The Mute Gods, Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth (InsideOut, 2017)
Tracks: Saltatio Mortis (1:57), Animal Army (5:00), We Can’t Carry On (5:11), The Dumbing of the Stupid (7:08), Early Warning (3:57), Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth (5:02), Window Onto the Sun (6:00), Lament (2:01), The Singing Fish of Batticaloa (8:25), The Andromeda Strain (2:57), Stranger than Fiction (4:23)
I’m going to catch hell for that title. I really don’t want to get political, but it seems that the regressive leftists are taking over this beloved genre we like to call prog. (I am, after all, the one who just last year wrote an article entitled, “Keep Your Politics Out of My Prog.”) Anyways, the first part of this article will be a subjective rant. The second half will be a relatively objective review. Both are neatly titled, in case you want to skip the rant part.
Nick Beggs is an incredibly talented bassist, but when it comes to politics, he is an incredibly angry and confused man. This anger has become rather vitriolic on his social media over the past couple of years (i.e. during the recent US election cycle). While he is certainly entitled to his opinion, his incessant sophomoric attacks against worldviews he appears to know very little about is getting rather old. And thus, I offer the following counter to Mr. Beggs.
I’d like to provide a little background on “conservatism” versus what we call “liberalism” or “progressivism.” What we call conservatism today, in the vein of Edmund Burke, America’s founding fathers, and Russell Kirk, isn’t really conservative at all by historical standards. You see, for thousands of years, conservative government usually meant tyrannical rule by an autocrat or monarch. Sometimes those rulers were just, and other times they were not. Following the Protestant Reformation and increasing during the Enlightenment, political thinkers began talking about personal rights and government by the consent of the governed. This ultimately led to democratically elected governments as seen in the early days of the United States. What I have just described is what, today, is generally called “conservatism,” although it is so much more than that. In their day, however, these ideas were remarkably radical and liberal. Indeed, during the nineteenth century, “liberalism” referred to a movement that called for free markets and personal rights and responsibility. Sometimes this movement is called “classical liberalism” in an effort to distinguish itself from both the Republican party (which isn’t all that conservative) and from those that call themselves “liberals.”
A funny thing happened around the turn of the 20th century: the “progressives” came to power. These progressives weren’t really progressive at all. Rather, they and their more radical counterparts, the Marxists (communists), were regressive in the sense that they wanted to return to the government controlled society of centuries past, the key difference being the utter disdain these so-called progressives had for Christianity. As the century wore on, the “progressives” took the term liberal, even though their beliefs were anything but liberal. Government control of the means of production is not a liberal idea – that is how the world was run for thousands of years before capitalism existed at the national level. The classical liberal ideas of personal rights and responsibility are truly liberal.
So, what does this lesson on political history have to do with the prog rock we listen to these days? Recently, I’ve noticed a large number of musicians within the prog genre bashing America, Americans, conservatism, Republicans, gun rights (i.e., the right to defend oneself from both government and other people), Brexit, Trump, and Christianity. However, I’ve yet to see a principled argument from any of these musicians against any of these things. Instead, it is all heated rhetoric, much like we see in the news media.
Lately, it seems like every single issue of Prog magazine, which I love to read, includes needless shots against Americans and Trump. Even in their 2016 readers poll, they listed both Trump and Brexit in their top ten list of biggest disappointments from the year. This felt really out of place and uncalled for. What good does it do to anybody to bring politics into those articles at all? Furthermore, Prog tries to diminish Christianity all too often. Every time they review a Neal Morse album, they treat his Christianity as if it is a problem that Morse needs to fix. It seems to me that Morse’s belief in Christ has done immeasurable good in his life.
I was reading the latest issue of Prog (74) last night, and two hours flew by before I even looked at the clock. I love the magazine – the articles are so well written and so informative. In that two hour span, though, at least twice I came across blatant Trump bashing that added absolutely nothing to the articles. It was clear that the authors were purposefully asking the musicians leading questions to get them to bash the American President. This is the sort of crap I expect from Rolling Stone (remember the Neil Peart article?), not from Prog. Go ahead and disagree with Trump, but don’t include Trump-bashing in an article in a magazine that has nothing to do with politics just because you don’t like the man. Such yellow journalism demeans the artists and their music.
To Prog’s credit, the article on The Mute Gods’ new album had to get political because the album is political. Beggs describes the album as angry, much angrier than last year’s Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me, which I quite liked. This article was very enlightening because it shows Beggs for what he truly is – a man bitter about his past and angry at God. He talked about his past as a so-called Christian, but he made it abundantly clear that he does not truly understand the Christian faith. He denies that morality stems from God, saying that “Humanity has the ability to stand on its own two feet. We have a strong moral compass of our own. We don’t need God to give us that” (Prog 74, page 59). Where does he think that moral compass comes from? Man left to himself is completely fallen and incapable of any good deed. We absolutely need God to give us moral direction. Judaism and Christianity were the only ancient religions to say that sacrificing children to idols is wrong. Paganism didn’t say that. Left to himself, man is capable of the most despicable kinds of evil. The situation in the Middle East should prove that point quite nicely.
If Beggs had decided to share his beliefs like Marillion did last year with FEAR, maybe I could take it seriously. However, Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth, as well as the accompanying article in Prog, comes across like an angry CNN reporter crying about how Trump said mean things about them.
The Mute Gods really seems like a solo project for Nick Beggs rather than a “supergroup” made up of Beggs, Roger King, and Marco Minnemann. Indeed, the Prog article barely even mentions King and Minnemann. This band is definitely Beggs’ baby, and it is his way of getting his voice across to the music world. In his work with Steve Hackett and Steven Wilson, Beggs is just the bassist (and a very good one, at that). In The Mute Gods, he is songwriter and frontman. For the group’s first album, this arrangement worked out fairly well. While I didn’t like the whole album, I thought the first three songs were absolutely brilliant.
Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth is a completely different animal. If you liked Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me, you won’t necessarily like this new album because it sounds so drastically different, and not in a good way. What is most noticeably annoying is the distortion used on Beggs vocals. It gets quite grating after a while. Vocally, Beggs is at his best during softer songs, which on this album is the song “Stranger than Fiction.”
The record begins with a short instrumental piece that is eerily reminiscent of Steve Hackett’s recent solo output: lots of symphony and Hackettesque guitar work. This isn’t particularly surprising considering both Beggs and King are in Hackett’s touring band. The rest of the album, though, sounds nothing like a Hackett production. The first song is simply a tease. The second song morphs into a harder Muse-type song, which continues for much of the album. When I say Muse, I mean that in more of a bombast sense than in a sonic sense. Tardigrades is very in-your-face. It grabs you by the lapels and doesn’t let go. It is kind of like a sidewalk doom-and-gloom preacher screaming at you about the end of the world.
Some of the proggiest moments come on the title track, which features King doing his best Rush impersonation on the keyboards. The lyrics are repetitive, but Beggs deepens his voice enough to make it palatable. This song is fairly catchy, and it is probably the most radio friendly song on the album. “Stranger than Fiction” is my favorite song from the album because it is calmer and more reflective, which the listener really needs after being shouted at for the previous eight songs (track 1 and “The Andromeda Strain” are instrumental). This song is the closest the album gets to the first Mute Gods album. While other songs aren’t particularly bad, such as “The Singing Fish of Batticaloa,” they are easily forgettable. I found that to be the case with much of the second half of The Mute Gods’ first album, as well. Here, the songs that aren’t preaching at you just end up being forgotten because they aren’t especially memorable.
Overall, Tardigrades falls short of its predecessor, Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me. Nick Beggs’ lyrics aren’t particularly enjoyable or profound. Indeed, he is no Steven Wilson in that department. Too often, the songs sound like an upset teenager whining about how mean the world is, which for a man of Beggs’ age is hardly becoming. The anti-conservative and anti-Christian overtones are particularly off-putting, for me anyways. I understand that my beliefs aren’t particularly popular in many circles, but what good does bashing them do if you don’t have a well-reasoned argument against it? Sit down with me, and we can cordially discuss politics and religion without anybody getting mad. Screaming about it in an album just creates music that gets old very quickly. Marillion’s FEAR manages to expound a leftist worldview in a way that is reasonable and mature. Tardigrades abandons reason for madness.
Final thoughts: Take a pass on Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth, and go listen to the first three songs off of The Mute Gods’ Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me instead.