Former Police guitarist Andy Summers is no stranger to collaborations, and has paired himself with a bevy of intriguing artists (Robert Fripp, Bill Evans, Fernanda Takai) over the course of his 12 studio albums. Jazz, fusion, avant-garde, and tropicalia have all been explored by this prolific guitar hero, but the one thing he hasn't done since the Police's 1986 breakup is form a legitimate rock band. Working with Rob Giles of L.A. super-songwriter combo the Rescues in what turned out to be a full-on band project, Summers revisits the punchy pop/rock style that made the Police one of the biggest and most influential acts of the 1980s. Perhaps inspired by the Police's 2007 reunion tour, he recruited Giles after hearing him at a 2013 Rescues gig and the two began writing songs together in Summers' Venice, California studio. The result is a punchy, tight, and melodic rock album with strong vocals from Giles (who also handled the bass and drums) containing some of Summers' most memorable and straightforwardly hooky guitar playing in years. That Circa Zero slightly resemble the Police at times is no surprise. In interviews they haven't shied away from that influence and even Giles' vocal style and timbre echo that of Sting's on a few of the album's 13 songs. But it's nice to hear this kind of articulate and progressive power pop being played in a musical landscape otherwise littered with large chamber folk ensembles and over-processed electro-pop acts. Songs like "Levitation" and "The Story Ends Here" are finely crafted pop tunes with big soaring choruses and nice lean arrangements. "Gamma Ray" and "Summer Lies" lean a little too hard on mid-'80s power trio pseudo-balladry, and some of the album's later cuts like "No Highway" and "Light the Fuse & Run," for all their rock muscle, sound a bit like well-meant but slightly uninspired prog pop. Still, taken as a whole, Circa Zero do the trick of pairing Andy Summers with an able singer/songwriter partner in a rock trio setting he hasn't visited in quite a while. The results are encouraging and ultimately listenable.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger