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(79 min, InsideOut)
TRACK LIST: 1. In Earnest 20:03 2. Lost in London 8:08 3. DIY Surgery 2:17 4. GPS Culture 10:07 5. Follow Your Leaders 9:21 6. The Sun in My Eyes 3:44 7. A Place in the Queue 25:14 LINEUP: Andy Tillison - piano, organ, Moog, synthesizers; lead vocals Theo Travis - saxophones, clarinet, flute; b/vocals Guy Manning - acoustic guitar, mandolin; b/vocals Sam Baine - piano, synthesizer; b/vocals Krister Jonsson - electric guitar Jonas Reingold - bass Jaime Salazar - drums
Prolusion. "A Place in the Queue" is my introduction to the music of The Tangent, a project of Po90 (Parallel or 90 Degrees)'s keyboardist, Andy Tillison. The Tangent is dedicated to the glory of prog. At their website they unabashedly proclaim their love of and devotion to classic prog, including cover art from some of their predecessors, including The Beatles, King Crimson, Yes, Pink Floyd, ELP, Jethro Tull and others. This should give the reader a pretty good idea of where these guys are coming from and where this music is going to go.
Analysis. The album is framed by bookend epics, each in excess of 20 minutes. The first track, In Earnest, tells the tale of WWII fighter pilots who have only the war to remember, their own glory as men having faded with age. Tillison wrote the piece based on 3 men he met through his involvement with ham radio. It begins quietly, almost melancholically: piano, bass, light drums and flute. The melody sung by Tillison is wistful as the story unfolds, telling of a life gone by, an existence which has little relation to the glory years. The music swells and the mood lifts as his memories go back to his glory days, and as his Spitfire takes flight, so does the band. The playing goes from docile to dynamic. There are moments at which I feel as if I'm listening to Spock's Beard or Transatlantic from some of the phrasings. As the hero of the tale daydreams, the band breaks into some swing style jazz. This is neo prog with classic symphonic inflections, moving from style to style through the multiple movements. Clarinet is not something you hear every day in prog circles, but immediately following a fine bit of rock guitar solo, there is a brief clarinet solo midway with string accompaniment, sounding truly classical. Travis' woodwind work adds a very nice dimension to The Tangent's sound. Any time flute appears in prog, the tendency is to draw comparisons to Jethro Tull, but Travis' flute work is more akin to Walter Parazaider than Ian Anderson, and not just his flute, but the fact that he also wields sax and clarinet. Having not heard earlier offerings from The Tangent, I can only speculate that Roine Stolt must have held dominance, as Tillison says in their release materials: "Now that Roine is out, the guys just do what they want. We have more personal freedom, and we take advantage of that freedom. At concerts people seem to like my keyboards, so I have now put more emphasis on them". Indeed, his keyboards are a highlight. He is a masterful keyboardist and his organ and synth work is superb. He makes the B3 bubble and burble, growl and howl. All the same, there are some rather Flower Kings-like moments, perhaps through the continued involvement of Jonas Reingold. Lost in London is in a style reminiscent of Al Stewart, a kind of nightclub vibe. Musically it has an upbeat jazzy flow, with lilting flute floating over the vocal melodies and occasional George Benson-like guitar work beneath. Tillison's voice bears a strong resemblance to Stewart's. Lyrically, the song speaks of the loneliness of London, from the perspective of a young Yorkshire musician trying to find his way to success. Despite the light sound, the story it tells is rather wry and becomes bitter as it reaches the end and touches on the War in Iraq. DIY Surgery has herky-jerky Zappa-esque instrumental passages with nearly spoken vocals. There's a smoking sax solo midway. The whole thing is over in less than 3 minutes, the briefest track. GPS Culture begins with some chirpy B3 work that has a classic prog feel to it, matched with a good dose of synthesizer. Just as I was about to say Yes, the band heads off into something very much their own and then down an alley with a bit of jazz. The pace suddenly slackens, and piano and flute take the spotlight. The mood is quiet and contemplative for a bit before whipping back up in a return to the strains from the beginning. Follow Your Leaders is an up-tempo cooker that roasts consumer culture and the herd mentality of the masses. The Sun in My Eyes has a nearly disco beat with strings and horns, like the anthems of the late 70s or the dance tunes of the 80s. The lyrics talk about life growing up in suburbia with this incredibly upbeat music playing but the lyrics include lines like: "or get my head kicked in for liking Yes, instead of Suzi Quatro, the very best". There's a quirky sense of humor here. The title track concludes the album, the second epic song. I've always been partial to bands with strong keyboardists, so Tillison hits the spot over and over on the album, turning in some lovely piano work here. There is a passage which follows the piano solo that sounds like saxophone that's been heavily processed, but I believe it may be synth, then joined by the real sax in a duet, almost a duel, which builds and builds in intensity to the first climax of the song, with a guitar solo taking the decrescendo to the vocal. The following instrumental passage is briefly still and mysterious, a lull in the action. The rest of song rises and falls, an inter-play of neo-prog stylings to the end. I find this grand finale to be a bit overlong, not as compelling as In Earnest, but not bad, either.
Conclusion. "A Place in the Queue" is a strong draft of keyboard driven prog, with various flavors of classic prog mixed in, but clearly a contemporary vintage. Though I've drawn comparisons to a number of classic and contemporary prog bands, The Tangent stands well on their own. The ability to detect ingredients in a sumptuous meal in no way would detract from the enjoyment of a feast, and so it is with The Tangent. I happily recommend this one to lovers of classic and neo prog alike.
KW: February 26, 2006
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