Issue 2009-030: IQ - Frequency - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
CD: Frequency (8:29), Life Support (6:27), Stronger Than Friction (10:32), One Fatal Mistake (4:53), Ryker Skies (9:45), The Province (13:42), Closer (8:10)
DVD: Awake And Nervous, You Never Will, Frequency, The Magic Roundabout, Harvest Of Souls, Sleepless Incidental, Crashed And Burned (Stronger Than Friction), The Seventh House, It All Stops Here, Guiding Light, Encore: Subterranea, The Darkest Hour
Hector Gomez's Review
Frequency might not be a groundbreaking album, or IQ’s masterpiece, but it doesn’t matter, because again it is proof of how solid and committed to the genre this band is.
Also, being the follow up to Dark Matter (2004) was never going to be an easy task; it proved to be a very popular and highly regarded album, and in the end it was to be the last to be released by the “classic” line-up before veterans Paul “Cookie” Cook (who, by the way, is doing the Frequency tour… never say never again…) and Martin “Widge” Orford resigned.
One of the main attractions of this CD is to evaluate the contributions of new drummer Andy Edwards (also of Frost*) and keyboardist Mark Westworth; let me tell you, they’re both wonderful. I’d heard Edwards on the first Frost* album (Milliontown, 2006), but the (unfortunately) overproduced nature of that release didn’t let me appreciate his drumming properly. Frequency sounds crystal clear, and Andy’s performance is just great, playing not too far removed from what Cookie used to do, but adding an extra punch and technicality which contribute to the overall fuller sound of the album.
As for Westworth, I don’t know his previous works with Darwin’s Radio, but I guess I should check them out soon, as his playing is magnificent. Again, the shadow of Widge is tall, and Westworth shows his respect and admiration, but bringing his own tasteful brand, a rich mix between vintage sounds and state of the art technology. Oh, yes… before I forget, there’s also three other guys on this band. And they just get better release after release! John Jowitt’s bass lines are as strong as ever, Mike Holmes gets all the emotion out of his signature sound, and Peter Nicholls’ voice sounds warmer than ever before.
Admitting that songwriting is perhaps a tiny notch below past works, the enthusiasm the band transmits more than compensates and is the key to make of Frequency such an enjoyable album. As the opening title track unfolds, you know you’re in for a treat. IQ manages to encapsulate in eight minutes their trademark sound, but with an extra dose of energy and heaviness. A track which is both melody and aggression, light and shade, old and new, destined to become a classic (and not the only one). Life Support is a shorter track, but almost as brilliant, joining seamlessly an acoustic opening (reminiscent of Guiding Light) with an outstanding instrumental passage where Edwards and Westworth get to shine. It could be described as a 21st century version of Ripples, and this is the first of many Genesis references, as they’ve always been the main inspiration for IQ. This is evident on new fan favourite Stronger Than Friction (aka Crashed And Burned), a perfect 10 minute mini epic in the tradition of The Darkest Hour, but with a strong Cinema Show vibe, particularly the closing section, which naturally segues into the next track…
…which is One Fatal Mistake. Now, this has been regarded as the weak song on the album, and there may be some truth in that. The thing is, I clearly see it more as a gentle coda to Stronger Than Friction than as an independent track, and it works wonderfully as such (ok, it could be a minute shorter but…)
What a great track Ryker Skies is! Probably the most interesting piece on the album, it shows a different, modern edged side of the band. This may be mainly due to the new members’ input, and if the outcome is like this, such a dark, brooding, keyboard heavy, proggy track, with some incredible contributions by Westworth, I want more! This should have been the “epic” of the album instead of The Province. Don’t get me wrong, it has some marvellous moments (the first 7 minutes are memorable), but just when things start to get really exciting, it all reverts again to Apocalypse In 9/8 from Supper’s Ready; IQ have done it so many times before (not least on Harvest Of Souls, their own interpretation of Genesis’ immortal classic) it already sounds tired and repetitive.
To wrap it all up, the suitably titled Closer, a beautiful ballad most listeners have complained about, but that I find to be excellent. Again, I agree it could have been a bit shorter (it clocks at 8 minutes, and 6 would have done just as effectively), but the epic and melancholic atmosphere (oddly reminding me of Pink Floyd’s High Hopes at times, not least thanks to Mike Holmes’ classical guitar) it manages to gather is just perfect to close an album on a solemn note.
As bonuses to the great music, you should add the excellent, gripping artwork by “sixth member” Tony Lythgoe and, if you get the Special Edition (which you should), the DVD featuring the full gig the band performed in Zoetermeer in 2007, a wonderful performance including classics old (Awake And Nervous, It All Stops Here), recent (Subterranea, The Seventh House) and new (Frequency, Crashed And Burned).
Since their landmark “comeback” album Ever (1993), IQ have been producing works that range from (at least) the very consistent (Subterranea, 1997) to the brilliant (Dark Matter). They are guarantee of quality and, save for the aforementioned minor flaws (is not easy not to repeat yourself when you’ve been doing the same thing for nearly 30 years), this is one hell of a prog album, and an extremely enjoyable one.
Menno von Brucken Fock's Review
In over 23 years this is ‘only’ the ninth studio albums by these British prog veterans. Not a proliferative production, but fortunately the quality of the albums, especially of this new one, compensates for this mischief more than adequately. Although Paul Cook as well Martin Orford left the band in the new millennium, their replacements are doing a terrific job. During the live shows, Cook is replacing Edwards interestingly. The spirit of IQ’s first two albums is clearly there but the keys sound more modern and Nicholls’ voice is more mellow, however IQ couldn’t have a better vocalist for their music. Holmes’ guitar ‘sings’ the most beautiful melodies and the characteristic changes in tempo’s, changes in key and awesome instrumental interludes are the highlights of this new offering.
Opening track is the title track and it has everything that makes IQ music so special and wonderful. A real treat and the glory days of The Wake are coming into mind instantly. Second track features Westworth’s piano and one of the best vocal performances of Peter Nicholls I’ve ever heard. It seems, that as time went by, he only got better! Subtle orchestrations and just a tiny bit of guitar conclude the first part. The slow second part is for Holmes’ guitar and Westworth’s synths. Delightful drumming and bass playing by Edwards and Jowitt. The last part is a very ‘ambient’ sounding piece. The characteristic repeated changes in key are present in the third track, the second ‘epic’ of the album. A mid tempo song at the beginning, melancholic singing and the leading man here is Mark Westworth. The second part is more powerful and reminds of Genesis (period Supper’s Ready) and Nicholl’s voice can be heard changing channels from left to right. The last bit is in the vein of the best IQ music could offer, carried on the wings of (heavenly played) mellotron-sounds.
The ballad on this album is called One Fatal Mistake. The first part is comparable to Life Support, the second track and in the second part, the music contains some elements of ambient music as well as in the first notes from the next track: Ryker Skies. Again this is a long track, giving each member of the band the opportunity to excel. Not for the first time, I’m stunned by Westworth’s performance and he proves me (and possibly loads of other people) oh so wrong in thinking Orford would be irreplaceable!
The longest track is The Province, starting with Holmes’ plucking strings, but soon the ‘orchestra’ by Westworth is there too. Once more good vocals by Nicholls in this acoustic sounding first parts, alternated by a more powerful pieces featuring the organ, the music sounds somewhere between Genesis and Dream Theater. Especially the solo by Westworth reminds me of Tony Banks, and these are most pleasant memories indeed! Multiple effects on Nicholl’s vocals keeps the listener on his/her toes in the ever changing moods and tone of this music. The final track is Closer, a very sensitive piece of music with a touch of pop music blended in all IQ elements.
All lyrics are worthwhile and certainly everyone for whom English is their native tongue, will appreciate these even more than I can.
The first pressing goes with a second disc, containing a live registration on DVD of a show recorded in “De Boerderij” (Zoetermeer, Netherlands) in 2007. Although there are no credits stated, I believe John Vis was responsible for most (if not all) of the images of this concert, which is an extremely nice bonus.
On every front I think this is an outstanding offering by IQ, proving that with Westworth and Edwards in the line up, the band is yet to reach its peak. A must for every IQ fan and highly recommended to all fans of melodic prog in the vein of Genesis (seventies).
Geoff Feakes' Review
I have a small confession to make. Right from their conception, I’ve found it difficult to come to terms with IQ, purposely allowing much of their work to pass me by. In fact it wasn’t until 2004’s Dark Matter that an IQ album fully grabbed me for the first time even though it undeniably owed a huge debt to Genesis’ Supper's Ready. One of the main stumbling blocks in the early days was Peter Nicholls’ vocals which I found a tad irksome in much the same way as I did Pendragon’s Nick Barrett. So maybe I’m mellowing in my old age because here his singing is a real revelation and perfectly suited to unfold the compelling stories against the bands symphonic backdrop. Another key contributor is Mike Holmes who sounds more Steve Hackett than Steve Hackett, but more about that later.
The tile track Frequency is as solid an opener as you’re likely to encounter all year. A compelling riff in the vein of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir sets the tone with Andy Edwards’ powerful drumming adopting the distinctive John Bonham sound to drive home the point. John Jowitt‘s bass throbs and pulses and Mike Holmes’ provides a guitar tour de force that cries and sings. New keyboardist Mark Westworth is a perfect replacement for Martin Orford, picking up from where his predecessor (and Tony Banks) left off. After a deceptively mellow piano intro, Life Support takes Steve Hackett’s Spectral Mornings as its role model, right down to the same haunting guitar pitch and drum pattern. Blessed with an infectious hook, Stronger Than Friction moves along at a lively pace with a frothy synth backdrop and more Hackett style dynamics, Robbery Assault And Battery anyone?
Nichols slows the pace down for One Fatal Mistake, a bittersweet acoustic led ballad that reminded me of early Hogarth era Marillion. A sea of mellotron voices (ala Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats) segues into the acidic Ryker Skies which features liberal measures of wailing guitar and gothic mellotron, again heavily influenced by Hackett’s solo work. The pulsating synth effects would sit very comfortably on the soundtrack to a Terminator movie. If every IQ release demands an epic track then The Province is undoubtedly intended to fit that bill. Powerful and rhythmic organ driven moments that borrow liberally from Return Of The Giant Hogweed, The Musical Box and Apocalypse In 9/8 are interspersed with gentle acoustic interludes. To compliment the opener, the band has come up with a near perfect finale in Closer. It effortlessly combines poignancy with a feel good factor that again harks back to mid period (Hogarth fronted) Marillion when they themselves were still making good records.
As you can probably tell from my enthusiastic comments I have a good deal of time for this latest release from IQ. So much so, it’s maintained a conspicuous residency in my CD player in recent weeks and not just because of the review commitment. It’s certainly an album that’s hard not to like. It’s slick and polished and even when the band displays a harder edge it remains melodically accessible and highly listenable. My only reservation is given IQ’s 28 year longevity and their standing as one of the première progressive rock acts of our time they remain surprisingly derivative. It does for me beg the question of how long can they continue to draw from the Genesis/Steve Hackett well before the well eventually runs dry.
Erik Neuteboom's Review
On a Saturday morning I came back from a run in the woods with my Border-collie Lola and noticed a message on my telephone. This turned out to be the source of this review because it was sent by fellow symphomaniac Wilco Barg who ask me to join him to an IQ gig in De Boerderij in Zoetermeer. Well, every decade I have seen IQ, it started with the legendary IQ/Pallas SI Music double concert in 1986 and my latest gig was during the Dark Matter tour a few years ago, no surprise I quickly said “yes”!
So the first time I listened to the songs of this brand new, ninth IQ studio-album was on April 25th, 2009 when I attended that IQ gig, how inspired IQ sounded and what a very pleasant atmosphere (including the celebration of Mike Holmes’s birthday and the return of first line-up drummer Paul Cook). I was delighted about these new compositions, reminding me of The Wake (1985), my favourite IQ studio-album.
At home I got even more excited after a few ‘Frequency listening sessions’ and at some moments goose bumps appeared on my arms, that’s the usual sign that I am in a perfect progrock mood! The album opens with the title track, first sounds effects and then we can enjoy IQ in its full splendour during the slow rhythms with a bombastic atmosphere featuring fiery and howling electric guitar runs and moving violin - and choir Mellotron eruptions (by Mark Westworth who has replaced founding member Martin Orford in 2007), for me this is IQ their trademark, very compelling and exciting. In between the climates range from dreamy with warm piano and a bit melancholic vocals to mid-tempo with tight drums and sensitive electric guitar, what a tension and dynamics and what a very promising first composition.
In the other six tracks IQ also finds a perfect balance between dreamy atmospheres, propulsive mid-tempo rhythms and bombastic outbursts, embellished with great work on guitar and keyboards (with frequent mid-Genesis undertones): wonderful guitar play with the volume pedal, majestic choir-Mellotron and sensational synthesizer flights in Life Support; a strong vocal performance and a spectacular break in the varied Stronger Than Friction; acoustic rhythm guitar, soaring strings and warm vocals, concluded with Tony Banks sounding choir-Mellotron drops in the short, dreamy One Fatal Mistake; a mouth-watering vintage keyboard sound (Hammond, Mellotron, Mini Moog) and propulsive bass play in Ryker Skies and strong vocals with tasteful guitar – and keyboard colouring in the beautiful ballad Closer. But my absolute highlight is the magnum opus The Province, a constant ‘eargasm’ of almost 14 minutes: wonderful twanging 12-string acoustic guitar, great vintage keyboards (lush Hammond, impressive choir-Mellotron and flashy Mini Moog runs), exciting propulsive guitar riffs and drums (by newcomer Andy Edwards) with powerful Hammond waves, a moving electric guitar solo with violin-Mellotron support and a warm conclusion with intense vocals and tender piano, this is IQ at their best and a ‘future classic’!
It’s incredible how IQ have matured since Martin Orford and Mike Holmes founded the band in 1981: it has become an experienced unit, John Jowitt’s powerful and creative bass work is omnipresent, Peter Nicholls sings as never before and during the years IQ has turned into one of the leading progrock bands. With this new album IQ has delivered an excellent new CD on which new keyboardist Mark Westworth shines. To me Frequency sounds even better than Dark Matter (2004) and in my opinion the climates are close to the magic of The Wake so highly recommended and a big hand for these sympathetic progrock veterans!