For those of you who do not know who the Protomen are, well, you should fix that. The Protomen are a small, indie band out of Tennessee inspired by Megaman. Yes, Megaman; the video game. They write highly overdramatic songs based on the character and story around their favorite video game. The CDs tend to be much like operas, or the soundtrack to a musical. Each song can be listened to on its own or as part of the larger whole.
I was completely in love with the first album. I’ll admit it. Itunes reports that I have listened to the CD more than 50 times from my laptop alone. The songs explored the theme of bravery, sacrifice, and revolution. The basic question raised was, could a robot rescue humanity or was it both the destiny and responsibility of humankind to correct their own mistakes? At what point was Megaman no longer responsible for the good of mankind? Was it truly heroic for the robots to fight and die for a freedom they could not take part in? Did a humanity that did not demand freedom deserve it? The music was a strange blend of folky-western, musical, and rock opera. I was in love.
When the second CD came out I was excited, but I had my suspicions. I had been burned before. (I’m looking at you here, Muse). However, more and more reports came in of how fantastic it was; just as good. No! Better! So, finally, I bought it. I have to say, they’re half right, but I was hardly disappointed.
A quick overview of this CD. Instead of taking place after the first collection, Act II Father of Death, takes place long before and tells the story of Megaman’s father, Dr Light. It begins with an Intermission, a lovely instrumental piece. Songs 2 through 6 (“The Good Doctor,” “Father of Death,” “The Hounds,” “The State Vs. Thomas Light,” and “Give Us the Rope”), tell the story of Dr Light’s imprisonment and the eventual fall of the world to darkness. As far as I know, the back-story they constructed for Light is completely their own. At least, I had never heard of it. In this version Light approaches machines and robots as a way to better humanity until he is framed for the murder of his love, Emily. He is tried and shipped off to build robots for Wiley, and Wiley, in turn, uses them to take over the world.
In another turn of brilliance the Protomen create a new character, Joe. I developed a special fondness for Joe immediately. He is a freedom fighter seeking to define that idea for himself. In an entire world of submission, his songs are full of unease at his own questions. He suspects the status quo is off, and cannot entirely understand why or how to change it. The songs become increasing violent until Joe makes an attack on Wiley’s fortress and, well, I won’t give away the end. Yes. It’s a CD with an end. How cool is that?
That said, though the story they had invented was interesting, engaging, and the music is, as always beautiful, I was slightly disappointed. I found the beginning slow and too concerned with narrative. At the end of the song list, after Joe has left, Light once again gives us a long monologue to Emily, who answers with her own. (As an aside, I originally meant to complain about the female vocalist’s slightly whiney voice, but I found it grew on me. Nevermind. Moving on). Overall, I was far more interested in Joe’s vague references to his confusing world or his nameless girl. The abstraction with which Joe approaches his city has a beauty that the concrete terms of the early songs lacks. That said, these same songs made me actively wish my name was Emily, and that Thomas was singing to me. But I digress.
I got tired of Emily and Thomas Light rather quickly. Especially in The State Vs Thomas Light, where the chorus sings “Not guilty,” against Light’s “Guilty!” which is such a transparent and trite affirmation that it makes me flinch physically every time it comes up in the song. And then they repeat it. The flinching continues. They did this to me in their last CD with the people’s line, “We are the dead,” but that at least was a fairly original and interesting sentiment. I can’t really do anything interesting with not/guilty.
As usual, there was a variety of styles explored in the CD, though the main focus was Jazz. The Hounds, perhaps my favorite song on the CD, sounds like something out of a more exciting version of Guys and Dolls, including breaks for chorus to yell to Wiley, who replies with cocky one liners.
I think the main point is that, try as I might to tear apart this CD for its pedantic narrative, or the moments where a chorus line seems cheesy or cliché, I have to love it. It’s fun and exciting and written with a great deal of heart. The Protomen grasped the theme and went over the top with a grace and imagination rarely seen in modern music. You don’t have to play the game to enjoy it. Go buy it. Four stars.