The Phantom Tollbooth

Blue Plate Special
Artist: Rick Altizer
Label: KMG Records
Length: 12 tracks /47.49 minutes
Rick Altizer is something of a multi-instrumentalist. All parts on this record, save a few percussive duties, are performed by Altizer and his co-producer, King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew. Guitar is obviously not just Belew's favourite instrument, it is the dominant one here, and both Altizer and Belew have given afficionados quite a variety of tones to enjoy.
The sound is very much pop-rock, with more than just a couple of nods to various points in U2's career. There are the odd signs of stadium rock sounds with the more electronic feeling and glossy production of more recent U2 albums, without the complete embrace of techno sounds. A very clear example comes on track five, "Oxygen Tank," where even the vocals have a "Bono in world weary mode" feel.

Unfortunately, there is nothing lyrically that can really compete with the strongest of the guitar tones. The opener, "Make A Monkey" is somewhat infectious in its refrain, but the insights offered are not presented in a sufficiently novel way to mask the fact that many lyricists have already gotten there.
Half way through, the production sheen can become slightly irritating after repeat listenings, but there are enough layers to the sound to keep listeners happy if the repeats aren't too frequent. Lyrics often improve as a musician matures. If that's the case here, Altizer has a bright future ahead of him.
James Stewart (12/15/1998)