With 2009′s Focal Point, guitarist Paul Cusick set out on a solo career, taking over all song-writing, production and instrumental duties (bar the drumming). That album created sufficient buzz (largely due to Cusick’s canny use of social media) that there was a large enough fan base to fund the follow-up, P’dice. He has also earned the clout to hire 2 of the greatest drummers of recent times, hell, of any time – Gavin Harrison and Marco Minnemann.
P’dice is a concept album. Prejudice gives the album its idiosyncratic name and lyrical inspiration. Cusick himself describes the narrative as “the story of one man as he explores moments of his life, his actions, his thoughts, his decisions, his feelings, his realisations and how they were shaped, often unconsciously, by prejudice”. Lyrically Cusick has come on leaps and bounds from Focal Point. This is confident, assured writing delivered with conviction and, where appropriate, a vitriol to match Roger Waters. The music self-consciously pays homage to influences like Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Steven Wilson, Marillion, and wears those influences like a badge on its tie-dye sleeve. If you’re looking for Crimsonesque forays of experimental progressive music this may not be for you but if you like well-crafted songs performed with consummate skill then read on…
“Everything” kicks off the album in upbeat fashion with a hard-rocking hammer-on/pull-off guitar riff backed with contemporary synth patterns. Lyrics dealing with social division brought about by class and wealth paraphrase Pink Floyd’s “Money” – “Fast car, caviar, bank accounts, trendy bars”. Cusick so self-consciously channels his influences that it’s difficult to use the accusatory, derogatory term “rip-off” – he’s paying homage to these artists and why not? They’re giants of progressive music. His vocal delivery in “God, Paper, Scissors” is pure close-miked Waters pastiche to an electronic backing that wouldn’t have been out of place on Peter Gabriel’s Up. The track morphs into the electro-industrial prog of Porcupine Tree’s Halo. Such familiar devices do not interfere with my enjoyment of Cusick’s music. He does it so well that yes, it’s fun to spot the references, but there is enough melodic diversity and attention to detail in the songwriting and arrangements that P’dice has its own character. Enough of the prog-spotting, on with P’dice on its own merits.
“Borderlines” is an 11+ minute suite dealing with the artificial geographic divisions we build up and how modern technology bridges those divides – lyrics surely inspired by the Arab Spring. Elsewhere prejudice brought on by race and mental illness are explored. “Waiting” deserves specific mention for the vocal by Sammi Lee which forms a duet with Cusick’s ghostly, whispered interjections. Heart-rending music with an interesting production twist which makes it that bit more special. The production techniques, the overarching lyrical concept, the fact that everything bar the drums is played by Paul Cusick himself – these factors complement one another. P’dice is entirely the vision of one man: from composition to mixing to mastering, it is unsullied by outside interference or band democracy and it sounds all the better for it.
Yes, it’s difficult to escape the reference points – for example, those waiting patiently for the next Porcupine Tree or Anathema album will find this a worthy stopgap – but P’dice stands on its own and deserves to be listened to without prejudice.