When I first heard about the concept for this album my though was, "If the songs at all live up to the concept, I'm going to be really impressed."
Well, they did, and I was.
See, this album takes three of my favorite things (robot horses, existential crises, and albums with a coherent narrative arc), and then blends them together in an epic, poignant, furious masterpiece. Singer Chris Eaton's supremely unique voice adds a strength and depth to an album that could otherwise be dismissible, and the simple but brilliant lyrics are touching and honest, evoking empathy and passion for our equine protagonists. We want to whinny and stamp our hooves at their triumph and despair.
The first tracks set the scene for the unfolding drama. I Am An Excellent Steel Horse is an optimistic, breezy opener, followed by the smoldering passion of How Shall I To Heaven Aspire.
The following tracks are in turn raucous, buoyant, bitter and complex. The album's midpoint, Are We Not Horses, is a despairing and brassy look at our protagonist's motivations while displaying some of Rock Plaza Central's most poignant lyrics ("Am I just a lightning rod or am I breathing?"), culminating in a furious galloping scream: "If we're not horses, what are we then?"
The sweet, homely guitar parts and gentle background chorus of When We Go, How We Go (Part I) and Our Pasts, Like Lighthouses are a greatly appreciated chance for us to catch our breath, segueing into the energetic sweetness of 08/14/03 and stalwart optimism of Our Hearts Will Not Rust before the driving climax of When We Go, How We Go (Part II).
While the forward momentum for each song occasionally falters (most notably for me, the end of How Shall I To Heaven Aspire), every single song on this album is driving forward to the sweeping, soothing finale of We've Got A Lot To Be Glad For, a sort of balm for the emotional scars inflicted by the previous tracks.
This album was made to be listened to a a whole, cohesive story, from first breath to last fading note. Stick this in your player, turn the volume up and the lights off, and breathe in deep as our horses fight to heaven and back. You will come out changed.