I’m old enough to remember those halcyon days of the early-to-mid-’70s when FM radio was full of great music. Every time I turned on my J.C. Penney clock radio, I knew the odds were good that something great would come blasting out of that tiny speaker. The likes of Yes, ELP, Jethro Tull, Kansas, Bowie, 10cc, and many others dominated the playlists of my local “progressive rock radio” station, WKDF.
Artists like the aforementioned walked a tightrope between pop accessibility and progressive complexity with an ease that today seems miraculous. Garnering lots of radio play, a group like Electric Light Orchestra could appeal to teenyboppers as well as college-age music geeks.
Fast forward a few decades, and those of us pining for that golden age of FM radio are now well-served by Nick Beggs’ new project, The Mute Gods. Right out of the gate, the album’s title track, “Do Nothing Till Hear From Me”, is a tour de force of instrumental prowess and spectacular vocals. Set in a totalitarian dystopia where no one can be trusted and the singer is on the run, the song is 7-plus minutes of aural bliss.
There’s a reason Nick Beggs has played with everyone from Celtic-prog band Iona to Steven Wilson: the man is a monster on the bass and stick. I’ve always been a sucker for inventive and melodic bass work, and Beggs delivers on every track. At times sounding like Chris Squire and others like Tony Levin, Beggs is able to go from providing a discreet pulse to thundering beats in a flash, all the while maintaining a unique melodicism. I’m now a huge fan.
That said, this is not a bass showcase. The band is tight as hell and every member makes significant contributions. In addition to bass and stick, Beggs also plays guitar, keyboards, and handles lead vocals. Marco Minneman (drums, percussion, guitars, sound design) played with Beggs in Steven Wilson’s band, while Roger King (keyboards, guitars, backing vocals, programming, and production) played with Beggs in Steve Hackett’s band.
This is one of the best-produced albums I’ve heard in quite a while, with a mix that allows each instrument to shine without overwhelming the overall sound. Little details are there for the discerning listener to enjoy, like the brief retro organ solo in “Your Dark Ideas”, or the Frippy guitar in “Praying to a Mute God”.
And how about the songs themselves! They move from peak to peak, with gorgeous melodies. I am often reminded of prime Alan Parsons Project as well as Hackett-era Genesis (especially on “Strange Relationship”). Lyrically, they tend to deal with alienation, paranoia, and the irrationality of current times. As Beggs states on their official site, “The record has a number of moods. But overall, it’s a rather disgruntled rant at the dystopia we’ve created for ourselves and our children.”
“Feed the Troll” is a very creepy look at an internet stalker who could have come from the dark imagination of Steven Wilson. “Swimming Horses” is a meditation on the passing of time, while “Father Daughter” is a beautiful duet between a father and daughter in which he confesses his regret at not being there for her as she grew up. “Praying to a Mute God” addresses the nutjobs who claim to speak to speak on God’s behalf. Heavy stuff, but the stunning music helps it go down easily.
There’s only one slight misstep, “Nightschool For Idiots”, which gets dangerously high on my cheese-o-meter. But hey, even that one is a pleasant listen.
So is this album pop, or is it prog? The Mute Gods successfully walk that tightrope with a superb collection of songs – it’s both and it’s more; it’s just great, great music. With Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me, The Mute Gods have set the bar very high for everyone else in 2016.