In the early stages of my Ghosts Of Pompeii solo career I discovered a certain sector of the public with a disdain for any and all 'one-man band' projects. This unyielding prejudice came from both performing journeymen musicians as well as record buying prog/rock purist. Regardless of the blood, sweat, tears, extraordinary musicianship, and deft sonic production that went into the finished product, that closed minded sector scoffed at the recordings of my fellow 'one man band' community of artists as slight of hand studio gimmickry from second rate musicians incapable of performing before a live audience. I've never understood the twisted logic that performing week-ends in a local bar band, churning out rehashed cover tunes to rowdy patrons, determines who 'is' or 'is not' a bona fide dues paying musician. I've done both – and call me a control freak if you like – but I prefer the solitary inner sanctum studio setting.
And as a staff reviewer here at Prognaut I've had an opportunity to review a great many of these talented solo artists. Some may be deserving of the negative typecasting – while others transcend the tarnished stigma to enter the herald halls of the Platinum pioneer who orchestrated the genre … Mike Oldfield.
German multi-instrumentalist 'T' (Thomas Thielen) is one of the best at his craft – and also a self professed control freak. And I defy anyone who listens to his 4th release “Psychoanorexia” to suggest it sounds like the work of a single artist. This is without question a recording that bears all the earmarks of an ensemble band of five or more members. Yet every aspect of the project outside of final mastering (which went to Jurgen Lusky) is the product of one man … Thomas Theilen.
Theilen does himself a great disservice by implying in his press release that he is “an under-average musician on quite a few instruments - none of which he is capable of playing properly”.
Based on the music of “Psychoanorexia” I'd suggest nothing could be further from the truth. The guy is a wunderkind.
Thielen was classically educated on the piano at an early age but shifted his interest to guitar by the 7th grade when he noticed the girls were more attracted to guitarists. During his teenage years he bounced around in a variety of short-lived bands like The Rubbish, Backyard, and Powds Con Fusion before he eventually fronted the German art rock group SCYTHE which produced the well received album “Divorced Land”. Shortly thereafter he went on to record three highly acclaimed solo albums “Naive” (2001), “Voices” (2006), and “Anti-Matter Poetry” (2010).
Thielen's strong suit is musical composition and a mastery of the studio … arranging, recording, mixing, and producing. All of which is in evidence on his fourth and most accomplished work “Psychoanorexia”.
And did I mention his voice!
The myriad of beautiful and dynamic multi-part harmonies throughout the disc are nothing short of amazing. Vocals, which tend to be the weak link in many 'one man band' projects, is actually the strength of “Psychoanorexia”. Thielen skillfully constructs complex counterpart vocal arrangements and ethereal choral orchestration that are truly mesmerizing.
“Psychoanorexia” is another in a long series of progressive rock concept albums that seem to be coming my way for review. I seriously believe musicians are frustrated novelists who don't have the temperament for pumping out 50,000 words. So they tell the story with 60 odd minutes of music and a couple hundred words of lyrics.
Thielen describes the concept behind his album: “This is the time when ring-tone applicability equals musical quality. This is the place where the greed of being a popstar has replaced the sublime experience of creativity. This is the era in which democracy means mass phenomena, not choices. When we have become too lazy even for subterfuges. And too busy to feel the loss. This is the age when equality means mediocrity, fame defames excellence, education encourages despondency. We excel in conformity, we celebrate our empty hands. We may not burn books, but we skim them. We may not slaughter heretics, but we overshout them. We strive, long, hunger for nothing, thus nobody strive, long, hunger. Fascistic, yet aimless aposiopetic selves. Timetabled freedom. Death in Bologna. Psychoanorexia.”
With Thielen's deeply oppressive diatribe you might expect “Psychoanorexia” to be a dark gloomy collection of angst ridden melancholy ballads – but thankfully it's not the case. High octane energy, orchestral grandeur, and industrial mayhem are peppered throughout the tracks.
“Psychoanorexia” is comprised of four songs, three of which have several distinct movements.
Although the subject matter differs, the tone and texture of track one, “The Aftermath Of Silence” is reminiscent of the Camel album “Dust And Dreams” which was inspired by John Steinbeck's “The Grapes Of Wrath”. Thielen's delicate and soulful vocals smack of Andrew Latimer, a talented artist who just so happens to be graced with one of the most pleasing voices in prog.
Track two “Kryptonite Monologues” is an altogether different animal, roaring to life with an aggressive industrial outburst one might expect from artists like Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Circle Of Dust or heavier prog artists like Arena. But before you get too comfortable Thielen transitions several more times throughout the track with flickers of bands like YES, Flash, The Flower Kings, Van Der Graaf Generator, a smidgen of Genesis, Porcupine Tree, and a few of the more symphonic tracks off the “Intergalactic Touring Band” album. A true delight for prog/rock fans like myself.
Track Three “The Irrelevant Lovesong” brings us back to the melancholy ballads of Camel during the “Stationary Traveler” era. Once again the term cinematic comes to mind as midway through the song it takes on a more aggressive texture reminding me of the Arena albums with Rob Sowden.
The final tune on the CD, “Psychoanorexia” might easily be mistaken for a track on an upcoming Marillion album. It's easy to imagine Steve Hogarth behind the microphone in the first movement of the song. The tune then makes several head-spinning transmutations before ending in a pyroclastic climax that sends shivers down your spine.
On occasion the 'one man' solo project can prove to be little more than an inflated ego trip, big on flash but lacking in substance, as the artist showcases his or her lazer light-speed dexterity at the expense of well constructed musical compositions. “Psychoanorexia” is the polar opposite. Musical composition and stellar production value is first and foremost; making for an enjoyable listening experience from start to finish.
If you don't like this album chances are you are not a fan of RPWL, Gazpacho, Marillion, Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Archive, Bjork, Camel, Porcupine Tree, Van Der Graaf Generator, Yes, Flash, Arena, or Pallas – because Thomas 'T' Thielen has extracted the vital elements of these bands and compressed their essence into a modern day classic - “Psychoanorexia”.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on March 30th, 2013