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.by Keavin Wiggins

Sometimes great things are born out of tragedy; such was the case with Unified Theory. 

The story of Unified Theory really begins with the unfortunate death of Blind Melon vocalist Shannon Hoon. After Shannon was lost to a cocaine overdose the remaining members attempted to carryon without their friend and frontman. They changed the name of the band to Luma and hired a new vocalist, but as guitarist Christopher Thorn reflects the chemistry wasn’t right so the surviving members of the group decided it was time to close that chapter of their lives and start a new one. 

Fate wouldn’t separate Christopher Thorn from one of his bandmates for long. After spending some time producing music for other artists he was reunited with bassist Brad Smith who asked Thorn for some help on a solo project he was working on. The longtime friends worked so well together that they decided to put a new project together and asked their friend Dave Krusen (Pearl Jam) if he would be interested in pounding the skins in the new group. All they needed was a vocalist. As luck would have it, Thorn was about to meet a man who would help tie it all together. During a trip to Los Angeles Thorn heard vocalist Chris Shinn and knew he had his man. Shinn’s band Celia Green was in the process of splintering, with members venturing off to fill post with other bands, so the North Carolina native was receptive when Thorn asked him to come up to Seattle and “try out” for the band. Once they played together, they had found their voice, the pieces all fell into place and Unified Theory was born. 

“A complete Unified Theory touches the groundwork of all its sources…” – Albert Einstein. 

That quote from Albert Einstein not only gave the band a name but also provided the framework that they would build from. They used each members separate experience, talents, musical taste and insight to create their own unique style of music. In a way Unified Theory is like Led Zeppelin. When the members of Led Zeppelin began playing together they were billed as “The New Yardbirds”, after Pages’ former group The Yardbirds. However, the music and energy created by four men turned out to be much more than a reincarnation of the former group, so they decided a new name was in order. Unified Theory was born in a similar way, when Christopher, Brad, Chris and Dave played together they knew that this band was much more than Blind Melon II or even Luma. While it is true that Christopher and Brad have not forgotten their roots, Dave and Chris Shinn didn’t share that heritage and the music of Unified Theory reflects that. 

Here is the most important part to the story – the music. Sonically the band also lives up to its name by carving out aspects from various styles to create something new. Trying to pin a label on this band is an exercise in futility. Their music encompasses so many different styles of rock that one minute you may find yourself comparing them to progressive rock pioneers Yes and the next finding similarities to the latter-day work of the Beatles. Chris Shinn’s tenor voice captivates the listener with his remarkable ability of projecting true heart felt emotion. A skeptic could write this off as studio magic, but Shinn is able to deliver the same intensity live as he does on the album, often times surpassing his studio work. Christopher Thorn and Brad Smith have spread their musical wings with this group. Thorn delivers some of the best work of his career and captivates audiences with his playing. Brad follows in the footsteps of Rush’s Geddy Lee switching from bass to keyboards throughout the songs without the audience noticing. As for Dave Krusen, with Unified Theory he is finally able to show the world what he is made up, with intricate patterns and fills he outshines even his brightest moments on Pearl Jam’s “Ten”.  Together they have found and crossed that invisible line where music ceases being a mere form of entertainment and becomes art. 

Some readers are saying to themselves at this point, oh great another fluff piece but I assure you as a critic I give Unified Theory the credit they rightfully deserve. Last November, a questionnaire was sent out to all of our writers asking them for their choices for the best CD’s of 2000. When the results were tallied Unified Theory emerged the victor for Rock album of the Year. (They were also the first runner up for Album of the Year). Having never heard their music before, my curiosity was piqued and when their publicist informed me they were coming to Los Angeles, I jumped at the chance to see and hear what all the fuss was about. A few days later their self-titled debut arrived in the mail. The opening bars of Cessna said it all, with the music and Chris Shinn’s voice riding a musical wave, the song seems to flow - rising to the crest and dropping to the trough like a boat caught in heavy waters. The ocean seems to be a theme throughout the album, from the artwork and various lyrics, ironically the song Cessna which best personifies the ocean has nothing to do with water. The lyrics seem to tell the tale of falling through the sky on an airplane on the other hand they appear to touch upon the tale of Icarus from Greek mythology with lyrics like “with wings of wax/I trust the sun over me”. In the myth Icarus defied the gods by attempting to fly, but perished when he flew too close to the sun which melted the wax on his wings. 

The second song “California” is another example of Shinn’s vocal range. The songs theme, the story of the disillusionment of someone who comes to California seeking out fame and fortune only to find a city of decadence and despair, has been dealt with before most notably with Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” but the lyrics here do a capable job of exploring the contradictory emotions of dealing with negative aspects of venturing to Hollywood and the excitement of actually being there. 

If you are looking for a collection of silly love songs you are in the wrong place. The subject matter of the lyrics take on the serious nature of the music they are sung over. The fourth track “Wither” deals with the heartbreak of watching a friend slowing parish through drug abuse. 

The masterpiece of this album is the final track “Keep On”, which would fit perfectly on side two of the Beatles “Abbey Road”. This is by far the most dynamic song musically on the album, which says a lot. The ebb and flow from subtle to dramatic has to be heard to be understood, and the lyrics’ tale of a man's surrender to the great forces of the ocean that concludes with Chris Shinn’s eerie words “There was a lot of things I'd never believe /     Like that I'd ever drown in this sea /  Lived a man in control of his life who believed / To die doing what you love is alright”. It is truly powerful stuff. 

Being a cynic, I fear that the music of Unified Theory is just too good for the masses, the themes flow much deeper than the tired rehashing of puppy love that fills the charts. The music is not easily definable except to say that it is great. I hope that I am wrong, and millions of fans will be turned on to the music of Unified Theory, because in this day and age it is hard to find music of this depth and quality. I have been wrong before in regards to this band's ability to break through, so I will close with that story. 

Los Angeles can be frustrating to even the most seasoned musical veteran. Many bands have complained after playing the city of Angels that the crowd was non-responsive, standing before the stage with their arms folded with an attitude that says “Come on show me all that you got”. I have witnessed this first hand several times. When Unified Theory played to a sold out house at the Troubadour in February I was expecting the same tired lackluster crowd response but was amazed with how effortlessly the band broke down the wall of resistance and put on one the best shows I have ever seen at the legendary venue. “California” was an early highlight in the set but the excitement seemed to build with each song until the rapturous encore performance of “Keep On” left us all yearning for more. You see for someone who loves music, it just doesn’t get any better than that. 

More Unified Theory

Visit the official site for song lyrics, bios, news, tour dates, video and mp3's

Listen to mp3 samples of all the songs and order a copy of Unified Theory's debut CD at the iconoSTORE

Keavin Wiggins is the founder and Managing Editor of the iconoFAN Network  Photos, Unified Theory logo and album art Copyright 3:33 Music Group/Unified Theory. All Rights Reserved by Copyright holders.

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