- Album Reviews

41POINT9- Still Looking for the Answers

“With regards to the cat on the cover, just google ‘Feline Butterology’, and you’ll get the whole concept behind it”, well, that interesting missive was my introduction to Bob Madsen and the slightly surreal world of 41POINT9. To clarify the comment, the album artwork for Still Looking for the Answers shows a cat with a slice of buttered toast strapped to its back. The theory behind Feline Butterology rests on a simple experiment, a piece of toast is strapped to a cat’s back, butter side up and the cat is then dropped. Since cats land on their feet and toast always lands butter side down then, neither side should hit the ground. Instead the gravitational flow between the objects will reverse, generating an anti gravity field, causing the cat to float in mid-air, didn’t I say surreal? I believe no mind altering drugs were used but it takes an extremely ingenious mind (or slight touch of lunacy, I’ve made my decision, you choose now!) to come up with something like that and, one equally as warped to appreciate it. And, by the way, I did google it and haven’t stopped laughing since, “Butter Feline Anti-Gravity Drive”, you know you want to, go on!

There is a definite touch of Douglas Adams spiced up with a Pythonesque edge to these guys. It gets better (or even more surreal, if you like) when you take into account where the band’s name comes from. In Bob’s liner notes for the album he tells us that the name is an insider’s reference to Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” books, where the reader learns that the number 42 is “the answer to life, the universe and everything”, Bob realises he doesn’t know all the answers but, sarcastically, thinks he’s pretty darn close, hence the name 41POINT9 was born.

Behind all the japes and buffoonery there is a keen intelligence at work behind 41POINT9, reading the supplied Producer’s notes and lyrics that came with the final mastered tracks is like reading a well researched and meticulously crafted tome and, the short conversations I have had with Bob lead me to believe that we have a modern day ‘mad scientist’ musician at large here. It is refreshing to meet musicians who do not take themselves too seriously and a quick read of the band history and bios just enforces that feeling.

In Bob’s own words “41POINT9 came about in a dark, cobweb filled corner of Bob Madsen’s mind. One day whilst navel gazing, he thought to himself, “My, there’s a lot of lint in there.” Err….. umm…. scratch that….. what I meant to say is….. he thought to himself, “If it’s unlikely I’ll ever make money making music, then I’m just gonna make music that I want to hear and that I enjoy making” With that decided, he went back to wondering why the lint was blue when he was wearing a red sweatshirt…….”

To get the full, seriously funny, story please go to 41POINT9’s website but, in a watered down and compact version of events and, without the slapstick humour, Bob (who provides the excellent bass) joined forces with his long time friend (and founding member and former vocalist of Enchant) Brian Cline, who had worked on one of Bob’s jazz albums and Brian’s dulcet tones are the ones heard on the album. The trio was completed by the man with the magic fingers on guitar and keyboard, Kenny Steel. So there you have it, the core of 41POINT9 was formed. This group of misfit musicians started writing music and having a blast doing it. Along the way somehow they convinced Nick D’Virgilio and Jimmy Keegan of Spock’s Beard Fame to lend their prowess at smacking things to the album project. The world is just lucky they usually smack drums rather than random strangers. The project was picked up by Prog Rock records and originally released in 2011. 2014 has seen the band sign up with Melodic Revolution Records and, a digital re-release of Still Looking for the Answers.

Lifting some highlights from the bio we find; Bob (the toaster) began life as a single cell organism that through a series of rapidly developing cell division and specialization eventually became a full grown bipedal organism that likes to play with low frequencies and remains convinced that the pun is the highest art form yet to be developed by mankind, Brian (the loaf)has an apparent mutant ability that can transform even the clumsiest of lyrics into vocal performances of grace, beauty and passion and is the lead vocalist of 41POINT9 for as long as the paychecks don’t bounce, which is usually not a problem because he writes himself the paychecks and Kenny (the cat), as a young man in Southern California, in a time before records were kept, joined the army, where he was sent to Germany to train with a group of precision attack llamas. Kenny truly enjoyed working with the llamas, until an unfortunate training accident involving a hamster and a jar of mustard, left him in a coma for days. Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead! and, by the way, Bob is still confused about that blue lint……..

After laughing myself into a coma, and 3 days of recovery, it’s time to see what this talented (if decidedly wacky) trio have produced on Still Looking for the Answers. The Bullet’s in the Barrel is all about the break-up of a relationship but cleverly told in ballistic terms and is written in the vein of Marillion’s ‘Punch & Judy’. The dramatic voice over intro introduces the break up before a burning riff and cool keyboard line crash the party and overlay some suitably powerful drumming by Nick D’Virgilio. There is a momentary lull before Brian’s imposing vocal brings another layer of seriousness to this sober track, it is dark and menacing, the subject matter not exactly one that lends a light mood to proceeding. The chorus is suitably bombastic and catchy with some great harmonies and the solo concocted by Kenny is searingly compelling. A piano laiden interlude precedes another blast of the instantly memorable chorus which is repeated as the song fades out, an impeccable start to the album. Living in Hard Times is about the Great Depression and was written by Bob as a 17 year old after reading Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath’. The emotional and complex intro of guitars and keyboards, competently backed by an impressive rhythm section sets you in the mood for this sombre tale. When the searching vocal kicks in it is with a seriously sombre timbre, we are here for a tale of hardship and struggle and Brian leads the storyline with skill and aplomb. There is a suitably forlorn feel to the whole track and when the blazing solo takes centre stage it does with soul and compassion. Thanks to Molly Roth, the harmonising is graceful and perfect and the song, as a whole, has the feel of being 41POINT9’s opus, superb.

Building Blocks was written after a particularly confusing break up from Bob’s early days and, in his own admission, borrows heavily from Marillion’s Kayleigh. The intricate guitar intro blends into a synth heavy vibe that is all 80’s in its feel and the vocals, again have a noticeable intensity to them. The bass influences proceedings more than it has on previous tracks, powering the track along, the harmonised vocal arrangements on the chorus are well worked and the slightly distorted, coruscating solo is a neat and precise touch. The background to The Feather is rather tragic, a mother who lost her 10 year old song to cancer and, unable to concentrate at work, was told by her boss to go for a walk and discovered first, a penny dated from her dead son’s year of birth and second, a feather with a perfect heart as the base of it. She realised that the feather must have been left by her son to let her know that he was okay and that, in time, so would she and has been collecting feathers since. The delicate intro of bass, cymbal and guitar is beautiful all in itself and, when Brian’s vocals begin it adds a further level of lushness to this delightful song, especially with the rich harmonies provided by Jackie Guyton. As the passion is released in the vocals, the guitar rises, incandescent, to match. The heartfelt, searching lyrics are a perfect vehicle for Brian Cline’s imposing vocal performance and, on this track, it is the voice that leads, ably backed by the musicians. Now, on to my personal favourite, One in a Bar, a song that starts off with a gently strummed acoustic guitar that is soon accompanied by a pared back vocal relating a rather depressing tale of a man looking back over his  apparently disappointing and disjointed life through the bottom of a beer glass, in a bar, hence the title. The chorus is a work of art and I am still singing it to myself every day, the vocal dripping with loss and the guitar and bass perfectly judged in the background. The drums, this time provided by Jimmy Keegan, are subtle and understated. The string section is luscious and poignant and adds to the whole incredible atmosphere of the track. Once again, Kenny Steel’s guitar work is a pleasure to behold with a slow burning solo that burrows deep into your being and carries you along on an epic and intense journey. The repeated chant that leads out the song sticks in your mind as much as the notable chorus, I’m sure you will love this track as much as I do.

The one instrumental track on the album, Surface Tension (A Drive Thru the City), is described as somewhere between a song and an athletic event and, it is Kenny who likened the track to a drive through the many layered neighbourhoods of a city. The cool bass noodling at the start of the song has a definite funky edge to it, almost jazz fusion, as does the frantic drum beat and overlaid, slightly distorted guitar work. As the pace is increased there is a subtle hint of progressive metal thrown in the mix to tidy everything up, especially on the super slick keyboard work, some fire breathing licks are tossed into the equation and then Bob takes centre stage with some hectic, yet precise bass playing. The whole song is a thick smorgasbord of rhythms and techniques and, for one like me, is a terrific entrant into great progressive instrumental tracks. Well, Bob’s wife is one lucky lady, the next track, Promise the Moon, was written for their wedding in 2006 and was originally released on his jazz album. The captivating piano is the main avenue for delivery of this rapturous song and the string section adds another layer of silk to the performance. I really like the delivery of the vocals on this song, all velvety and heavenly. It is an enchanting love song and, we should be thankful that Bob recorded such a personal track for us all to hear.

Title track Still Looking for the Answers is straight down the middle rock with touches of art rock (Pink Floyd influenced if you ask me) and is another favourite of mine. A captivating bass intro backed by a seriously heavy but distant sounding guitar riff leads into a clever vocal that uses Molly Roth’s voice on a layered backing arrangement , one neat touch is the five string acoustic bass used for the arpeggio line. The whole vocal feel is one of questioning and the timbre of the vocals is perfect, endowing it with a searching quality. The piano note and carefully judged drums (once again provided by Nick D’Virgilio) all add to the atmospheric feel. The solo is one of the best on the album, another blistering, fiery fusillade of notes and the track is played out with a refrain of the initial bass line. The final track on the album is the only song on the record where the lyrics were not written by Bob Madsen, The Torch was written by Brian Cline as a lullaby for his daughter, Hannah, when she was a toddler, it is basically the lion-king circle of life concept and very simply and beautifully stated. The acoustic guitar and vocal that introduces is tender and loving and the addition of a pared back electric guitar and sampling adds body to the ethereal feel. The funky bass line that kicks in has an intentional ‘Level 42’ vibe and adds further substance. The band worked hard to produce an edgy guitar feel throughout the chorus and it slots in neatly to produce an outcome that is rather poignant and a fitting end to this rather majestic album.

41POINT9 have produced one hell of an album and one that I will listen to for a long time to come, how it has taken 3 years for this gem to entertain my ear drums is a mystery more intriguing than the Marie Celeste. I must insist that this superb album becomes part of your music collection and, once you have done that, go and investigate Feline Butterology!!!

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