The Tangent, SLOW RUST OF FORGOTTEN MACHINERY (Insideout Music, 2017). Tracks: Two Swings; Doctor Livingstone; Slow Rust; The Story of Lead and Astatine; A Few Steps Down the Wrong Road; and Basildonxit.
Andy Tillison is not a happy man.
From the art work, to the vocal work, to the lyrics of this latest The Tangent album, SLOW RUST, Tillison has embraced a critical response to the rapidly growing and evolving fascistic, fascist-lite, and insular movements of the western world over the last several years. As artist, as man, and as thinker, Tillison hopes to stay the dark trajectory of the West or even, God willing, reverse it. While the great red-headed man of prog mischief has never backed away from controversial viewpoints, he’s rarely been this explicit.
Even the album cover makes one pause. Previously, Tillison has joked that he represents the dark side of prog, the antithesis, in particular, to Big Big Train, and the cover seems to project this rather profoundly, as a (presumably) single Muslim mother walks along dilapidated railroad tracks, holding the hands of her two daughters. The once majestic train has derailed, and the crossing sign (the closest thing to the viewer of the album) reads “go.” Clearly, several things have gone very, very wrong. There’s no hedgerow in the distance, only a ruined, collapsed, and spent civilization. There’s some blue sky showing, but it’s obscured by the ruddy reds of smoke and grit floating all too freely in a broken and war-torn world.
The Tangent has never found its particular groove in terms of living in some obscene marketing ploy. All to the good! The music the band has created is and always has been a moveable feast. There’s never been a low point with the band’s music, though there have been some spectacular high points. The highest of the highs came with the first album, THE MUSIC THAT DIED ALONE, a breath of critically-fresh air a decade and a half ago, and, in 2013, with the hundredth anniversary tribute to THE RITE OF SPRING, THE RITE OF WORK, arguably one of the single finest albums in the rock era.
Musically, SLOW RUST fits somewhere between THE MUSIC THAT DIED ALONE and THE RITE OF WORK. It’s much deeper, more dense, and less “rock n’roll” than the previous album, A SPARK IN THE AETHER, but it’s not as cohesive or as prog as THE RITE OF WORK. SLOW RUST flows beautifully in terms of its form, however. The opening track, “Two Rope Swings” evokes the innocence of childhood, as the protagonist desperately clings to his halcyon days but already sees the flaws in society and, thus, in his own future.
Track two, “Doctor Livingstone, I presume,” is, I suppose but am not sure, a comment about European imperialism, the struggle between helping and controlling those in a less fortunate position. Musically, the piece is as “fusion” as Tillison gets, and parts of it would comfortably on an album from the first half of the 1970s. There are also, however and very significantly, some delicate moments on the track that make it a thing of intense beauty, but especially the unusual but successful mixing of the fusion elements with the delicate ones. Overall, this might be the best track on the album. It radiates taste.
Most The Tangent and prog fans will look most closely at the third track, “Slow Rust.” Divided into multiple parts—each with separate scenes—the song is “epic,” lasting over 22.5 minutes. It begins with a creepy and crawling keyboard and some gorgeous backup singers, but then it ventures into every known and yet to be known form of music. Epic, to be sure. Much of this song reminds me of THE FINAL CUT by Pink Floyd, at least in the moods manifested. I could write a full book about this song, as the lyrics and the playfulness and the anger are just so palpable. If “Doctor Livingstone” is the tasteful track, this is, by far, the most experimental and interesting.
“The Sad Story of Lead and Asatine,” returns to the innocence of the first track, but as that one looked forward to mistakes, this one looks back to losses. It’s deeply bittersweet, and it’s the kind of song that no young man could write. There’s so much conviction, so much loss, and so much confession in it. “I’m must a loser of time.” Frankly, it’s heartbreaking.
The fifth track, “A Few Steps Down the Wrong Road,” has been out for a while, as Tillison released a video of it on August 16, 2016, prompting much discussion among the prog community. At the time he released the video—itself laden with fascistic history and imagery—several important world events had yet to happen. If anything, the video means more today than it did last August (Sadly, however, the video is not viewable in North America).
The final track of the album, “Basildonxit,” is the shortest and funkiest of the songs on SLOW RUST. It feels more like one of Tillison’s solo tracks than it does a The Tangent song, but there’s nothing wrong with this. After all, The Tangent wouldn’t be The Tangent if it merely was The Tangent. The Tangent is an open ended journey, and one that is still in progress.
I’m eager to hold the actual physical copy of SLOW RUST in my hands. I’ve been listening to it repeatedly since I first received the review copy. I love it. I love everything about it. I have no problem with Tillison getting political, as he’s always thoughtful and artistic about it. And, frankly, he’s earned the right to speak his mind in his art. Why not? SLOW RUST is not an easy album, but it is a highly rewarding one.
It’s something that needs to be held, explored, and trusted. And, if I’ve not made it clear, I very much trust Tillison.