Universal Dice - birth, love, hate, death
The latest album from Gerry Dantone’s Universal Dice project is extravagantly titled birth, love, hate, death, but Dantone’s songwriting and conceptual ideas more than live up to the album title’s grandiose implications. Dantone, a man of many talents, is a songwriting talent clearly cut from a traditional cloth, but he nonetheless knows how to bring those foundational influences into perfect accord with a modern sound an audience of today will enthusiastically respond to. It’s accessible, but never achieves that accessibility at the expense of an intelligent presentation. This is music that doesn’t take short cuts and never cheats the listener will still ably depicting Dantone’s storyline for the rock opera. The story advances through songs structured as voiced by particular characters and, while things are never quite told in a A-Z sort of way, attentive listeners will be able to follow along without straining their attention.
“Welcome to the World” is a note perfect vehicle for bringing audiences into Universal Dice’s imaginative world and it comes across with loose-limbed confidence and sharpened musical instincts. It’s hard to not enjoy how well Universal Dice weaves a lot of musical activity into an unified whole while it never seems unduly cluttered. This is particularly apparent on the second song “I Wish I Could Tell You This”, one of the album’s best ballad-like songs. There’s some real musical drama in the jangling line of musical attack Universal Dice takes with “Your Son” and it puts a bright early spotlight on some of Dantone’s best work writing “In character”. One of the album’s best moments in a rock vein comes with the track “The Prophet” and it’s largely thanks to hammering drums that maintain an impressive pattern throughout. There’s a lot of vocal harmonies making birth, love, hate, death’s songwriting extra memorable but few, if any, songs present that so well as the track “My Hands Are Tied “ and, despite the obvious studio construction behind such parts, they come across like they’d be convincing in a live setting.
“Take Me Home”, befitting its status as the album’s lengthiest track, likewise has a constructed feel that, thankfully, never comes off ultimately sounding like a put on. Dantone doesn’t have a classically schooled voice, but the production almost always frames his singing quite well on birth, love, hate, death and this song is probably the best example of the nuance he’s capable of bringing into a piece. “Danielle” is about as classic as rock and roll songwriting gets while still sporting a distinctly modern flair that’ few of Universal Dice’s contemporaries could hope to pull off. “Better Man” brings out the guitars bigger and brasher than before on the album and the punishing drumming characterizing a couple of the earlier songs returns here with dizzying authority. “I’m No Good for You” is another track where the drumming makes a big difference, but the most significant musical relationship in this song is established between the percussion and acoustic guitar. The start-stop nature of the arrangement provides a perfect framework for the tune. birth, love, hate, death comes to a refreshingly hopeful, yet intelligent and clear-eyed, ending with the songs “One Day at a Time” and “Forever” that underline, without ever becoming heavy handed, the essentially personal nature of these songs for Gerry Dantone. It never comes off as a solo effort though. Universal Dice definitely come across as a band and their fourth album is their finest recording yet.