Circa Zero, as the album cover states, is a collaboration between guitarist Andy Summers of The Police and singer and multi-instrumentalist Rob Giles of The Rescues. Apparently Summers was introduced to The Rescues by a mutual friend and became a big fan, striking up a friendship with Giles that led to this band. Circus Hero is a record full of cheery, bright ‘80s-style rock songs that does an effective job of showing off both men’s versatility. Summers uses a vast palette of guitar tones and styles throughout the album, while Giles’ voice slides through several different iterations. Sometimes he’s bright and clean, in other songs he’s gruff and throaty, and sometimes he gets a bit nasal and sounds like he’s channeling Dexter Holland of The Offspring.
It’s a shame, then, that Circus Hero’s songwriting is so hit and miss. The album opens strongly, with the clean and catchy prog-rock stylings (minus the complex, progressive bits) of “Levitation”, and moves through a great quintet of tracks. Each song has its own sound but remains catchy and memorable. Once the album hits the six-minute “Night Time Travelers”, though, the songs become much less memorable. There are doses of ‘80s-style rock here that just don’t work as anything other than cheesy sonic pastiche. “Shoot Out the Stars” could be by Starship, “Summer Lies” sounds like a U2 reject, and “Whenever You Hear the Rain” could be any middling power ballad by any ‘80s band. The back half of the album fares better when Summers finds a harder-edged guitar tone to drive a song, as with “Underwater” and “No Highway.” Fans of Summers will find a lot of interesting guitar work to like here, and fans of Giles get to hear him take the spotlight instead of sharing 4-part harmony with The Rescues. Otherwise, only big fans of middle of the road ’80s rock will find enough here to get excited about.