In the late 1990’s, there was a trend that was first started by the small progressive rock label Magna Carta. The thought process was to put together a bunch of “named” musicians (some well known in the progressive rock realm, others not so much) for a very limited amount of time, record the sessions, and see what happened. The first two known of these, ‘Bozzio Levin Stevens’ (featuring Terry Bozzio, Tony Levin and Steve Stevens) and ‘Liquid Tension Experiment’ (with Levin, Jordan Rudess, Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci), were such a success that other labels started to follow suit. To “cherry pick” members of ‘Dream Theater’ (as Magna Carta did with the Liquid Tension Experiment) was not only good musically but also good economics, as the band was, and still is, one of biggest fish in the US progressive metal sea.
Enter Pittsburgh based InsideOut Records (founded by former ‘Dream Theater’ manager Jim Pitulski), who, in 1998, put together 2 members of ‘Dream Theater’ (this time, bassist John Myung and keyboardist Derek Sherinian) along with former ‘Winger’ drummer Rod Morgenstein (who had experience in the progressive rock realm playing with Jordan Rudess, then of the ‘Dixie Dregs’) and ‘King’s X’ singer/guitarist Ty Tabor. Sounding much more streamlined than anything ‘Dream Theater’ or ‘King’s X’ would do, “When Pus Comes To Shove”, the debut ‘Platypus’ release, sold considerably well. In fact, the album did well enough that a follow-up was requested by the label. In between the band’s debut and sophomore album, Sherinian left ‘Dream Theater’ to form his own project, ‘Planet X’.
“Ice Cycles”, released in 2000, showcases each of the band members best traits. Tabor, with his superb vocal harmonies and pop music sensibilities, is the main component of the album. Sherinian and Myung are happy to be in the background, adding flourishes of color when needed, but content to let Tabor take the lead. Morganstein shines on drums, complimenting the songs perfectly, never overplaying. There’s a ‘King’s X’ vibe here (due to Tabor’s involvement), but “Ice Cycles” is far more musically straight forward. There’s very little “wankery” here, the main focus is the song, and each band member’s part is geared towards that. In fact, one might get the idea that the need for simplicity was a focal point of the album. Sherinian, who is more than capable of overplaying, is quite subdued on “Ice Cycles” and that leads to some of his best playing in recent memory.
With the band now splintered into two separate groups (‘The Jelly Jam’ and ‘Jughead’), it’s unlikely that ‘Platypus’ will ever record a third album. Considered too straight forward to be a progressive rock band and too progressive to be marketed to the power-pop market, ‘Platypus’ seems to have been relegated to being a lost classic. However, with tons of guitar riffs, great songwriting and flawless performances, “Ice Cycles” is a vastly underrated album from a quartet of superb musicians.
For more information on Platypus, check out the following links:
Platypus on Wikipedia
Platypus on Prog Archives
Platypus on All Music