The Phantom Tollbooth
Natural
Artist: Eric Champion
Label:  Essential/Brentwood
Duration:  10 tracks/ 39'22"

1996's Transformation album saw the consolidation of Eric Champion's bright new rock/dance fusion, replete with crunching guitars and assorted synth bleepery.  The time was right for such a beast, riding the last few breakers of the early/mid 90's tide of grunge, and simultaneously fuelling the public's need for something a little new.  This was the era of the similar-sounding Babylon Zoo, who supplied the soundtrack for a Levi's advertisement, and about whom people nowadays are apt to say... "Who?".
 
Transformation was a rollercoaster ride through guitar-driven dance ("Sparkle in your Beat"), 'traditional' grunge ("Temptannie"), preposterous speed-punk (a cover of the Amy Grant favourite "Every Heartbeat"!) and some great songs and clever lyrics: check out "Life Form"'s heartfelt plea for change, or "What's in a Name" for a new slant on how far Jesus humbled himself.
 
Well, now Eric's back with Natural.  The array of musicians has all but completely changed, the image is a tad less futuristic and a bit darker, but he still has a taste for big guitars, orange things, strange electronic noises and smart words.  Now, when you've taken one rollercoaster ride, you want the next one to be different and even more exciting.  But that doesn't  happen here.  In fact, this new ride has lost some of the unexpected turns of before, tending more to being more high speed and relentless.  By leaning further towards denser rock, Champion has lost some of the space for interesting melody or dynamics.  Worst case in point is probably "Breakin' the Room" with its squealing guitar intro and rapid-fire rapped verses.  Sure, there are some respites from this onslaught: high spots which include the almost beautiful "Giving Up" and "I Wanna Come Home" and the imaginative "Simulated Sunlight", but sadly the highs are at least matched in number by the artistic lows: e.g. the clumsy techno-posturing of "Hacker's Prayer" and the retro Steve-Taylor-by-numbers of "God Only Knows".
 
If you heard Transformation and wanted more, then that's exactly what you get here: some more.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing.  This album is okay.  But if you heard "Transformation" and wanted MORE, you'll be left wanting.

By Daren Allder