if are an Italian band from Milan and The Stairway is their second album. A concept album based on the dreams of a traveller through his night of sleep in a quest for happiness, The Stairway promises more than it delivers. The band centred on writers Dario Lastella (guitar) and Claudio Lapenna (keyboards), also features singer Paolo DeSantis and bass player Franco Bussoli.
Opener Close Your Eyes is a laid back acoustic scene setter with chiming keys and weary vocals, very pretty. There’s some nice acoustic guitar at the end of the track which then takes on a disturbing edge before moving into Uneasy Sleep (part 1). Here it soon becomes apparent that a drum machine is being used, a thought that is confirmed by checking on the instrumentation. This is a problem throughout the whole album being more obvious at some points than at others and this is a shame as a lot of the material is first rate. The band originally started out with a drummer but after he left it seems a replacement was never found. I don’t know whether they use one for live shows but, in my opinion, it would be a good thing if they were to find themselves a drummer to get a more live and natural sound.
The title track is next opening strongly with solid guitar and keys and a nice vocal but again the synthetic drums spoil the effect. A shame as this is a good up-tempo number worthy of better treatment. Uneasy Sleep (part 2) does exactly what it says on the tin and is dreamlike and unsettling with sound effects, whispered vocals and distortion. The keyboards add a sinister effect to a very atmospheric interlude. Where Have You Been? is next opening with some nice bass before the pace picks up for a good rocker with some tasty guitar. The lengthy Like A Bird also opens with a nice melody before moving into a rockier guitar led section and twin lead vocals from Paolo and Claudio. The mid-section of this track reminded me a bit of a low budget Queen, but maybe that’s just me! This is the centrepiece of the album and certainly worthy of checking out.
Missing makes too much use in the foreground of those pesky drums, but the bass is good and funky and the opening vocal unsettling and different enough before moving into a more rock mode. I like this track. There is certainly something here that I haven’t heard before. The short and sweet Uneasy Sleep (part 3) is more straightforward than it’s preceding parts and one of the proggiest pieces on the album. It’s Just Me is a nice acoustic tune with a care worn vocal that takes off towards the end around the couplet “Someone is dying, it’s just me…”. Final track Find Your Way starts out a bit like Marillion’s Forgotten Sons and is an uplifting finale ending the album in the same way that it started with the ticking of an alarm clock.
The lyrics throughout are pretty good and quite engaging and a lot better than many bands writing in English where it is not their first language.
My main problem with this album is the drum machine and I know I’d like it much more if it wasn’t so obvious. There is some good writing throughout and solid attempts at providing atmosphere. The playing and vocals are pretty good throughout though not exceptional. Overall, a good solid piece of work trying very hard to achieve something different but not quite getting there.