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Round Table Review
Tracklist: The Winning Game (11:09), Skipping The Distance (8:55), Photosynthesis (7:39), The World That We Drive Through (12:57), A Gap In The Night (18:22)
A special edition version of the CD (IOMSECD-186) features the bonus track Exponenzgesetz (14:00) which was not included on the promo CD and so is not reviewed here!
British / Swedish collective The Tangent return with their second album The World That We Drive Through, a year on from the startling debut The Music That Died Alone. The first album came as something of a surprise to the progressive world and was widely considered to be the album of the year. From a prospective Andy Tillison solo album, The Tangent has evolved into a fully-fledged group (of sorts) with international live dates recently announced for later in the year. Maintaining basically the same line-up that appeared on the first album (Sam Baine and Andy Tillison on keyboards, Guy Manning and Roine Stolt on guitars, Zoltan Csorsz on drums and Jonas Reingold on bass) only David Jackson couldn't make the reunion due to his frantic recording and touring schedule this year. Providing sax and flute accompaniment this time round is the ubiquitous Theo Travis, probably best known in the progressive world know through his work with David Sinclair, the reconstituted Gong and Porcupine Tree (not to mention the two CDs he contributed to by notorious spoon bender and Michael Jackson buddy, Uri Geller!). Ostensibly a concept album about how self-involved people have become that the world outside the window is largely ignored, the five epic tracks resume the musical adventures first explored on the debut. This time round there is a bit more modern approach, whereas The Music That Died Alone was firmly rooted in the style of classic progressive rock of the 1970s, The World That We Drive Through brings things rather more up to date.
"The Winning Game"
MARK: Opening tack The Winning Game was initially a bit of a disappointment. Having really rated the first Tangent album and considering it something a bit special, the song seemed a bit ordinary. It starts off well enough with multi-layered saxophone and flute lines blasted out of the way by some huge keyboards before the vocals start. Stylistically, the intro is very Parallel or 90 Degrees although it seems to be lacking something. Perhaps it was Roine Stolt's voice that put me off (I have never been a fan of The Flower Kings or Transatlantic or seemingly anything that Stolt has been involved with, until The Tangent came along that is!). Things do improve as the song progresses, having always preferred the sound of a steaming organ over that of a guitar Tillison doesn't let me down. The inclusion of the vocal line and melody from Burt Bacharach's What The World Needs Now Is Love is a nice touch and emphasises the lyric of segregation and division. Tillison's lyrics (and I am presuming they are his) are always thought provoking and more politically aware than a lot of bands these days (no dungeons and dragons here!). However, as they were not included with the promo disc supplied to DPRP I am looking forward to reading and digesting them when the album is officially released.
TOM: The World That We Drive Through immediately gets off to a good start with The Winning Game. Powered along by a lively Jonas Reingold bass line, this song, whilst certainly fitting in to the ‘retro prog’ category, has something of a darker feel than is the norm for the genre (something that resurfaces later on A Gap In The Night). This is at least partly due to the lyrics, which seem to take a rather cynical look at the manoeuvres of those in power (politicians and the like). These are strongly delivered by Roine Stolt, who takes the lead vocal here, and does a very fine job; in fact I’ve rarely heard his voice utilised so well – it fits the material like a glove. The overall rather bleak tone is leavened a little by the middle section, where the pace slackens and there’s some soaring Stolt guitar work, and even an (assumedly ironic) working in of the well-known refrain ‘what the world needs now, is love sweet love’. A strong opening gambit which bodes well for the rest of the album.
BART: To say that this is one of my most anticipated albums of the year is a sheer understatement. After all, I was overwhelmed by last year's The Music That Died Alone and had high hopes for the next outing of this occasional band.
Opener The Winning Game does not disappoint at all. Starting with an almost eastern sounding flute intro, it echoes classic Genesis when it really breaks loose. It immediately struck me how Roine Stolt's guitar sounds more like Roine Stolt on this album, in other words, the music sounds more Flower Kings-ey than on the predecessing album. This feeling is only emphasised by the fact that Stolt takes care of most of the lead-vocals on this song. Yet Andy Tillison's keyboards also seem to have taken a clear shift into a more 'neo' direction of prog.
"Skipping The Distance"
MARK: Skipping The Distance is overall more satisfying with everyone giving their all. Each of the musicians gets an opportunity to shine with each instrumentalist taking the preceding riff and adapting and developing it in the manner of some cosmic progressive jazz band. Travis is dominant with initially his flute and then sax playing and there is even a more gentler section that harks back to the Canterbury scene with Sam Baine's vocals being eerily reminiscent of Hatfield and the North. Having so many vocalists in the group (Tillison, Stolt, Baine and Manning all provide lead vocals at some point or another) adds to the variety, although Tillison is arguably the best of the bunch and does sterling work on this very enjoyable track.
TOM: Skipping The Distance can be seen as the successor to the previous album’s The Canterbury Sequence. With a whimsical flavour, lots of organ and flute and Andy Tillison’s very English delivery (with his vocals this time slightly reminiscent of Caravan’s Pye Hastings), any fans of the Canterbury style are sure to enjoy this. This is a nice, relaxed piece with some great melodies and (again) excellent work by the rhythm section. I did feel it meandered a bit towards the middle, where there are several solo spots, and could probably have been cut down a bit in length, but I should say that it’s pleasant meandering, and overall this is a strong track.
BART: This track is closer to the music of The Music That Died Alone; a nice jazzy piece not unlike The Canterbury Sequence. It has a very catchy melody, which becomes all the more catchy as it is repeated by organ, flute, synth and guitar. There is also a bit of a déjà vu feeling when Sam Baine and Theo Travis do a little piano/flute interlude, much like she did with David Jackson on The Canterbury Sequence. In all a great, fun track.
MARK: The tempo is taken down for the more reflective Photosynthesis which begins with a solo piano. As the title would suggest, the theme of the song is light which keeps away the fears of the dark. An achingly beautiful chorus is linked to some very sympathetic guitar playing from Stolt in the most gentle song that The Tangent have come up with to date, although they can't resist throwing in a more aggressive, in relative terms, keyboard solo towards the end! But who's complaining, it is not incongruous to the overall feel of the song which provides a nice contrast to the preceding two tracks.
TOM: This is probably the most instantly accessible track on the album, a nice ‘prog ballad’, perhaps a little in the mid-seventies Wind And Wuthering-era Genesis vein, with strong melodies and a good chorus, which is enhanced by excellent use of vocal harmonies. Its not exactly ground breaking stuff, but it’s a quality track all the same.
BART: A ballad in the vein of early Collins-era Genesis follows. Photosynthesis is a nice interlude, but not overly special. Roine Stolt deserves special mention here for his excellent (and subtle) E-bow work.
"The World That We Drive Through"
MARK: Title track The World That We Drive Through continues in a similar manner to the end of Photosynthesis with prominent piano, accompanying flute and gentle vocals. With a gradual increase in tempo and volume the song develops through the introduction of drums, sax and additional keyboards. Throughout the album Csorsz's drumming is very proficient, particularly on this track and the earlier Skipping The Distance. Five minutes into The World That We Drive Through things suddenly take off with some classic progressive moments, the group even sounding almost like ELP at times. The arrangement is top notch and there is always something going to grab the attention.
TOM: The title track has a heavily melancholic feel to it, and a naggingly catchy main melody that soon embeds itself into the memory. Its an enjoyable track, although as with Skipping The Distance I did feel that the fairly simple structure of the song didn’t necessarily warrant such a lengthy running time, and that the relatively few different musical ideas are stretched a little thin in places - again a bit of pruning wouldn’t have gone amiss.
BART: It wouldn't surprise me if this track came from Roine Stolt's hand, rather than Andy Tillison, as it is certainly the most Flower Kings inspired track on the album. This track features pretty much everything a prog classic should: a catchy vocal melody, long instrumental passages, guitarsolos aplenty, even more keyboard solos, great basslines, solid drumming and a couple of pages of interesting lyrics.
The track revisits some parts from The Winning Game (or is it the other way around?), which adds to the concept album experience.
"A Gap In The Night"
MARK: Final track A Gap In The Night is a hang over from the earliest days of Parallel Or 90 Degrees. Originally released on the limited edition 1996 CD The Corner Of My Room with the inimitable Hugh Banton (Van Der Graaf Generator) on organ, Tillison has always said that he wanted to re-record the track. I guess that the majority of people who buy The Tangent album will not have heard the original so it is rather pointless comparing the two versions. In truth, the two recordings are not too dissimilar, the new recording is a bit more developed and has a slightly different arrangement in parts. The use of Tillison, Manning and Stolt as separate and disparate lead vocalists in different sections of the song gives the piece a more narrative feel whilst Travis' contributions add in some more overtly psychedelic moments. Probably one of the more darker pieces that The Tangent have recorded it has to be said that considering the song was originally written almost nine years ago the overall sound is not too disparate from the rest of the album. Again, each of the musicians have their moment, and throughout the soloing is very effective but never over indulgent. It is a great song and very well played and is sure to be massively popular, particularly if they can transfer it to the stage. But having said that, I can't help wondering if I actually prefer the Parallel or 90 Degrees version. That may be because I am more familiar with it and the fact that it is always difficult to hear a new version of a song you have known and loved for a long time, no matter how well recorded and played, and not to retain an affection for the original. Still, not complaining about having a new version and perhaps it's inclusion on this album will encourage more people to check out the glorious PO90D back catalogue.
TOM: A Gap In The Night returns to the rather dark world view of The Winning Game, and along with that track its the highlight of the album. Its not an immediate number, and takes many listens to appreciate, after which the many disparate sections finally begin to gel and make sense. The basic framework of this song was apparently written over a decade ago by Tillison and Guy Manning, and an early version appeared on the limited edition of the (long since deleted) Parallel Or 90 Degrees album In The Corner Of My Room. Listening to the first section of the song, this fact doesn’t come as a surprise, as one of the main PO90 influences, Van der Graaf Generator, can be clearly heard – it could almost be one of those classic Hammill torch songs. The song moves skilfully through various sections, almost grinding to a halt towards the middle of its length where there’s an eerie, slightly discordant ambient section reminiscent of Genesis’ The Waiting Room, before the song builds towards a power-house final section which again features some superb vocal interplay between Stolt, Manning and Tillison, who all take a lead vocal at some point. Also, some of the most skilful and intense playing on the album is featured here, with Tillison’s Hammond work a particular standout. An excellent piece.
BART: Album closer A Gap In The Night is in fact the only up-tempo song on the album. Even the jazzy Skipping The Distance was so laid-back that you could hardly call it 'rock'. A Gap In The Night -by Tillison's words a pre-quel to In Darkest Dreams off the previous album- is the only song on the album where the drums really bang and the guitars really break loose. For about half the song, that is, as it still contains lots of mellow atmospheric interludes.
Tillison's love for Hammill and Van Der Graaf is very evident in both lyrics and music, and my guess is that this song will once again feature high in the best song of 2004 list of this year's poll.
Again, we got some stellar keyboard solos from Tillison and soaring guitar solos from Stolt, combined with clever lyrics sung by Tillison, Stolt and (I think) Manning. There is also a big nod to IQ with a very typical IQ rhythm with a great, fat bass. Towards the end there is a very nice mellow interlude which sounds very mid-seventies Oldfield or even Jarre, with extensive use of sequencers. It's this combination of styles that make The Tangent the great listening experience it is.
MARK: So, have The Tangent managed to live up to the promise of their debut and come up with another classic album? On the whole I'd have to say yes, although I think the debut still holds the edge and use of the word 'classic' may be a bit premature. But it is a damn fine album and is worthy of the DPRP recommendation I will award it. Fans of the first album will not be disappointed.
TOM: It certainly can’t have been easy following up a work of the quality of The Music That Died Alone, especially as that album came as such a pleasant surprise to many in the prog community. In contrast, by the release of this album The Tangent are now a known quantity and expectations (no least my own) were high. By and large, I think they’ve been met. All five songs here are of merit, with The Winning Game and A Gap In The Night being of particularly note. The compositions are varied whilst still managing to retain a unified feel, no doubt helped by the common lyrical themes. All the musicians are at the top of their game here, and special credit must go to Theo Travis for ably stepping in to David Jackson’s shoes and doing a fine job. I must say that, as of now, I probably prefer the debut album a little – it just somehow felt slightly ‘fresher’, and you never felt like a minute was wasted; here, with the longer running time, I did feel that a couple of the songs could certainly have been shorter, which would (I believe) have increased the album’s impact. However, this is to an extent nit picking – in the end synopsis, The Tangent have created another excellent retro prog album, and I would have thought that any fan of the genre (and in particular of any of the bands that the main protagonists play in for their day job) will find much to enjoy here.
BART: It was a difficult task to equal their excellent debut album, but with The World That We Drive Through The Tangent have proven that this wasn't just a one-off project. It has to be said though that this new album misses the surprise element of The Music That Died Alone. The music is still solid retro prog, but while the first album ventured mainly in the bands of the seventies, and more specifically the Canterbury Scene, this new album sounds a lot more like eighties' neo prog. Still great though, all the individual songs are little masterpieces, yet on the whole the album misses the punch of its predecessor.