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When listening to "Evolution" I often get the feeling that Tony must've been keenly aware of the kind of criticisms his and other shred albums had been receiving, because musically this album addresses all those problems and manages to find a way to fix them, yet still stay true to his former style. One of the biggest examples of this I can think of is the fantastic rhythm section on this album of Mike Terrana and Tony Franklin. In fact, this album might just have the most varied and important rhythm section on any instrumental guitar album. Just listen to the groovy bass solo in "Eccentrist" and the multiple time changes of the aptly named "Time Table" where Terrana effortlesly glides through the progression while still adding his own distinctive style and fills. I know a lot of people get bored with these kinds of albums because of the frequently stagnant rhythm section, so this album is definitely for those people.
The other criticism that Tony addresses on this album is the theory that shred albums lack any real structure, and serve only to glorify the guitarist. This is definitely a more progressive album than his past ones, including some definite jazz fusion influences and even on the ripping power metal numbers like "Oversea Evolution", manages to break out of the verse-chorus-verse structure and embellish it with just enough idiosyncrasies to keep it from being boring.
He also builds the album emotionally as well. The opener "The Sage" has a bit of a Mahavishnu Orchestra feel to it, suggesting his more extended fusion exploration to come later on the album but still delivering a signature MacAlpine chorus melody and a very technical, showy solo. Then we have "Oversea Evolution" which has an adrenaline pumping feel to it, and is in general more typical MacAlpine which leads to the very unusual "Eccentrist". This structure keeps the album from being boring. The first half in general contains more fusion type numbers (with the exception of "Oversea Evolution") and the second (coming after the obligatory but still very good Chopin cover) is more neo-classical, but neither adhere strictly to one or the other. The more prominent rhythm guitar and bass lines prominent in both halves give the album a more well defined flow instead of constant lead guitar the whole time, though there is still plenty of lead guitar.
This album is in many ways MacAlpine's best, and a good reason why is the definite "band" feel of the album. It sound like the three of these guys were performing live together, playing off each others musical ideas and improvising somewhat freely, yet never losing the structure. Yeah, Tony get's a BIT more focus but Mike and the other Tony make the presence very much heard and appreciated as well.
Now onto the highlights. The whole album is great but I would like to single out some of the particular beauties of the album. "Futurism" is one of my personal favorites as it's got a great, futuristic atmosphere, and some fantastic interplay between the guitar and keyboard. The song has more than one chorus in a lot of ways, and keeps you guessing. It would probably be a great opener to play in concert too, it's too bad this one's often left off the setlist.
Another great one is "Seville" with it's lyrical solo, and floaty atmosphere it really stands out as unique and unusual in Tony's catalog. "Powerfield" also stands out as it is another full on power metal number with Tony soloing in full guitar hero mode. Probably my favorite solo on the album which is saying a lot given how many great ones there are.
The emotional high point of the album is found in it's two closing tracks "Sinfonia" and his cover of Mozart's "Aturias Kv467 Nr. 21". The former most obviously demonstrates his combination of fusion with his neo-classical sensibilities. The rhythm of it is quite jazzy, but melody lines are very classically influenced, leading into the show stopping chorus guaranteed to be stuck in your head for a fair amount of time. The way he plays with this melody is also quite clever with the fills, and modal switches that occur in the bridge section of the song. The Mozart cover is a great ending to the album, as it is a beautiful melody and demonstrates Tony's great phrasing ability. He also takes some liberties involving some great alternate picked runs that surprisingly don't ruin the emotional mood.
All in all, this is one of the greatest albums I've heard in this genre. It serves as a perfect example to non shred fans how the genre can really work and function as more than just show off material. Beyond that, the songs themselves surpass even the other greats like Malmsteen or Vai in their consistency. Is it the best instrumental guitar album? I don't know but it sure is up there and is recommended listening to anyone who loves metal, progressive rock, shred, jazz, or is just a fan of good music because it's got plenty to offer on all accounts.