Considering the plethora of talent featured on Epilogue (the sophomore effort under the moniker The Prog Collective), you could easily think of the LP as the equivalent of a progressive rock sundae. After all, it features an impressive amount of your favorite ingredients arranged to be as appealing as possible. Unfortunately, like the revered dessert, the end result amounts to little more than empty calories. It’s pleasing enough as you digest it, but you also know that there are more worthwhile offerings out there.
Spearheaded by famed multiinstrumentalist and producer Billy Sherwood (Yes, Toto), The Prog Collective is essentially the ultimate supergroup, as it enlists the aid of literally dozens of the genre’s most beloved performers. Of course, there are the token superstars, such as Jordan Rudess, Rick Wakeman, John Wetton, Peter Banks, Steve Hillage, Roye Albrighton, and Gary Green, as well as arguably lesser known guests, like Larry Fast (Synergy), Sonja Kristina (Curved Air), Colin Moulding (XTC), and Derek Sherinain (ex-Dream Theater). Will Shatner also makes an appearance at the end for some reason.
Naturally, this roster signals an unimaginable amount of potential; sadly, though, most of it is never realized, as the tracks on Epilogue don’t feel nearly as idiosyncratic and varied as they could. In other words, it’s as if Sherwood simply wanted to yell, “Hey, look! We’ve got all of these people on here!” while producing familiar, shallow pieces that don’t sound all that different from each other. There may a different set of musicians on each track, but it pretty much sounds like the same core group is playing on everything.
Opener “Are We to Believe?” captures the commercial sleekness of ‘80s Yes and the keyboard timbres of vintage Camel. Eventually, Mel Collins implements some warm sax & flute, which gives it some of freshness. Lyrically, it’s standard fare, with clichéd philosophical ponderings leading the charge; melodically, it’s pretty lifeless save for the harmonies. “What Can Be Done?” adds a little bit more in terms of dynamics, but it’s nothing special either.
Seeing as how Steve Morse and Jordan Rudess contribute, it makes sense that “Adding Fuel to the Fire” is chaotic both in terms of title and trajectory. It’s more bizarre and experimental than its predecessors, but it still feels soulless. Later on, “Shining Diamonds,” which features the revered falsetto and bass guitar force of Chris Squire, bares similarity to modern It Bites, while “In Our Time” squeezes in a slightly Zappa-esque breakdown during the middle section.
“Just Another Day” is relatively fresh, actually, with some great acoustic guitar work courtesy of Gary Green, whose original band, Gentle Giant, certainly inspired a lot of successors. In fact, it’s the juxtaposition of the intervals with the trickier bits that make the track the standout of the bunch. The album concludes with “Epilogue,” a prophetic spoken word narrative staring William Shatner. He plants his usual tongue-in-cheek seriousness over token keyboard wizardry and frantic percussion. Of course, it’s most notable for its novelty, and even that isn’t much to go on.
Epilogue provokes a fair amount of cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, the musicianship is remarkable, as are the arrangements; however, the production and songwriting feel unoriginal and phoned in. All the elements for a great record are there, but no one brought enough ambition to truly make it special. It’s as if these players laid down the most common tricks they could instead of putting any effort into being unique and profound. It’s shiny and confident and new (well, sort of), but it’s got no substance underneath. These artists may soar to incredible heights with their own acts, but together they fall away the sun.