Third effort from i.m.o. brilliant The Tangent, has a somewhat different /new approach to it. Gone are Roine Stolt (Flower kings / Transatlantic etc.) on guitar. In comes fellow Sweede: Krister Jonsson (Karmakanic) on guitar. So how does he fare with these excellent musicians? Actually I think he is brilliant, sharing the duties with guest guitarist
Dan Watts (Parallel or 90 degrees).
First track on this fine album is “ In earnest” 20:03 min. with a slowly piano opening and a very laidback vocal, soon to become a complex arranged song with plenty of variation and time signatures. They even play with different musical styles - a jazzy interlude that made me think of Colosseum in their heyday, then suddenly there is a soothing flute/keyboard theme.
As with the 2 first fine albums, this British/Swedish combo makes fine music and they dare tread in musical territory such as prog (obviously), jazz, Canterbury, pop and soundtrack like themes. But still making it sound, like were it their special trademark!
And this my prog friend, is just the first track. Go figure!
Track 2, “Lost in London” 8:08 min. Really has that Caravan (the band) feel with some power chords thrown in. A superb track. I love it!
Track 3, “DIY surgery” 2:16 min. A powerful sax theme tune.
Track 4, “GPS culture” 10:07 min. Imagine ELP with vocal arrangements and superb guitars. (Yes, I know Greg Lake plays a fine guitar)...but hear this track, which by the way, takes a turn at the 6 min. mark.
Now this excellent album contains 7 tracks clocking in at almost 79:00 min. I believe it also comes in a special edition 2 CD package. CD2 containing 6 exclusive tracks written during the sessions of this fine album. So nothing left for me, but: BUY THIS GEM!
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Ooh, yet another prog rock supergroup... Yawn! Oh, sorry, excuse me, it’s just that after Transatlantic, OSI and Kino I’ve grown a little bit bored of this relentless band-member-swapping that has become something of a trend in recent years.
To be fair, The Tangent are a bit different because at least when the band started out they had a genuinely impressive supergroup line-up: keyboardists Andy Tillison and Sam Baine of UK group Parallel or 90 Degrees, guitarist Roine Stolt, bassist Jonas Reingold, and drummer Zoltan Csörsz of Swedish group The Flower Kings, saxophonist David Jackson of Van der Graaf Generator and multi-instrumentalist Guy Manning.
Since the release of the first album in 2003 there have been numerous line-up changes and the current line-up for this third album is Tillison, Baine, Reingold and Manning, plus replacement members Krister Jonsson (guitars), Jaime Salazar (drums), and Theo Travis (saxophone, flute, clarinet). Still quite an impressive line-up then, but perhaps not quite the genuine supergroup they once were.
Also the band’s style has changed a little since the first album, moving from fairly standard Yes-like symphonic prog, to incorporating more elements of jazz, funk and pop, plus a definite nod to the Canterbury scene. But does it work? Well, yes and no.
It’s an impressive musical line-up and there’s no doubt that that’s where the band’s strengths clearly lie. You can’t fault the musicianship on display here: it’s extremely complex stuff and it’s played to perfection, though you would expect nothing less from such established and respected players. And at times there’s music here to match some of the great moments of 1970s prog rock. But that’s part of the problem. Despite the clever mixture of sounds and styles, this is often highly derivative music, drawing all-too obviously in places from bands like Yes, ELP, King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator and assorted Canterbury bands.
And whilst being derivative of 1970s bands is not a crime, it is a potentially dangerous game to play. It rests not only on your ability to write music that is stylistically similar to that period and use appropriate technology to recreate the sound (both of which The Tangent are superbly capable of doing), it must also stand up compositionally to the music it”s emulating. Unfortunately this is where The Tangent are let-down: the music sounds good in sections, but very few of the songs (most of which are longer than eight minutes) sustain themselves throughout and they would have benefited from some editing.
The vocals and lyrics don’t help much either. Whilst the music is sometimes very strong, Tillison is not a particularly strong, distinctive or interesting vocalist, and is certainly no Greg Lake, Peter Hammill or Jon Anderson. In fact he’s not even a Neal Morse – compare the music, songwriting, vocals and lyrics of Morse-era Spock’s Beard or Transatlantic with much of what’s on this album and there’s quite a gulf. Morse was always good at writing the kinds of ambigous, cryptic and clever lyrics common to prog rock bands of the 1970s, but Tillison tends to resort to lyrical sledgehammers – clever in their own way perhaps, but a bit too obvious.
That’s not to suggest that the album’s a dead loss by any means: there are worthwhile elements within the first three tracks (though none of them quite work overall), and then there’s track four, “GPS Culture”, that truly stands out as something rather special. Rather derivative of Yes it may be but it’s highly impressive nevertheless and succeeds for the entirety of its 10 minutes. In fact it’s the sort of track that you’d be more than happy to hear on the next Yes album, if it ever appears.
Track five, “Follow Your Leaders”, succeeds too and contains a highly impressive instrumental section that really gets the best out of the band’s musicians. There’s a definite change of pace with track six, “The Sun In My Eyes”, a comedy disco pop number about the burdens and joys of being a prog fan. Good fun overall.
And then the albums ends with its closing epic, the title track, which at 25 minutes is the longest on the album. One of the highlights of this track is the heavy emphasis given to Theo Travis (he did co-write it with Tillison) and, not surprisingly given that he replaced David Jackson in The Tangent, his contribution gives it a rather strong Van der Graaf Generator feel... it’s not just the presence of the saxophone, it actually sounds like it could be Jackson playing on a recent VDGG track. Overall it’s quite a strong epic to end the album, though whether it really needed to be 25 minutes long is open to question. As with other tracks on the album, it might have merited from some trimming, particularly in the middle section.
Overall, I wish I could be more glowing about this album. It’s a good band line-up and the level of musicianship is commendable, whilst the album artwork by Belarusian artist Ed Unitsky is typically fantastic, holding up alongside classic prog rock album sleeves of the 1970s by artists like Roger Dean and H. R. Giger. But this album sounds as though it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be pastiche or parody. It wants so desperately to be original but can”t stop emulating its heroes, and although it does a fair job at times, the vocals, lyrics and composition let it down. A curious brew then, and at times brilliant, but largely a rather frustrating statement on the current state of the prog rock movement: technically impressive but bogged down by hero-worship and nostalgia.
Best tracks: “GPS Culture”, “Follow Your Leaders”, “The Sun In My Eyes”, “A Place In The Queue”.
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