Le Sacre Du Travail: Ruminations On The Rat Race

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.

4 thoughts on “Le Sacre Du Travail: Ruminations On The Rat Race

  1. eheter

    “But this is more a plea than a whinge, imploring us to remember there is more to life than the rat race.”

    Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Supper’s Off? | Progarchy: Pointing toward Proghalla

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