Issue 2013-004: IQ - Tales from the Lush Attic (30th Anniversary Collector's Edition) - Round Table Review
CD: 2013 remix by Michael Holmes, Engineered by Rob Aubrey
The Last Human Gateway (20:21), Through the Corridors (Oh! Shit Me) (2:39), Awake and Nervous (7:57), My Baby Treats Me Right 'Cos I'm A Hard Lovin' Man All Night Long (1:52), The Enemy Smacks (14:07)
Wintertell [2012 recording] (3:07), The Last Human Gateway [end section, alternative vocals] (2:48), Just Changing Hands [unfinished demo] (5:39), Dans Le Parc du Château Noir [unfinished demo] (6:45)
Video - Live at De Boerderij, Zoetermeer, Holland (23rd October, 2011)
The Last Human Gateway (21:26), Through the Corridors (Oh! Shit Me) (2:53), About Lake Five / Awake and Nervous (12:11), The Enemy Smacks (15:56)
Photo Gallery (contemporary photos and artwork) (4:32)
DIY Mix of 'Through The Corridors' : multi-track audio files and mixing software
Tales from the Lush Attic (original mix: August 1983), The Last Human Gateway (20:00), Through the Corridors (Oh! Shit Me) (2:37), Awake And Nervous (7:46), My Baby Treats Me Right 'Cos I'm A Hard Lovin' Man All Night Long (1:46), The Enemy Smacks (13:52)
Seven Stories Into Eight (original cassette album):
Capital Letters (In Surgical Spirit Land) (3:46), About Lake Five (5:02), Intelligence Quotient (6:56), For Christ's Sake (5:05), Barbell Is In (5:31), Fascination (5:56), For The Taking (4:17), It All Stops Here (6:58)
Tales from the Lush Attic - audio commentary by Peter and Mike (47:17)
Further listening (MP3):
The Enemy Smacks [first attempts: November 1982] (14:59), The Last Human Gateway [writing session: February 1983] (2:40), Just Changing Hands [instrumental demo: February 1983] (6:26), Just Changing Hands [rehearsal: 11th February, 1983] (5:47), Wintertell [demo: July 1983] (3:02), The Last Human Gateway [first complete version - rehearsal: 27th July, 1983] (19:57), Untitled version 1 [rehearsal: August 1983] (1:32), Untitled version 2 [rehearsal: August 1983] (0:47), Just Changing Hands [Cava demo: 1984] (5:14), The Last Human Gateway [middle section: 1992 recording] (4:02)
On August 2nd 1983, five very poor but incredibly talented musicians entered a studio in North London to record their first official album. Little did they know that they had set themselves a Herculean task; to resurrect the dying organism that was progressive rock. They were young and inexperienced; by the time it came to mix the album the activity had been reduced to the five men hovering over their own faders trying to put themselves up in the mix.
When the album was completed and released, it was hailed as a progressive masterpiece and proved to be a triumph for the members of IQ. With just five tracks contained on the album, one of them reaching the twenty-minute mark, IQ proved once again that dexterity combined with a clear sense of composition are the ways to make a fantastic album. Many people accuse IQ of sounding too derivative, and though I agree that this album stands on the shoulders of giants, I certainly don't think that this band have aped any of their predecessors on Tales From The Lush Attic. The nearest I can come to a proper song comparison on this album is towards the end of The Last Human Gateway where the breakneck instrumental reaches a climax before crashing down as a triumphant keyboard theme is played, rather like that heard near the centre of Yes' The Gates of Delirium. Other than that, I find this album to be a highly refreshing exercise in beautifully executed, classic prog rock.
However, there's no denying that the album's production values were somewhat lacking. The sound quality made the album sound rather amateurish, and guitarist Mike Holmes states that he "always shied away from listening to it" for this very reason. Three decades on, he's decided to pull out the original master tapes to this seminal album to see if he can clean the sound up and give it the quality it deserves. It's being released to the public on the day this article is published, but I've been lucky enough to get it a few days before for reviewing purposes. What do I think? Simply put, it exceeds all expectations!
In fact, this might just be the best remix of an album I've ever heard, and I've listened to all eight of the King Crimson 40th Anniversary series remixes by the adept Steven Wilson. Tales From The Lush Attic is given a new lease of life, and can now soar above many of the other prog albums from that time. Problems with the sound quality have been completely eradicated, and new elements of the music that had previously been drowned in the mix sparkle and glimmer in their place. It''s like listening to the album for the first time again; everything is so familiar, yet new and interesting.
The differences can be heard almost instantly. Previously, I had found the wind noises that precede The Last Human Gateway to be terribly frustrating, an excuse to bring the track time up to exactly twenty minutes. Now, extra sound effects have been added, the wind increases in intensity, making the opening atmospheric, rather than boring. Also, it's a bit shorter too, less of that waiting around, and the track time seems far less arbitrary.
When the familiar Mellotron notes come through, it's with wonderful anticipation that I consider what I'm about to hear: to re-hear, and also to hear anew. "Across the plateau no clouds storm the sky...", Peter Nicholls' voice certainly seems crisper, and the mix is certainly different to what I've become very used to. However, it's not until the first "I'm still alive" that I hear something I've never heard before, namely Tim Esau making an incredibly exciting descending run on the bass guitar, keeping in 7/8. I check with the old mix, and it's simply not there. I could certainly believe that the music had been re-recorded especially, but according to Holmes, nothing has been recorded for this album; everything comes from the mixes found, rather fittingly, in an attic.
The rest of the album is more brilliant than I remember it. It's like listening to a piece of music after having your ears syringed. Esau's bass is vastly more present, lifting the track to an entirely new level; Paul Cook's drums sound impossibly crisp, each high-tempo hi-hat hit distinguishable from the last, and each drum fill perfectly formed; Holmes's guitar soars as it always has, with new clarity; Nicholls' voice sounds much cleaner, and it's the unique tone he uses on this album that reminds me that I am listening to the same record; and Martin Orford's keyboard has been given the full treatment, with a much more solid keyboard sound. This can be heard in particular on The Enemy Smacks, the album's closing epic, where Holmes reveals that he has used a special plug-in to give the previously bland organ a grittier, more 'swirly' feel.
To add to the list of noticeable and important changes:
• The 'Break back to back' section of The Last Human Gateway has been vastly improved, with Cook's drums more in time and Nicholls' voice somehow seeming more menacing than before.
• I'd previously found the brief Through The Corridors to be a bit of an anticlimax after the epic opening track, but now the sound has been cleaned up, I can fully appreciate this punky tune. Also, the subtitle (Oh! Shit Me) has been proudly returned to the song's title, since it was excluded on previous CD editions.
• Awake And Nervous, IQ's Roundabout if you will, is greatly improved with the new keyboard sounds. More than just a song, this track feels more like an anthem for progressive rock fans everywhere. In particular, the opening verses sound a lot better, with the organ grinding away in the background. Also, Holmes's backward guitar, which was accidentally forgotten in the original version has been restored at the end of the track.
• There's not really much to improve about Martin Orford's easier-done-than-said piano solo My Baby Treats Me Right 'Cos I'm A Hard Lovin' Man All Night Long, but apparently Holmes has been able to get rid of a clunk when Orford originally took his foot off the pedal. This piece definitely sets the right mood for the next track, and in the context of the album, it is the better choice than the bonus tracks Wintertell and Just Changing Hands which are also included on this album.
• The Enemy Smacks was a phenomenal piece already, but this remix brings it to new heights. The big difference is the "Here in my rocking horse house" section, which has been made tense through the creative use of voice effects. It's very different, but I welcome the change.
The album ends there but the fun is only just beginning. On the CD there are four remaining bonus tracks:
• Wintertell, a Peter Nicholls piece that might have appeared between Awake And Nervous and The Enemy Smacks. This song was specially re-recorded last year for inclusion on this set.
• The end section of The Last Human Gateway with the original lyrics, which are the same as the opening verses. It seems that Nicholls gave himself very little time to write lyrics, but astonishingly he was able to change the final lyrics just before recording the song proper. Definitely the right decision, as the opening lyrics simply don't work as well. This version also doesn't fade out at the end, but finishes properly.
• Very interestingly, the usual demo of Just Changing Hands has been replaced by this sonically superior, but instrumental demo. It simply doesn't sound right without the lyrics, and perhaps my biggest gripe about this collector's set is that the version with lyrics is not included on the CD. That said, it is included on the DVD as an MP3 file, so it's not very much of a complaint really.
• Finally, we reach a demo of a track that predates IQ, Dans Le Parc Du Château Noir. This is a dark, exciting piece, mainly instrumental and filled with virtuosity. In fact, a longer and more complete version appears on The Wake as a bonus track, so it's interesting to compare the two.
But we're not even halfway through the goodies yet! Let's check out the DVD, which is chock full of interesting stuff.
• First off, there's a host of interesting MP3 files, including out-takes and demos. You can hear just how The Enemy Smacks was put together, or the first complete run-through of the epic The Last Human Gateway. Also included is the sung version of Just Changing Hands, without which this set would be made rather disappointing. This version also appears on previous CD releases, except with four minutes of silence, then an Indian sounding theme. If anybody can tell me what that theme is doing there, I'd love to know. There's also a 1983 demo of Wintertell if you were adverse to the new IQ recording on the CD. There are a couple of cool sounding, but sadly unused ideas. My favourite bonus track has to be the 1992 re-recording of the middle section of The Last Human Gateway, which gives the song a simpler, more anthemic feel. I've been looking to get my hands on it for quite a while! If you're looking to compare, the original mix of this album has also been included for completeness' sake.
• Also included is a fascinating, yet entertaining audio commentary by Holmes and Nicholls, who comment on the album's production and tell stories from that era whilst the new mix plays in the background. The commentary is really good, but with the shorter songs, they tend not to speak about them so much. Fortunately this information is made up in the CD booklet, which is attached firmly to the robust cardboard exterior. It's an attractive, yet functional design.
• For fun, Holmes has included the multi-track files for Through The Corridors, as well the program Audacity. This means you can either listen to one of the instruments by itself, or any combination of the instruments, to see how IQ might sound without a bassist, etc. If you're more creative, you can even remix the track yourself and see if you can beat Holmes at his own game. I personally love hearing isolated instruments from songs, as it allows you to study a musician and their style very effectively. Dream Theater released a 'Producer's Edition' CD with the deluxe version of their album Black Clouds & Silver Linings but since Audacity wasn't included, I didn't get much of an opportunity to play with the songs. It would have been nice if a more intricate song had been included instead of Through The Corridors, but I'm not fussy.
• Perhaps the biggest and best surprise is the inclusion of the full Seven Stories Into Eight album that was released in 1982 by the band on home produced cassettes. The quality is a little scratchy, but the music is astonishing. For example, the opener Capital Letters (In Surgical Spirit Land) shows a very dark, almost avant-garde side to IQ that wouldn't be heard in later years. About Lake Five on the other hand is a fun, atmospheric instrumental, where the boys have a go at 7/8. For Christ's Sake on the other hand is a prog mash-up of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, which makes the end of the song sound just a little like Genesis' Afterglow. That's not even half the tracks from the band's prologue album, and their inclusion means that you really are getting two albums in one for this set.
• Last but not least, the video features include a photo gallery, with photos from the band's early period, and a concert video from October 2011, recorded in De Boerderij, a venue just a cycle ride from my house. Sadly I had to miss this particular concert, since I was away at uni, but it seems that the band played (almost) all of Tales From The Lush Attic, with just Orford's piano solo excluded. Interestingly enough, they preface Awake and Nervous with About Lake Five from the Seven Stories Into Eight album, which I wouldn't have been aware of were it not for its inclusion in this set. It's a wonderful concert video, and in particular, we are privy to Nicholls' customary Gabriel-esque theatrics during The Enemy Smacks, which he explains in the audio commentary, as well as a moment where the band successfully get the audience to clap in 7/8 time! Moreover, to see a band playing the same material nearly 30 years on is just fantastic, and it's a testament to their legacy that they are still going strong today.
If you've got this far, I do apologise for the amount of writing, but there's simply so much in this box set to describe, all of it interesting and useful too. Imagine my shock when I went on Amazon and found that this set which is bursting with content comes for a mere £9! It's a steal, I'm telling you! However, for all the fantastic features, let's not forget that the heart and soul of this release is the astonishing new mixes that Mike Holmes has created, which allow this masterpiece album to finally dazzle as it should have done all those years ago. Tales From The Lush Attic is not only my favourite IQ album, but my favourite album of the '80s, and it deserves to be recognised alongside Close To The Edge, Selling England By The Pound, In The Court Of The Crimson King and all the other classic progressive albums. Hopefully, with this new remix, it will be.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10