NDV Karma (Inside Out / Century Media, 2001)
Under the moniker "NDV," drummer Nick D'Virgilio's his first solo record Karma steps away from the grandiose, symphonic neo-progressive rock of his regular band, Spock's Beard, to explore a wide variety of musical styles. D'Virgilio has also played with Tears for Fears and Sheryl Crow.
The opening two minutes of the first track, "The River is Wide," epitomize the schizophrenic juxtaposition of musical flavors on Karma. The intro moves through four sections of completely different feel, starting with a droning, open-string acoustic guitar riff before abruptly shifting to an unrelated pop vamp with maudlin electric guitar. Then the song stops cold for an acoustic guitar break leading into a heavy rock riff, which morphs into a mawkish chorus. At 2:40 into the song, the vocals finally enter over a variation of the acoustic guitar break. The music flits through these disparate elements without any individual development or apparent connection between them, just as Karma drifts through different musical styles. These include the acoustic band rock that "The River is Wide" finally settles into, the heavy guitar rock of "Forgiven," the jungle percussion and staccato vocals of the title track, and the sappy piano ballads "The Waters Edge," "Come What May," and "Will It Be Me."
In addition to the schizoid feel to Karma resulting from this stylistic muddle, D'Virgilio's lyrics and the orchestration of the pop style songs are uniformly weak. For example, "Dream in Red" starts with synth drums that sound like a factory preset on a drum machine, and then stridently bright vocals enter over acoustic guitar. The chorus proclaims "Red is the color that I see / signifying everything about me," recalling such sappy classics as Air Supply and late 80s Chicago. D'Virgilio seems compelled to rhyme his lyrics, and combined with his hackneyed phrases, the listener can often guess the next line, like "I wish I'd never seen you cry / I wish I'd never heard you lie" in "Will It Be Me." The driving instrumental "Untitled" lays a lush synth and guitar sound over cracking drums and a pulsing synth rhythm, but the spark in this song isn't found anywhere else on the record.
D'Virgilio sang the vocals, and played all the drums and most of the rhythm guitars and keyboards, augmented on several tracks by other musicians including Mike Keneally, Dave Carpenter, and Kevin Gilbert. The production on Karma sounds so sterile that it has the slick, almost bland sonic feel of Christian rock. The vocals are often excessively bright and dry, right in the listener's face, and the heavy electric guitars sound brittle and grainy.
D'Virgilio has broad musical influences, as does Spock's Beard. However, the jumbled mélange of styles on Karma sounds like a confused exploration rather than a coherent record, especially given D'Virgilio's public emphasis that Karma isn't supposed to be a solo album, but rather a musical project he is directing. This incoherent focus in the varied music, the sappy pop clichés in the lyrics and orchestration, and the sterile production leave Karma fatally flawed. Reviewed by Scott Andrews [firstname.lastname@example.org]
1. The River Is Wide
2. Dream In Red
5. The Game
6. The Water's Edge
7. Come What May
9. Will It Be Me
11-13. Paying the Price: I. Dysfunction, II. Paid the Price, III. Unknowing
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