Issue 2008-009: The Tangent - Not As Good As The Book - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
Disc 1: A Crisis In Mid Life (7:13), Lost In London Twenty Five Years Later (7:33), The Ethernet (10:13), Celebrity Purée (3:43), Not As Good As The Book (8:54), A Sale Of Two Souls (7:16), Bat Out Of Basildon (5:54)
Disc 2: Four Egos One War (21:15), The Full Gamut (22:43)
Geoff Feakes' Review
The Tangent originally came about as a result of Andy Tillison’s single minded determination to realise his passion for classic 70’s progressive rock. For the 2003 debut The Music That Died Alone he enlisted the services of like minded musicians to form a band to rival the best of the day. Three studio and two live albums later that ideal still holds true although there have been several changes in personnel. Most notably is Roine Stolt’s departure after 2004’s The World That We Drive Through, making his final appearance on the live Pyramids And Stars. It’s been two years since the last studio album A Place In The Queue which was followed by 2007’s Going Off On One live CD/DVD set. Since then the line-up has undergone a further couple of revisions. This time round we have Andy Tillison Diskdrive (keyboards and vocals), Guy Manning (acoustic instruments and vocals), Jonas Reingold (bass guitar), Jaime Salazar (drums) Jakko M Jakszyk (electric guitars and vocals), Theo Travis (sax and flute) and Julie King (vocals). New boy Jakko comes courtesy of Level 42 and the 21st Century Schizoid Band amongst others whilst Julie is a also member of Guy’s band Manning.
Even before a single note is heard it’s evident that Andy and company have invested their time and skills in producing another lavish musical excursion with 95 minutes spread over two discs. Furthermore the special edition version comes complete with a 100 page novella written by the man himself. The CD and book combination is certainly original which even the likes of Yes and ELP, noted for their extravagant album packaging, never came up with. If you’re familiar with the lyrics of Andy Tillison then it should come as no surprise to hear that the writing is sharp, witty and full of wry observations on the folly of modern society. Without giving too much away I can reveal that the novels storyline involves the destruction of planet earth and the Yes album Relayer! I’ll say no more except that it comes heartily recommended not least for the excellent illustrations by French artist Antoine Ettori.
In a recent interview with Guy Manning (coming your way soon folks) he told me how the band had strived for a more modern and punchier sound on this album. That’s certainly true of the opener A Crisis In Mid Life which despite the title has a sprightly and upbeat feel with an uncharacteristically poppy 80’s synth sound. In contrast Lost In London 25 Years Later could easily have been titled ‘The Canterbury Sequence Part 4’. It allows Theo the opportunity to strut his stuff with some superb saxophone soling. Try saying that after a few of beers. Andy provides the jazzy piano and a suitably gritty Hammond sound that recalls the David Sinclair and Dave Stewart playing of old. The Ethernet is a standout track which along with Peter Gabriel style electronic effects includes an infectious vocal hook. The lead vocal may be Andy’s but the harmonies and vocal arrangement have that distinctive Guy Manning stamp. It plays out with a stately ringing guitar theme.
The relatively brief (by Tangent standards) instrumental Celebrity Purée is an impressive jazz fusion workout. It includes bombastic sax and keys punctuations propelled by an explosive Jonas and Jaime rhythm combination. If Roine’s guitar style was more Steve Howe then here Jakko’s is pure Trevor Rabin. It’s not until the title song Not As Good As The Book that Andy’s familiar fiery Moog (modelled on Wakeman’s solo from Topographic Ocean’s The Revealing Science Of God) makes an appearance. Guy contributes an array of acoustic guitar colourings especially around a memorable Spanish flamenco sequence. As with many of the songs here, lyrically A Sale Of Two Souls is almost autobiographical in nature. Although the words clearly come from the heart they remain graphic and refreshingly down to earth. None more so than Bat Out Of Basildon which is Andy’s homage to motorbike anthems. The only gripe I have is that bearing in mind he’s a Yorkshire lad, Bat Out Of Halifax would have made a better title!
As the track listings above reveal, Disc 2 is made up of two back to back epics. This may seem a tad self-indulgent even by prog standards but it works and together they contain some of the strongest moments in a long form song since Transatlantic’s Stranger In Your Soul. Four Egos One War is the most immediate with strident keyboard led sections contrasting with mellow acoustic guitar and flute interludes. The vocals are at their strongest here with Andy sharing lead with Guy, Jakko and most notably Julie during the reflective opening section. Lyrically The Full Gamut is possibly Andy’s most personal song to date dealing with the break-up of a relationship. Again it features some very memorable vocal melodies although it lost me for about a minute during a lazy sax and vocal part at the midway point. The synth and electric piano work bring both Wakeman and Emerson to mind at various points. Although I was expecting it to end with a grand flourish the low-key finale finds Andy sounding remarkably like Roger Waters accompanied by orchestral embellishments that are both cinematic and melancholic.
A fourth album was always going to be test for The Tangent. As is the case with so many bands music that sounds fresh and vibrant to begin with can become dull and repetitive with successive releases. Due to the deadline for this RTR I haven’t been afforded as much listening time as I would normally like before committing a review. However on the evidence of two weeks continuous listening I have a sneaking feeling that this is destined to become not only my favourite from the band but also a contender for album of the year. OK, so I know we’re only two months into 2008 but either way this is an exceptional release demonstrating prog at its finest. It’s a well rounded album with music that’s tuneful and highly listenable but at the same time richly rewarding in its complexity. The icing on the cake is the lyrics. Rather than simply creating and aural backdrop they have real meaning and the ability to strike a chord with the listener. And that’s something you don’t find everyday in a prog album.
Chris Jackson's Review
As a fan of progressive rock, I feel it is my duty to buy and enjoy the music of The Flower Kings (Although, I do have a few issues with an album or two). Countless hours of my life have been spent in awe admiring the high quality (And highly prolific!) output of Roine Stolt and company. Because of their close ties to The Tangent, I was led to pick up a copy of The World That We Drive Through at a local CD shop. The looks that employees shoot at me, after asking for unknown prog bands, is pretty amusing!
In order for me to consider a CD a classic it has to accomplish three things; perfectly balance melody and complexity and have the same effect on me many years down the line as it did initially. Not only is The World That We Drive Through one of my favourite albums for those reasons, The Music That Died Alone and A Place in the Queue have been in constant rotation for a long time as well. It’s rare for me to discover a band that has continued to keep me on edge and interested for such a long period of time. Not as Good as the Book follows, and takes further, the sound of A Place in the Queue.
Not As Good As the Book begins with A Crisis in Mid Life, the first of many organ driven songs. The beginning half is very reminiscent of The Sun in My Eyes from A Place in the Queue. Jakko Jakszyk has now taken over for Krister Jonsson on guitars. While I am not too familiar with Jakko’s work, he has played with many members of King Crimson, including the well known cover band 21st Century Schizoid Band. Compared to Krister, he has a softer and less jazzy style more in line with Roine Stolt.
Lost in London 25 Years Later is the first hint that this album is somewhat different from those of the past. If Lost in London drew heavily from early Canterbury bands than this seems to take the jazz aspect of that much further, especially toward Theo Travis’s saxophone solo in the latter half. In fact, there is some similarity to Theo’s jazz band Soft Machine Legacy.
The Ethernet begins rather slowly with a bass and organ melody that wouldn’t be out of place if it was played on a tropical island somewhere. At about halfway through, it finally gives way to a more dynamic and jazzy section. I feel this song could have been better with a few minutes edited away towards the beginning and end. It’s a ten minute long song that feels like fifteen minutes.
Next up are, arguably, my two favourite songs on the album. Celebrity Purée is a short, syncopated instrumental piece that carries a similar direction to Snow era Spock’s Beard or even Transatlantic. This leads nicely into Not As Good As the Book. Jakko Jakszyk handles vocals for a good portion of this song. I was really surprised at how great his voice is. It fits the upbeat melody perfectly. After slowing down for a little while, it again picks up steam with a Spanish sounding chord progression by Guy and leads back into the excellent intro section. This was the first song to really grab my attention and it remains one of my favourites.
I have never really grown to appreciate Van Der Graaf Generator but once you hear Peter Hammill’s very unique vocals and charismatic delivery it becomes hard to forget. Andy Tillison’s vocals here seem to borrow these characteristics in A Sale of Two Souls. While almost entirely acoustic, there is a lot of anger in the lyrics and vocals. It levels out towards the end into a yet another jazzy section.
Up until this album, there wasn’t a single song from The Tangent that I did not enjoy. However, with Bat out of Basildon my patience and sanity where severely tested. This song is very blues based and the lyrics deal with a rebellious motorcyclist. When I listen to music, more often than not, if the lyrics are easily comprehendible, I picture them as they unfold. Unfortunately, because it is subconscious, Bat out of Basildon automatically brings forth horrible memories of one of the worst biker comedies I have ever seen. If you have never seen Wild Hogs don’t because this song will forever ingrain William H Macy running into a stop sign on a motorcycle in some of the most horribly contrived situations possible. Although, for most, this song will provide entertaining, bluesy relief from the denser parts of the album, I’m afraid that for me this song will forever be tainted.
The last two epics seem to diverge from the main story (More on that below). Four Egos, One War was originally an unreleased Parallel or 90 Degrees track that was rerecorded with The Tangent because, in the words of Mr. Tillison, “…the damn war won’t go away”. The lyrics appear to pertain to the horrors of war and those involved. Musically and lyrically this is a very engaging song that manages to keep me interested and wanting more. There are only very short instances when the music lets up in intensity, as epics should do.
The Full Gamut is noticeably slower than Four Egos, One War but not in the irritating sense where you have to turn up the volume to hear it better. From synth to piano and everything in between this is mostly an Andy Tillison piece. Lyrically this pertains to being in a relationship and then breaking up. These last two songs require the most effort to appreciate but it is well worth it.
The book that comes with this album follows and sheds light on the lyrics of the first disc. Without giving away too much, the story follows Dave, a middle aged man who greatly appreciates progressive rock. Because his family doesn’t appreciate it, he is forced to listen to it when they sleep or drive 13 miles per hour home from work while taking the long the route. Oddly enough, I have done the same thing wanting to get through the second disc of Unfold the Future but it actually ended up getting me lost in a neighbourhood I would rather not be lost in. Some of the situations encountered by Dave parallel many of the stories Andy Tillison has written (If you haven’t read them, they are on The Tangent's official site and I highly recommend reading them, they are very interesting). The story of Cid Vicious and the covertly placed mention of DPRP are worth the price alone. The main storyline begins on Venus in 90674 AD when an archiver of ancient Earth receives a rare collection of Prog LPs and Dave, the guy who owned them.
It might already be apparent that I greatly enjoy this bands work and with the one notable exception the same extends to this album. In some aspects this is much like previous albums but in many others, like the greater emphasis on jazz, this is a new direction. I hesitate to say that those who appreciated the first two albums will like this. It is the next logical step in their continually progressing style and may not appeal to those who did not like A Place in the Queue. I have listened to this album many times over the past few weeks and there is always something different that stands out with each listen. Most notably in the last two tracks as they where very difficult to digest until recently. This album clocks in at about 90 minutes and there is only about 15 minutes of which that I am not too fond of. This really is The Tangent at their best but, it took a lot of patience and effort to get there. Highly recommended!
Dave Baird's Review
The Tangent's style can be clearly decomposed and traced backward in time to melange of prog giants past. This being said, one could never accuse Andy Tillison Diskdrive (sic) of plagiarism, rather he's just heavily influenced and inspired by these greats of yesteryear and isn't afraid to show it. Not As Good As The Book doesn't dish up any big surprises but does show a satisfying evolution from A Place In The Queue. Still apparent is the late-70's Canterbury style with definite hints of UK and Bruford as well as very clear Hammill influence once again but overall the music on disc one is more up-tempo than A Place In The Queue (although this might be partially a result of the more immediate production style and the more prominent guitar mix) and the second CD is a little more introspective and consists of two 20 minute-plus pieces.
Two changes of personnel, the replacement of Krister Jonsson on aforementioned guitar with Jakko M Jakszyk (Level 42, 21st Century Schizoid Band) for this album (Krister rejoins for the upcoming tour) and Sam Baine has left The Tangent (and Andy) to pursue her own musical direction. Jakko's guitar playing is superb - it comes across a little more aggressive than Krister's playing but I think this really is down to it being given more prominence in mix, stylistically he seems to be somewhere between Roine Stolt and John Petrucci. Still in place is the formidable rhythm section of bass god Jonas Reingold and Jamie Salazar on drums with both turning in stellar performances. Jonas once again stakes his claims as the man to beat in the bass world with his thundering, fluid and bubbling style of play while Jamie's contribution is just spot-on, very busy as always on the snare and hi-hat, it's a real boon to have him active in the prog scene. Theo Travis is still present on flute and sax while Guy Manning again chips-in with some acoustic guitar work and vocals while Andy himself of course covers the keyboard ands lead vocals. Much has been said about Andy's singing, most of it rather uncomplimentary, but give him a chance and you'll grow to appreciate it, as it has character by the bucketload and that's a commodity that's not to be passed over lightly these days. Andy's voice sounds better than ever on this recording - whether that's a conscious effort on his part I couldn't say but I didn't notice any unpleasant moments.
The first disk comprises of seven shorter songs that can be loosely coupled under the heading 'Mid-Life Crisis'. Being at the wrong end of forty Andy dishes up a series of lyrics dealing with many topical issues that some of us have been confronted with in recent years. The music ranges from the 80's neo-prog-funk feel of Crisis In Midlife with it's washes of analogue synths and a definate whiff of It Bites though to the Hammillesque A Sale Of Two Souls which could easily have been written for a latter-day The Silent Corner & The Empty Stage album. Turning-up the tempo is the title-track - soaring moog lines and driving bass interplay with a syncopated rhythm guitar and beautifully phrased lead guitars. On top of this we have Andy's wry lyrics playing out the tale of a disillusioned character who, after reading and dreaming of rocket-ships as a child thought there was more to life than grey offices and Excel worksheets. Less satisfying is the bluesy Bat Out Of Basildon which is a take on the born-again-biker who refuses to acknowledge that he's past it. Really this track is out of place in the album and is a far lower quality offering than the other songs.
The second CD is a different beast altogether and consists of two starkly different longer pieces. The first piece Four Egos One War is obviously about the continuing conflict in Iraq and how we've become accustomed, almost blasé towards it. This isn't an easy subject to tackle lyrically and the music gets a bit lost too chopping and changing between different styles although it reminds quite a lot in places of Neal Morse solo work in the second half. The Full Gamut is a different beast altogether and is surely destined to be a favourite of many people for many years to come. The track deals with the relationship and break-up between Andy and Sam - Andy's using his music here to help him come to terms with his loss of in the same way that Peter Hammill did with his girlfriend Alice on Over, musically there bears no relation though except for the occasional Hammill phrasing that Andy turns up in his vocals. The track opens with the most beautiful piano and the main chorus-refrain that we return to several times. The words are so drenched with emotion and feeling that you cannot fail to be deeply moved, furthermore the melody is both beautiful, haunting and catchy at the same time so you'll have it running though your head non-stop. The track progresses through various key moments in their relationship with varying tempo changes sounding quite reminiscent of Spock's Beard (V period) mixed with more of those Canterbury moments and Hammill/Van der Graaf Generator references. The lyrics are poignant - there must be many 40-somethings that can identify which what Andy's saying and it will touch many people I'm sure. I would expect this to be a strong contender for the track of the year.
To conclude, another stunningly good release from The Tangent and overall better than A Place In The Queue. Andy's singing takes getting used to for newcomers but is worth the effort and I daresay some will not always like the political or personal nature of the lyrics, no change here from previous releases, if you didn't like it then you won't like it now either but you would be missing out on some fantastic music if you pass because of that. Highly recommended.