Universal Dice – birth, love, hate, death
Gerry Dantone, the musical and creative heart of Universal Dice, shoots higher than ever before with the project’s latest release birth, love, hate, death. The sixteen song rock opera features some of the finest instrumental talents working in popular music today playing alongside the multi-faceted Dantone and the totality of the experience amounts to one of 2018’s most entertaining and illuminating ventures. The band promotes themselves as one of the few outfits or collectives working today who succeed in bringing an intense mental and emotional experience together in a musical package for music devotees and they certainly live up to their billing. The variety of textures present on this release make it an equally memorable experience as Universal Dice manages to transmute their influences into something recognizable, yet uniquely their own. birth, love, hate, death is an invigorating odyssey from its first to last note and represents a throwback of sorts to a time when popular music composers reached for something more than Top 40 fame.
When you “step back” from this album and look at its tracklisting, you can appreciate what Dantone and his collaborators accomplish with this recording. birth, love, hate, death. The title pitches the idea that they’re taking on The Big Picture with this song cycle and every turn in its “storyline” and character development is packed with some coherent idea of forward movement that brings us through the songs. Tracks like the opener “Welcome to the World”, “I Wish I Could Tell You This”, “Take Me Home”, and “Danielle” are obviously key cuts to realizing Dantone’s songwriting goals on this album, but they are also quality standalone numbers that boast impressive commercial appeal. The level of commitment that the musicians bring to these tunes, in particular, has a peculiar personal urgency in each vocal performance as well and Dantone, far from a traditionally beautiful singer, deserves major props for really bringing something to the table that charges these tracks up even further. He shows he’s great at shifting his game up as a singer, as well, without ever getting far away from what makes him so memorable.
There’s more than a little classic rock shining through on the cut “I Love It When They Hate It”, but it’s never handled in such a way that it sounds like imitation or a tired retread. One of birth, love, hate, death’s more successful compositions comes with the track “I Know What I’m Doin’” because it’s such a fully realized performance. There’s a much different mood surrounding this performance, as well, which makes it stand apart from the typical song in this vein. “Man Enough” and “I’m No Good for You” pair up rather nicely – the first is one of those gently striding rock moments that Dantone and Universal Dice handle so well while “I’m No Good For You” has a memorable, acoustic driven groove and thunderous drums leading the way. The album’s second longest number comes near its end with “Sleeping Alone” and it’s an artfully sweet piano-driven ballad with some nice vocal touches and shifts into outright, almost anthemic, rock that’s particularly effective. The album closes with the comparatively muted “Forever” and Dantone and Universal Dice show listeners, a final time, their talent for avoiding the clichéd turns that would surely mar this release in lesser hands. birth, love, hate, death goes looking to make a big statement and does with a minimum amount of pomp or circumstance.