Splendid stuff from BBT. Bit of an anthem, this…
One of the things I love about prog is that there’s very often an interesting story lurking behind a song.
Classic Genesis track The Battle Of Epping Forest is no exception to this, and I would imagine most Genesis fans have some idea of its origins, but Rob Webb has delved a little deeper to uncover more of the history.
Well worth a read.
Almost a couple of months ago, Brad wrote about L’Étagère Du Travail, the long-awaited companion disc to the wonderful Le Sacre Du Travail. With uncharacteristic restraint, I chose not to listen to the proffered download of this, preferring to wait instead for my physical CD. But it finally arrived last week – hence these words.
I won’t attempt to duplicate Brad’s eloquent review, but I thought his favourite track, Supper’s Off, deserved some deeper analysis, since it struck me also as a particularly noteworthy piece.
I’ll say right up front that I regard Andy Tillison as a major figure in prog, not just because of the sublime music that he creates, but because he has something important to say, too. In a genre where oblique lyrics and obscure concepts are considered almost a virtue in some quarters, his style is admirably direct and unusually relevant. Le Sacre‘s critique of the rat race certainly put one or two noses out of joint, and the pointed observations he makes here may have a similar effect.
Critics will no doubt latch on to the Genesis reference in the track’s title, as well as the lyric
We tried to change the world
But the world won’t take the hint.
They go running off back to Genesis,
and all the other bands are skint.
But this is not a dig at Genesis fans in particular. Tillison writes in the sleeve notes that “Genesis were great. I don’t mean to offend either them or their fans. Just the non-inquisitive attitude of people who will never listen to the myriad of bands who offer an equally adventurous experience to their heroes of the 1970s and who don’t necessarily have blood line with them.”
Other lyrics, spoken over the music, deliver the crux of his argument with laser-like precision:
And of the thousands of people who watched Yes at QPR in 76, only a few hundred will turn up to watch their descendants on a whole tour.
Yet if The Who were to plan some kind of comeback, they’d sell tickets for 90 quid to hundreds of thousands of people my age all over the world, who’ll turn up in posh cars and 4x4s, because I am talking about my generation…
There are some important and interesting questions at the root of all this. Is it not true that people retain a great fondness for the music they fell in love with during their formative years? And if this is the case, why don’t they make the connection to contemporary artists doing the same kind of thing? Do people form allegiances to bands rather than to styles of music? Do they prefer nostalgia to the joy of discovering new music? I could go on…
Those who would rush to condemn Tillison for his abrasiveness should think first about how difficult it is to make music for a niche audience these days. The digital revolution has been a double-edged sword, democratising production whilst simultaneously devaluing the product in the eyes of the general public. David Byrne argued cogently in UK newspaper The Guardian recently about the particular threat to creativity posed by streaming, for example.
I’ve never heard a prog artist put money up at the top of their agenda, but there’s no denying that artists need some kind of income from their music if they are to continue as artists. Besides the fact that it is a deserved reward for an artist’s efforts, money buys them time and space, the freedom to make good art – and we all benefit as a result.
So here’s my plea (I guess I’m preaching to the converted here, but what the hell):
By all means, go see the rock legends in the big arenas, but don’t forget about the little guys. Buy their albums. Go see them if they are playing anywhere near your home town, however pokey the venue is. And if you have to choose between tickets for a comeback tour by dinosaurs looking to put an extra couple of Ferraris in the garage or for a band still writing exciting new music whilst trying to make ends meet… Well, you know what the right thing to do is!
Splendid stuff from BBT. Bit of an anthem, this…
This is the new single from the mighty Haken’s rather wonderful third album, The Mountain.
Let nobody say that Prog is without a sense of humour!
Robert John Godfrey, maestro of The Enid, has written to members of fan club The Enidi confirming the sad news that he is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He writes
I suppose I had “known” that I was ill for maybe a year. I began to notice changes with the way I perceived my surroundings and with my day to day activities. I felt there was something wrong and I suspected it might be dementia (or worse).
My diagnosis has come as no surprise. It is just my very short term memory that is different and my ability to recall the names of people I know well. I still have all my long term memories – I probably will have right up to the end. My intellect still seems as good as ever, though that will probably not last. I have not noticed any changes with regard to my creative abilities and so far nothing has changed with regard to playing the piano.
The search now begins for a successor. Robert hopes he will have two or three years in which to get this new band member settled in the role:
He will need to be young and have a good piano technique with a background in classical/romantic music rather than jazz; a knowledge of music technology; a talent for finding a good tune and a thorough understanding of harmony. Above all he will need to be generous in spirit and willing to collaborate with those who have different but nevertheless just as valuable abilities as his own.
Robert signs off with characteristic grace and dignity:
I have had a great life doing nothing but music – I have wonderful friends within the band and the Enidi. I feel very much loved and appreciated – I lost any fear of death many years ago and the story of my life will come full circle as indeed it must. A symphony with a silence at either end.
God bless you, sir.
Put the kettle on, it’s time to relax…
It’s been a turbulent year for Andy Tillison and for fans of The Tangent. Back in October 2012 he dismayed us by dissolving the latest line-up of the band for financial and logistical reasons, only to placate us just a month later with the announcement of a new album in the pipeline. Since then, anticipation has grown steadily as the identity of each new collaborator has been revealed: Jakko Jakszyk, Theo Travis, Dave Longdon, Gavin Harrison and Jonas Reingold – a veritable who’s who of prog’s great and good, three of whom worked with Andy on 2008′s Not As Good As The Book.
The new album, Le Sacre Du Travail (“The Rite Of Work”), is finally here, and it’s a monster, clocking in at over 63 minutes. And that’s without the 10 minutes of bonus tracks!
Fans will find many familiar reference points in this new material, along with intriguing new elements. For me, The Tangent are the Steely Dan of prog, capable of a cool and effortless groove much like that legendary band. Jazz is never far from the surface in their music, but Le Sacre adds classical influences and orchestral texture to an already varied palette, drawing inspiration from Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring. In less skilled hands, the result could have been a mess – but it works brilliantly here.
That orchestral feel is most evident in the opening overture Coming Up On The Hour and in the penultimate track of the suite A Voyage Through Rush Hour, the two shortest tracks on the album if you ignore the bonus content. Sandwiched between them are two lengthy pieces, Morning Journey & Arrival (22:55) and Afternoon Malaise (19:21), which reprise the orchestral themes but otherwise place us squarely in the territory of other epics in The Tangent’s oeuvre, offering us different movements, changes of mood and pace, not to mention solos aplenty to showcase the incredible talents of the players – all the good stuff that any devotee of prog craves, in other words.
To round off the suite we have Evening TV, a twelve-minute slice of classic anthemic prog that surges into life with a soaring synth melody and Reingold’s driving bass. I particularly like how this piece brings us full circle with a quiet ending featuring the ticking clock and beeping alarm that began the suite. It fits perfectly with the theme of the album.
And what of that theme? When it comes to concepts and lyrics, Tillison has always steered clear of prog clichés. You won’t find fantasy, philosophy or eastern mysticism here, no oblique references, no Priests of Syrinx, no Watchmakers nor any other allegorical devices. Tillison’s style is much more direct than that, and his subject matter is something we can all relate to: the mundanity of the daily grind, a near-unbreakable cycle of commute-work-eat-tv-sleep.
In Morning Journey, he invites us to take a Google-eye view of the frenetic commute to work and barks “We are ants!” Things aren’t much better when we’ve finally fought our way to the “business parks, call centres and retail outlet nodes”. What kind of deal have we struck? What have we sacrificed for such an existence?
All the time that we give to companies who call themselves our friends
All the time that we live with their aims at heart, their intent
And then they tell us that we’re important or
We’re ‘all part of the whole’
I don’t believe them, not ’til I see it
Until I put my finger in the holes
Afternoon Malaise continues the analysis:
When are you you?
Just who is it in there?
Behind the stingy plastic staff pass and slightly maintained hair
You play the Bullshit Bingo but the pain inside you smarts
A rather funky later section entitled Steve Wright In The Afternoon has particular significance for those of us from the UK but will resonate with anyone who has had to endure those endless waves of bland music and meaningless chit-chat emanating from the office radio while “waiting for the wallclock to set you free”:
We’re only here ‘cos there’s nothing else we can do
And Steve knows – he’s under no illusions
So he gives us a factoid or something to make the time go by
It ain’t gonna be “Yours Is No Disgrace”
But he has a good try
This is incisive social commentary, full of the wit so evident in Tillison’s lyrics from earlier albums (Tech Support Guy and Bat Out Of Basildon spring to mind as good examples) and with a dose of world-weary cynicism that may not be to everyone’s taste. But this is more a plea than a whinge, imploring us to remember there is more to life than the rat race.
I suspect most fans would agree that the yardsticks by which we should measure any new work from The Tangent are Not As Good As The Book and its 2006 predecessor A Place In The Queue. In my view, this album eclipses both, offering us something altogether more coherent and polished. If I were to nitpick, I’d say that Dave Longdon has been underused bearing in mind his calibre as a vocalist, but that is a minor point regarding what is undeniably a magnificent accomplishment, a work of great depth and maturity, a clear contender for album of year.
Put simply, Le Sacre Du Travail is a masterpiece: the best-sounding, most consistent and most compelling release by The Tangent to date.
The wonderful iamthemorning from Russia are running a Kickstarter campaign to fund professional recording of piano and vocals for their second album. It looks like they’ve made their target already, but there are some cool rewards on offer to backers.
If you are curious about their sound, check out their Bandcamp page, where you can pay what you want to download their first album. Or have a look at the video below!
A “weekend treat” has just appeared on the Frost* website – a demo of new track Heartstrings.
(Incidentally, my review of performances by Frost* and other bands at last weekend’s Celebr8.2 festival is coming soon…)