Classic rock fans sometimes bemoan the lack of new music that speaks directly to them in a world of ever-more-pre-packaged MTV bands. Now comes the all-new but already-classic debut album of Torque, a New York-based band comprised of members of the John Entwistle Band and the enormously popular east coast group Rat Race Choir. The album's called "103103", and it promises to take its rightful place among the classic rock albums of Van Halen, Zeppelin, Boston, Mountain, and others whose style it pays tribute to but never imitates.
Produced by Steve Luongo, who also co-wrote the material, sings lead and plays drums on the album, "103103" encompasses the best of the staples of classic rock; a slamming, balls-to-the wall, crunchy-squealy-guitars approach, accompanied by Luongo's gritty, soulful vocals which perfectly match his lyrics of regret, hope and salvation.
The album is dedicated to the memory of late Who bassist John Entwistle, a close musical colleague and friend of Luongo's. Luongo had long been drummer in the John Entwistle Band, and was asked to give a eulogy at the late Who bassist's memorial service on Oct 24, 2002. Shortly afterward, the tracks for "103103" began being cut.
"I'd wanted to get Rat Race Choir back together in recent years, but only (guitarist) Mark Hitt was available," says Luongo. Rat Race Choir was a phenomenon on the Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut and Westchester live music scene throughout most of the 70s and 80s, clocking in 300 performances a year and drawing tens of thousands to the burgeoning scene which produced Twisted Sister, Zebra and other top acts.
As things turned out, Mark Hitt's availability turned into a gold mine for the newly-born Torque. Hitt supplied riffs and music, Luongo provided lyrics, and soon the 11 songs of 103103 began taking shape. Jeff Ganz (bassist for Johnny Winter, John Lee Hooker, Lou Reed, Chuck Berry) laid down 8-string fretless bass, Chris Clark (keyboards for John Entwistle Band, numerous Broadway musicals) provided keyboards, and all four men sing on the album.
"103103" is an artful cacophony of throaty vocals, sharp, stinging guitar riffs, Hammond glissandos, buzzy, majestic keyboards and thundering bass. Luongo says, "The lyrics are all about very important things to me." The combined effect is an inspired work of new music.
"Hard Time", the first track, is a cautionary tale about juvenile delinquency, bad choices and their consequences. A solo keyboard reminiscent of a toy in a child's crib gives way to a crashing, compulsive riff. "Little boy went astray/The money wasn't his/He took it anyway/Old judge put him away", Luongo sings.
The album continues with "Too Much Talk"; a koan, a question within a question set to a straight-ahead beat. "When You See The Light" demands to know whether or not the listener will follow life's natural guides. "Cast a starward eye/Observe the heavens as they dance/At the crossroads/This could be your chance," Luongo sings.
"I Won't Be Coming Back" is the album's power ballad; a moving tale of loss and regret that begins, "When darkness falls and you're all alone/do you dream about the dream we shared", and which takes the listener through a relationship that didn't work out.
"Take Me"'s sequenced keyboard riff is heard throughout the song's story of youth challenged by life's tribulations, yet finding the still, small voice within. "Is Anybody There" deals with searching for truth in less-than-ideal circumstances over an ominous chord progression. "Looking for answers/I search for the truth/I have a feeling/I need the proof," sings Luongo.
"I'll Be Watching" is a dreamy, acoustic-based song drifting along elegantly as it delivers its message of hope: "Smile a smile for me and sing my songs/It was only a dream that went by too fast/If we'd only known then/We could have made it last."
"We Live For Today" is a message to a man in love, reminding him of his good fortune, set to a snarling, syncopated 4-on-the-floor beat. "Lucky One" is a searing sonic assault driving home the song's message of living one day at a time. "Rippin'" celebrates freedom; "Fly through the air with the greatest of ease/dancing lightly on the tops of all the trees/in mid-air under total control/The direction is determined by the soul".
The final track, "The Horror Rock Suite", is a fitting, explosive coda, a 6 minutes-plus collaboration between Steve Luongo and John Entwistle. The addition of the musical passage "Pi" by Mark Hitt completes this piece. "The Horror Rock Suite" is dramatic and moving and reminiscent of the greatest rock operas and concept albums.
"103103" is a moving, gut-spilling group effort that's one of the most original, inspired indie releases of the year.