In 1985, Mick Jagger began a nuclear war within The Rolling Stones, releasing his solo album She’s The Boss. Keith Richards told a reporter that what bothered him most about the record was that it wasn’t music that he could not have done with the Stones. Keith went on to emphasize that if you were in a band and wanted to do a solo album, the first rule is to make music you can’t make with the group. What’s the point otherwise, outside of ego?
Well, let no one say that George Szegedy has problems with his ego, or that he doesn’t understand the wisdom of Keith Richards. Szegedy was the co-founder of the fine Lansing-based band The Peoples Temple, a group that created a unique mix of garage punk, psychedelia and indie rock. Sounding raw but contemplative at the same time, The Peoples Temple demonstrated how to draw inspiration from the sounds of the past while adding a distinctly personal stamp. Between 2007 and 2014, the band released four albums — Sons of Stone, More for the Masses, Weekends Time and Musical Garden — that all made The Peoples Temple one of the most celebrated bands in Michigan’s underground music scene.
The Peoples Temple was prolific, but that may have been a problem: in 2014, the group went on hiatus, and as of this writing, they haven’t returned to duty. But drummer George Szegedy has decided to start his own project, and he’s blazing a trail that’s clearly different from the Temple’s. Adopting the group name Crystal Drive, Szegedy has cut an album, 900, that’s a solo album in the truest sense of the world. With the exception of electric guitar, Szegedy played every single instrument on 900, and he also handled all the vocals. And while The Peoples Temple’s music had a smoky but distinct ’60s vibe about it, 900 takes Szegedy boldly into the ’70s and ’80s.
900 is a headlong dive into vintage synth pop, dominated by historically accurate keyboard patches and heady, forward-moving melodies that are full of energy and personality even when the tone of the tune is meant to be downbeat. Szegedy says he’s been collecting period-appropriate keyboard and recording gear for years, and you can certainly tell he got his money’s worth with one spin of 900. From the pitch wheel bends of “Only for the Money” to the Gary Numan-esque sweeps and squalls on “Chemical Children,” 900 doesn’t just smile and nod to the influences of classic synth pop — he’s created something that sounds less like a nostalgic recreation and more like the real thing.
It would be very easy to do something like this with tongue in cheek, but judging from 900, Szegedy isn’t playing this for laughs. His tunes are solid and boast hooks that are smart and imaginative as they point to influences from the Cars to Ultravox. Szegedy’s vocals are flexible enough to match the many electronic moods of these 10 songs, and he can give these tunes just the right amount of MTV-era swagger without sounding foolish or over the top. And while keyboards and electronics are at the forefront of these tracks, Szegedy’s drumming gives the music a pulse that’s steady but human, and 900 has warmth that sets it apart from other folks trying to evoke the Era of Many Keyboards.
Not everyone who was into The Peoples Temple is going to enjoy George Szegedy’s new direction with Crystal Drive. At the same time, it’s not hard to imagine folks unfamiliar with his earlier work readily latching on to clever pop tunes like “Artificial Company” and “Only for the Money.” With 900, Crystal Drive has presented an impressive debut album that lives in a world of its own and shows George Szegedy has no intention of resting on past glories.
Take a listen to one of Crystal Drive's new songs below: