You know the moments in a rock song where the singer stops singing (and leaves the mike, wrung-out), and the band goes into an extended jam? Imagine an albums worth of that, without the sung lead-in, and you’ll have a good idea what this sounds like. Terry Bozzio, Tony Levin, and Steve Stevens are sidemen extraordinaire. Bozzio played drums and percussion for everyone from Frank Zappa to Missing Persons (a band he founded), Levin gained fame playing bass for King Crimson and Peter Gabriel, and Stevens is best remembered for playing guitar on Billy Idol’s early records. Besides these prominent gigs, each has played for artists all across the spectrum.
In Bozzio Levin Stevens, the three stick their three sounds together to produce music that walks a line between jamming and something more structured; there’s some attempt to keep things together, but this still sounds like a players album, three people who are masters of their instruments getting together to play. There’s a certain “look it me” sound to it all. They play and they play and they play at great length (the average song time is over six minutes) and the sounds, their ideas, ultimately make the conclusion inevitable: There’s a reason why these guys are sidemen. Each has played with great distinction on their various gigs, but being strong support doesn’t always mean you deserve to be at the top of the heap. In that context, their playing is in service of the songs, and they serve well. But here, their playing is in service of their playing, and the compositions are like a loose collection of brush strokes pressed together and called a painting. One thinks of the famous admonition to the student musician: “You can play the notes, but you cannot hear the music.” These men are hardly students. But though they can shape the sounds of others to great effect, they are not as good at generating the original sound itself. It sounds like a conversation between eloquent people about a subject of importance to them but which they cannot convey the sensitivities of to someone outside it.
I want you to know that I took reviewing this album seriously, listening to it more times than I usually do for review items. I wanted to allow for the fact that it turned out really not to be my kind of music; plus I was intrigued by the press release that declared it might take dozens of listens for the album to sink it. I did stop short of dozens, however. Still, I was never able to get past my agreement with this statement:
“I can see the enjoyment of groups doing that. I just don’t think it’s very good for the person who has to listen to it.” — Chris Lowe of Pet Shop Boys
It’s all very well played, but there are no moments here that turn the head, that drop the jaw. Or to put it another way: Technique Is Not Enough.