Universal Dice – birth, love, hate, death
Universal Dice have hit album number four with the release birth, love, hate, death and the sixteen song concept album, dubbed a rock opera by songwriter Gerry Dantone, recalls the glory days of bands like The Who while still charging forth with its own unique style and concerns. Dantone has recruited some of the best players available on the East Coast and in the New York area to help make his musical aspirations become reality and the sixteen songs they offer up with this release are deceptively simple and add up to quite an impressive whole. The album title hints at some weighty themes going into these tracks, but the songs do an excellent job of presenting them in an audience friendly manner. Dantone’s talent for condensing a wide-ranging story down into manageable songs that get under the skin and never overstay their welcome.
“Welcome to the World” is the perfect first song for this album. Dantone knows how to build a rock song with a heart beat; even at its roughest moments, there’s never a sense that Dantone’s definition of great rock and roll involves mindless thrashing away. Melody is an important component in what makes these songs work as standalone pieces and both this song and the album’s second, a ballad entitled “I Wish I Could Tell You This”, are among the album’s most memorable in that regard. The latter tune is further punctuated by some very emotional lead guitar fills. “My Hands Are Tied” is one of the album’s best early examples of how well Universal Dice uses acoustic textures in a predominantly rock setting and it’s vocally superb as well. The longest song on birth, love, hate, death “Take Me Home” justifies its length thanks to some palpable atmospherics that stand apart from the remainder of the release. “Danielle” and “I Love It When They Hate It” serve up some alt rock breeziness with the first track and some strong classic rock echoes with the latter track that will spin listener’s heads a little, but they never sound like they come from completely different artists. There’s an inner coherence to this album that makes everything hold together from the first through the last.
“I Know What I’m Doin’” is the classic lament of someone ready to crash and burn and both Dantone’s vocal, lyrics, and the accompanying instrumentation really make it come alive. There’s definitely a certain amount of darkness and blues surrounding this tune that fits in with the rest of the release. “Honestly” and “Sleeping Alone” are the album’s two piano ballads, though there’s other tracks elevated by the use of piano, and Dantone gives particularly affecting vocal performances on those songs. The final rock gem on birth, love, hate, death is the churning “I’m No Good for You” and it will convince any doubters remaining that this is an album with moments of rare power and drama capturing listener’s attention. This is far from a one man show, but it’s pretty bracing to hear Gerry Dantone’s fearlessness as a songwriter and conceptualist in full flight like it is with this opus.