As a child, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman (1918 – 1988) asked his father why a ball in his toy wagon moved backward whenever he pulled the wagon forward. His father said that the answer lays in the tendency of moving things to keep moving, and of stationary things to stay put. "This tendency is called inertia," said Feynman senior. Then, with uncommon wisdom, he added: "But nobody knows why it is true."
It’s up to the natural philosophers in the first place to solve this problem physically. But apparently it was Derek Sherinian’s challenge to approach the phenomenon inertia in his own artistic way by working out the tensions that are inherent in inertia. Inertia ís tension, suspence. Tension between science and art, between intellect and feeling, between craftsmanship and talent, between patterns and improvisation, between rhapsody and technique, between holding in and letting go. From this point of view the title Inertia for Sherinian’s solo album is far more adequate than the tentative title Rhapsody in black that was used during the making of the album.
Since Derek’s first solo album Planet X (1999) turned out to be the start of a group project after the release of Planet X’s second album Universe (2000), we can consider Inertia (2001) being Sherinian’s first real solo project. Looking back to the musical results on this well balanced album one could only conclude that Sherinian’s (Kiss, Alice Cooper, Dream Theater, Explorer’s Club) choise to invite Simon Phillips (The Who, Jeff Beck, Toto) as his musical mate and counter-part on the Inertia project was the best possible option. The Caligula of the keyboards (as Alice Cooper used to call Sherinian) and the octopus on the drums were able to alternately tame each other and let each other go. The invitations to the addresses of Zakk Wylde (Ozzy, BLS), Steve Lukather (Toto, tons of sessions), Jerry Goodman (The Flock, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Dixie Dregs), Tom Kennedy, Tony Franklin and Jimmy Johnson were all fitting perfectly in the concept of this project. After their jobs were done, almost everyone stated that they were driven to one of their best musical performances ever recorded.
At a first glance to the tracklist of Inertia it’s striking that Sherinian prefered deviant characters or phenomenons like Frankenstein (the main character in Mary Shelley’s famous 1818 novel who created the monster that wanted to kill his creator Victor Frankenstein), Evel Knievel (America’s most famous daredevil: “I only broke 30 to 35 bones.”), La pera loca (The mad dog), Mata Hari (alias for Margaretha Zelle, during her heyday considered to be one of the most beautiful and seductive women in the world, killed by the French Intelligence in 1917 as a supposed spy), Inertia and Astroglide (a personal lubricant, created by Daniel Wray, a former NASA aerospace chemist, while working on the Space Shuttle). Obviously Sherinian needed some striking examples for his instrumental songs that symbolized his striving to create sensual atmospheres and to divert (musical) bounds.
Although Inertia is a rock driven album in the first place, it became a very versatile and coherent one, because of all the different styles (prog rock, fusion, jazz, blues, classical music, bebop, metal), influences (Edgar Winter, Jeff Beck, John Lord, UK, Alan Holdsworth, Keith Emerson), dynamics and tensions that were integrated in an easily accessible, well structured all over peace of musical art. Inertia turned out to be a new standard in multi fused rock that will appeal to a wide cluster of modern music lovers. It was the force of Sherinian and Phillips to invite the right musicians to the own written or collected songs and to let them conform to the concept and contribute with their own style at the same time. That’s why Zakk Wylde is the right guy for the heavy cover of Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein or the metal up tempo Evel Knievel and why Lukather got the chance to give edge to his melodic way of playing his riffs and solos.
Mata Hari for example breathes the atmosphere of a beautiful dancer that took all the seductive elements from her stay in the Indonesian Archipel to Paris to overwhelm her audience in her Dance of Love. Supported by tabla and sitar and an exceptionally sweltering rhythm by Simon Phillips, Lukather is playing one of his most catching melodies right from the heart. You even can hear him play his ass off for his own Mata Hari where it’s not important any more if it’s the historical woman or the one he loves in real life.
Everyone who loses oneself in the keyboard playing of Sherinian knows that he treats his keys like a guitar when he’s playing solos. This approach produces a lot of surprising duets with for example violinist Jerry Goodman in Astroglide and Inertia and with Lukather in the Charles Mingus/Jeff Beck song Goodbye porkpie hat. Goodbye porkpie hat opens with a cautious melody line conform the Jeff Beck cover, changes over in a slightly higher tempo and after an expressive solo by Lukather, showing a tendency to a blues scheme, Sherinian takes over with a raging guitar like solo that’s inappropriate in the atmosphere of the song, but fitting perfectly well in the integration of the song in the whole of the album. That’s just one of the many examples how Sherinian successfully tries to divert his musical bounds.
Another one is the arrangement of La pera loca. The song is very tight structured and arranged with some well timed and complicated breaks and bridges. But listening to the song you get the impression of one large improvisation. This effect is especially caused by the intro where all the musicians (Sherinian, Lukather, Johnson and Phillips) are prudently searching for the melody lines before starting the main part of the structured song. This effect is re-inforced by the jazzy part of the song where Lukather slightly plays an Al Dimeola like impromptu.
One of the most catchy songs where it all comes together, horny darkness and lightness of being, beautiful melody and unexpected breaks, cyclic construction and playing side-ways, is What a shame, where Zakk Wylde meets Steve Lukather. It’s hard to say this is thé highlight of the album because Inertia actually is one rhapsody of highlights. An album that wasn’t expected by anyone but will bring in rapture everyone who wants to be open to a whole new approach of musical suspence.
Heaven 4, June 2001