Gary Sohmers and Bill Holloman Jr. claim a long list of successful credits and collaborations during their long music career but their work together conceptualizing, writing, recording, and releasing Beasties: A Sci-Fi Rock Opera must rank among the most unique entertainment and musical experiences in recent memory.
It harkens back to an early era in music history when the concept album reigned as the pop world’s flavor of the moment. Pop songwriters long ago began exploring the possibilities of marrying rock and roll with theatrical productions with wildly varied results. Some experiments such as Pink Floyd’s The Wall, The Who’s Quadrophenia or Tommy, and several Kinks albums from the early 1970s, are now legendary.
You can’t call Sohmers and Holloman’s Beasties. It is apparent, however, that the duo are aspiring entrants to that rarefied level and, as such, concocted quite a concept for Beasties. The work follows the story of a long-suffering rock band finally feeling fortune’s warm embrace and performing a free tribute for a large crowd. Hijinks soon beset our musical heroes, however, as the opera’s baddie, Dick Traitor, interrupts the concert and chaos ensues. It also incorporates a pro-environmental agenda into the storyline and other themes along the way.
“Even the Cool Succumb” introduces listeners to the light compositional touch defining the songs. You aren’t going to have to endure ham-fisted guitar histrionics or empty vocal pyrotechnics. It’s musical theater, without question, but “Even the Cool Succumb” works as an unbridled rock and roll number as well. Chris Farlowe is a real standout in his role as Traitor and guitarist Tom Majesky is an ideal contributor.
The lyrics are structured as “exchanges” between the work’s characters rather than consistently dominated by a single “voice”. Lesser talents can’t manage this without leaving audiences disoriented, but the duo of Holloman and Sohmers are veteran songwriters and musicians whose experience navigating the demands of song guides them through. Farlowe and Dave Bickler pair up in an impactful way during the EP teaser’s second track “Good Old Friend” and their harmonies during the song’s chorus are insistent and attention-grabbing.
“Stand Up and Be Counted”, the third and final song on the opera’s teaser EP, shows listeners a final side of Beasties’ songwriting. It’s clearly intended as one of the big production numbers and has an inspired instrumental and vocal arrangement working in its favor. Closing the teaser with a song such as this underlines the deliberate planning Sohmers and Holloman are putting into Beasties’ development. This isn’t some hackneyed Grade C rock musical marking time until the next delusional escapade.
Bill Holloman Jr. and Gary Sohmers are, instead, still approaching their art and work with the same child-like creativity that brought them attention as young men. This spirit will always burn bright in both of them and illuminates each second of the Beasties: A Sci-Fi Rock Opera teaser EP. It is a winning harbinger of greater things to come, yes, but it’s well worth a listen even in its abbreviated form.
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