In my own way, I felt relieved when I read other reviews of Turning Virtue‘s A Temporary Human Experience likened the album to current-era Anathema. Although I haven’t connected as much with the ‘new lease on life’ optimism that Anathema pioneered with 2010’s We’re Here Because We’re Here as I did with the bitter gloom of earlier material, I’d say that Anathema have never been so influential as they are now. Floydian progressive rock meshed with hook-heavy pop isn’t exactly a new idea per se, but the proliferation of groups like Turning Virtue goes to show what a promising formula it can be.
Upon first glance, Turning Virtue is clearly an ambitious, high-budget undertaking, particularly for a band that will have been previously unknown to many. A Temporary Human Experience was mixed by Tim Palmer, best known for his work producing legends like David Bowie and Porcupine Tree. The master was produced by a similarly high-profile name with Andy Vandette, previously working with Rush and Dream Theater, among others. Possibly most importantly for my own tastes, however, is that they managed to snag the incredible Mark Zonder (Fates Warning) to play drums.
As enticing as this quality cast is, I’m ultimately left with the feeling that Turning Virtue placed a bit too much emphasis on talent-searching, whereas a consistent, engaging set of material could have gone just as far. This isn’t to say that Turning Virtue lacks for quality; on the contrary, the combination of atmospheric scope and pop hooks on the best tracks would do Anathema proud any day. Rather, for an album that impresses me so much in certain parts, I guess I’m left feeling disappointed that other parts of A Temporary Human Experience fail to move me. To their credit, Turning Virtue are an impressively eclectic group. The sound here ranges from progressive rock to art pop and hard rock to psychedelia, not to mention the emotional variety at stake. The level of immersion really depends on the angle they’re working at the time. Judging from the album’s title, if they’re really trying to reflect a ‘temporary’ experience like life itself, they haven’t just captured life’s variety, but its harsh ups and downs as well.
Turning Virtue suffers when its musicians play it safe, and it succeeds when they dare to take risks. This is a simple distinction shared by many other bands in their style. The album’s single, ‘Transcend’, is one of the better-written songs on the album, but it doesn’t feel like A Temporary Human Experience really takes off until ‘Box of Disappointment’—the album’s easy highlight and an example of how engaging they can be when they break past the mellow Pink Floyd mould. ‘Box of Disappointment’ captures the same melodic tact without feeling as predictable as some of the more standard tunes. Compare that to ‘Fall in Love with the World’, a relatively plain rock song that has a hard time sparking much in the way of interest.
Turning Virtue are a promising group. The material is generally solid, the musicianship is great, and the production is predictably stellar. Ultimately however, I can’t help but feel a bit frustrated by an album that shows greatness in parts, and finds itself content with being safe and tame in others. Where Anathema or Porcupine Tree made waves for the fact that they pushed their influences to their musical limits, Turning Virtue get stuck too often in overly mellow, moody territory. A Temporary Human Experience would have been much better if they had focused on the exciting styles, and left conservative retreads by the curb. So many things about the album are top-notch, but such inconsistency practically demands a mixed reaction.
02) These Things
03) Box of Disappointment
05) Fall in Love with the World
08) What’s True
09) Salty Tears