Brad Harvey on “A New Devotion” (Amplifier, BillionsBrad)

Advance hype describes it as a concept album-a fairy tale about a bloke named Silas who seeks refuge from a nightmarish city of the future. George Orwell’s 1984 and ANIMAL FARM set to music? TOMMY, ARTHUR, S.F. SORROW redux? Yes, no, maybe, whatever.

It’s a massive piece of work, clocking in at over sixty minutes. Reviewers cite this as a handicap – too much music for too little attention spans. But mercifully, The High Dials worship sixties songwriting values – only four of the album’s eighteen tracks surpass the four-minute mark.

This time out it’s evident that The High Dials have fueled the muse with vigorous helpings of The Zombies and Love, along with John Barry soundtracks and numerous R&B records.

“Diamonds in the Dark” opens A NEW DEVOTION like a kinetic kick to the groin, propelled by handclaps, Hammond organ, and frenetic bass playing. Musically, it’s Crosby, Stills, and Nash meets The Easybeats. Its lyric captures the hopelessness of giving one’s self to ‘the combine’: “When the morning comes, I must come down through the door/ And give myself to you, earn my living and grow poor/ Shutting out all you despise/ Sell your hands, but save your heart/ This is how you have survived.”

Illustration by Chris Duncan from the unfinished comic book insert for “A New Devotion”

Guitar and drums launch “The Dead Hand”, a taut rocker, followed by the jangly opening of “Desiderata”. A mid-tempo number, it takes a left turn with an intriguing end-piece that shifts between major and minor keys, underscoring the existential angst of the protagonist.

Continuing the theme, “T.V. Mystic” finds Silas wandering through office halls at quitting time, drifting through a city that “looms large”, arriving home to numb himself through television. The song shifts into a series of dissonant chords, framing the bleakness of his situation.

“Antenna” mixes the band’s high velocity freakbeat with a touch of modish R&B, posing yet another shrewd Anderson observation: “Have you ever had the feeling speaking is the meaning/ Not the words?”

In another era, “Can You Hear the Bells?” would have been a smash hit single. Concocted with the similar lysergic mindset that spawned PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN, it’s a marvel of arrangement and textures. Church-bell sound effects resonate, slithery guitar figures glide in and out like theme music from DARK SHADOWS, a beat box keeps the pulse, mellotrons and harpsichords swirl magically, and ghostly background vocals dance around Dhir’s nimble bass runs.

Not content to pilfer solely from the sixties, The High Dials steal a few moves from U2 for “Fields of Glass”, creating an epic piece of melodrama replete with thunderous rhythm guitars and distorted, pulsating bass. A series of feedback effects segue into a James Bond-styled bass-and-drums jam (with spy movie percussion), which morphs into “Save the Machine!” Over stabbing power chords, Silas’ fellow drones plead for the powers-that-be to preserve their (a)pathetic way of life.

“Leaving Alphaville”, “Silas, Please Come Home”, “My Heart is Black”, and “The Birds” do little to advance the plot (sub-titles-please!) but it allows the band the chance to indulge in folk-rock, power pop, Merseybeat, and soundtrack music, respectively.

Capturing the spaghetti-western flavor of FOREVER CHANGES, “Assassins” is a waltz-timed acoustic piece scored with strings and horns. Anderson heightens the sense of foreboding through phrases like “Sounds of unsheathing, the glint of a knife” and “Scimitar handshakes that twist in my side.”

The breezy “St-Marie” offers another slice of Arthur Lee, gliding through deft touches of muted guitars, minor chords and flute. “Sweetness and Light” feels like filler-not a bad track necessarily but it smacks of blueprinting. Its blandness enhances “Morning’s White Vibrations”, an explosive dose of electric sunshine pop with tremolo vocals a la “Crimson and Clover”, driving bass, rousing horns, and a melody reminiscent of The Move’s “I Can Hear the Grass Grow”.

After the exuberance of “Morning’s White Vibration”,  “Things Are Getting Better” and “Regeneration” are anti-climactic and definitely two songs over the finish line. The former is an instrumental composed by Dhir that’s slotted too late in the proceedings to have any impact beyond stalling the conclusion of the album. The latter is a coda, a pleasant bit of ear candy that revolves around a variation of the same lyric yet fails to resolve the fate of Silas. Did he finally escape? Find peace? Lose his mind? Die?

Only Trevor Anderson knows for sure.

The High Dials- offering hope for cynical rockers of all ages.