding dimension. This is interrupted by choppy guitar chords, but even these give way to singing that ends up being largely supported by a prominent bass line (the bass, excellent throughout the album), with the guitar jumping back in only to accent the melody of a compelling vocal hook, "When you get up on the road / In the middle of a daydream / You can never go home." (And of course, later in the song, we get an admirably restrained solo ending in a speedy run.)
Further in, "Product" has some nice ascending harmonies of the progressive style, running into a brick wall of rock riffage. And just to show that they can flex that muscle, MMB brings us "If She Comes Around," a ballad carried by the band's considerable talents in song-writing and guitar textures, as well as by rock vocals that, as on "Times Like This," recall those of the propulsive Vince Neil.
This band is so much more than the sweet-ass visual that is the super pig. But without a super pig, MMB might not be the MMB we know and love today: thrilling guitars, vocals and rhythm section; and memorable rock anthems.
*** The author of this review, Patrick Parker, plays the tumba for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8