Issue 2013-044: The Tangent - Le Sacre du Travail - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
Tracklist: 1st movement: Coming Up On the Hour (Overture) (5:34), 2nd movement: Morning Journey and Arrival (22:55), 3rd movement: Afternoon Malaise (19:21), 4th movement: A Voyage Through Rush Hour (3:08), 5th movement: Evening TV (12:07)
Bonus tracks: Muffled Epiphany (4:06), Hat (live) (1:16), Evening TV (Radio Edit) (4:28)
*To coincide with this RTR we have published a new interview with Andy Tillison concerning all things Tangent*
John Wenlock-Smith's Review
Andy Tillison - Keyboards, Guitars and Vocals
Theo Travis - Flutes, Saxophone and Clarinet
Jonas Reingold - Bass
Gavin Harrison - Drums
Jakko M. Jakszyk - Guitar and Vocals
Rikard Sjöblom - Narration
Geoff Banks and Jon (Twang) Patrick - Morning Radio DJs
Guy Manning - Acoustic Guitar
Well it's certainly been an interesting 15 months or so since the release of the last Tangent CD, COMM in 2012. Since that time the then incumbent line-up has been totally dissolved for well documented reasons and whilst it looked pretty bleak for a while Andy Tillison has been working away diligently crafting and honing to create this new release and a brand new line-up of some highly impressive folks who are sharing in the vision that is Le Sacre du Travail (which literally translates as "The Rite of Work") with the subtitle "An Electric Sinfonia by Andy Tillison".
It's a bold move and The Tangent are certainly no strangers to making such steps, never lightly but always with purpose, dignity and integrity, Andy Tillison's drive for artistic freedom and creativity is well known, regarded and respected.
The background to this album is fascinating, but rather than repeat it fully here I would urge you to head over to The Tangent's Web Site where you can read the full story and far more related information for yourself. You see for me understanding the concepts and background to a progressive rock concept album are integral to understanding and fully appreciating what the artist is striving to portray within the music and lyrics. Whilst it's not essential it puts this work into context; well it does for me at least.
Le Sacre du Travail is something that most of us will be totally familiar with, i.e., the working day (or night) that is repeated week after week, year after year from leaving school/college/university (delete as applicable) right through mid-life and on to retirement or worse. This album is aimed at, for and represents the millions who make that journey daily.
Yes, it's a concept album but rather than being at the "Gates of Delirium" a la Yes' Relayer, here we are at the "Gates of Mundanity" as The Tangent espouse the feelings that we all face in our working lives; why the hell am I doing this and for what?
It's a bold and challenging concept for sure and as always The Tangent rise to the occasion. Whilst evoking the spirit of earlier progressive rock concept albums they bravely forge ahead, weaving their own particular magic into the genre. With reference points in The Moody Blues' Days of Future Past, Camel's The Snow Goose and the like, Le Sacre du Travail has its own distinctive sound and emotions clearly audible to the listener.
The album follows a typical working day from the opening track Coming Up on the Hour (Overture) which commences, like many people's day would, with the radio alarm kicking in, except in this instance it is a fictional radio station with genial hosts Geoff Banks and Jon (Twang) Patrick (both key stakeholders in 'Progressive Rock UK PLC' as it were via their promotion of prog in the U.K.) starting the album off brilliantly. The overture continues into Rikard Sjöblom's spoken narration describing the drudgery of the everyday working existence (Rikard repaying Andy Tillison's introduction to Beardfish's The Void album last year). Underpinning Rikard's narration is a jazzy undertone with some graceful sounds from Theo Travis and melodious harmonic bass from Jonas in amongst Andy's swirling keyboards and the tasteful, concise guitar lines of Jakko Jakszyk. As an ensemble piece it's both a definitive statement of intent and also a superb opener, taking the listener through a variety of moods, tones and styles before the magnificence that is Morning Journey and Arrival kicks in.
Opening with a plaintive motif this track brings the full beauty and force of The Tangent to the fore as it seeks to understand the human working condition and how we got to this state. Andy is never afraid to tackle such "Big Issues" head on and whilst he doesn't seek to provide any solutions he asks some of the questions that could be the start of a process of revaluation and change.
Lyrically this is a very challenging song being "A metaphor for our times" and it is musically diverse as well. I have to say that, as much as I have enjoyed The Tangent of old, there is a renewed vigour, focus and energy to this album and when you set that against the majestic COMM you can see that Le Sacre du Travail is really something very special indeed, an album that will need a lot of playing for its intricacies and subtleties to present themselves.
As with all of the longer Tangent tracks this piece moves through a range of emotions, moods and tones from tender and gentle to brash and abrasive, often back to back, all mixed together with intelligence. There is a clever Rush reference here too and very well-constructed solo sections from Jakko and Andy that make this a particularly enjoyable piece.
Afternoon Malaise is another lengthy track and after a gentle piano introduction we get the hear Gavin Harrison drum up a storm before Theo Travis' clarinet leads us into an extended and jazzy section topped with some strident synth work from Andy. Again it is this constant juxtaposition that makes the album such an enticing treat. This is The Tangent being lean and mean; there are no wasted notes and no superfluous elements, rather everything has its place and purpose in creating this superbly crafted work. Lyrically Afternoon Malaise talks about reaching and striving for success within the corporate game that we fall into by default, going on to describe how we need some intelligence in our days, not just entertainment per se. At the seven minute mark there is a graceful and vibrant jazz influenced section that leads the piece into a more reflective section with Guy Manning's acoustic guitar to the fore which by 11:30 minutes is preparing for the journey home with the radio as our escape route, the drudgery of the home time commute consuming our thoughts.
I really enjoyed this piece with its variety of styles and the witty, clever and urbane lyrics which deliver a great listening experience. There is also a fine guitar break from Jakko (very reminiscent of Luke Machin's fluidity actually) which adds to the beauty of the track.
Taken together, these two lengthy pieces encapsulate what makes this album so very good; there is wit, humour, intelligence, questioning social commentary and more, a large slice of our life experience within the 44 or so minutes. It's a major triumph for Andy and The Tangent that his vision stands affirmed and vindicated after such a hard 12 months of uncertainty and struggle.
A Voyage Through Rush Hour acts as a bridge between the two longer pieces and the closing section, Evening TV, and is purely instrumental, piano based and rhythmic. It wouldn't sound out of place on an ECM Jazz release but it certainly doesn't outstay its welcome and works as an intermezzo between the longer tracks.
Evening TV is the finale of the Le Sacre du Travail suite and seeks to close the circle, concluding the "Electric Sinfonia". Starting with stabbing organ and surging synthesiser lines you know straight away that this is the home run, the triumphant conclusion to the meisterwork that is Le Sacre du Travail. In this piece the passing of the evening in front of the TV is challenged and debated whilst soaring music erupts all around the listener.
The three bonus tracks, available on initial copies of the album, add even more to the mix but nothing truly substantial to the "Sinfonia". That said I'm glad that they are here as they round out the disc very well indeed. There are also additional tracks that will emerge shortly (see www.thetangent.org for details) which is a very enticing prospect indeed given the sheer quality and magnificence of this album.
In summary I have to say that I have really enjoyed this disc, it is a fabulous listen and an album that I will return to frequently as there is so much more to it than this review can detail. I would seriously urge any lover of classic, quality progressive rock to check this one out; if COMM did it for you then Le Sacre du Travail will certainly hit the spot too. You can tell that this is a labour of love for Andy and it shows through in every second of this triumphant and majestic CD.
It's been a great year for prog so far with some fantastic releases from the likes of Spock's Beard and Big Big Train amongst others and The Tangent can quite rightly sit amongst their contemporaries with this album of truly inspired music, fascinating lyrics, outstanding performances and a fantastic concept, so I have absolutely no hesitation in giving this 9.5 out of ten as it's certainly going to be in my top five for the year for sure.
You'd be mad to let this one pass you by...so don't.
Jez Rowden's Review
Le Sacre du Travail has been a long time coming and highly anticipated by this particular fan who has been with The Tangent since the release of The Music That Died Alone in 2003 having come to them via the involvement of various Flower Kings. That debut album was my introduction to the world of Andy Tillison whose vision for the band truly emerged as the years rolled by and new albums appeared. Band members came and went in a cast list of near biblical proportions but with Tillison alone at the helm through the years of shifting personnel it was great when the band finally seemed to coalesce into a stable form after release of COMM in 2011 and played some incendiary live shows through 2012.
Sadly, the anticipated follow-up album by this line-up failed to materialise and the band imploded leaving Tillison to re-build again. This seemed to take shape quite quickly and as details emerged of the new work in progress and the players due to be involved anticipation returned after the despair of the period immediately after the break up.
The album was certainly lauded in advance and with Tillison clearly going for something special it was a tense wait to see what finally emerged. And here it is at last, based in essence on Stravinsky's Rite of Spring with the subtitle "An Electric Sinfonia by Andy Tillison". And to me this is the key phrase here - this is 100% Andy's baby and the band feel that had emerged in recent years has been replaced by that of a solo project. This was bound to be the case under the circumstances but the subtitle underlines it somewhat. This would not matter if the album was as exceptional as it was hoped to be but, to me at least, I'm afraid that it does not completely work. I'm sure that the business reasons behind the release of the album under The Tangent banner speak for themselves but I can't help but feel that the music would have been better served if it had come out officially as a Tillison solo project. No doubt though, this course of action would have undermined the viability of the project coming to fruition and it would have been scuppered from the start.
Over the top and elaborate concepts have never been a particular issue in the crazy world of prog but when listening to Le Sacre du Travail I can't help getting the feeling that it is overblown and grandiose for the sake of it. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate Andy's ambition and there are some great sections here but the whole thing does not fly, swoop, strafe and soar as it should. One of the key ingredients for a work such as this to succeed is that it needs to be consistently strong throughout, rising to peaks of superlative music as the piece ebbs and flows. This simply does not happen here and it seems to be a work that is caught between the two worlds of classical and rock music, neither fully one or the other.
Expectation is inherently increased by the use of guest artists of the calibre of those present on Le Sacre du Travail - any album that features the likes of Tillison, Reingold, Harrison, Longdon, Travis, Jakszyk and Manning is a mouth-watering possibility that you just have to pay attention to - but you get the feeling that the result does not add up to the sum of its parts which is a shame.
There is already a built in expectation of grandiosity in the listing of tracks as "movements", the symbolism of a link with the great classical works not lost, but the overture, Coming Up On the Hour, fails to exert the hold and eloquent scene setting expected from such a piece. If it hadn't been designated as an overture the expectation would not be the same but in this setting it fails to deliver the required appetite whetting pull to preface the rest of the work. The first burst of music is good, classical in nature and Stravinsky influenced, but this peters out with the narration by Rikard Sjöblum which is somewhat unnecessary and slows the momentum. It is however followed by a particularly nice section between 2:30 and 4:30 minutes with some nice synthesised string and brass plus lovely guitar from Jakko before things become confused again, the old-school keys sounding out of place. The keys may be an important ingredient in The Tangent's sound but in a piece of work as different as this it feels that something more appropriate was called for. The track doesn't perform as an effective overture and is not engaging enough, the last minute doing nothing in particular where it should form a rousing introduction to the rest of the album.
The centrepiece and longest track is next, Morning Journey and Arrival though is simply over long and not interesting enough with little in the way of flow - in many places it gets as tedious as the commute it describes and almost manages to do it in real time! It starts in a pastoral fashion at dawn, Travis providing some nice clarinet and flute. Piano and organ featuring elements of Van der Graaf Generator are a key part of a slowly building intro that is satisfying and uplifting. Jakszyk provides an articulate and emotional guitar solo around 4 minutes but it breaks down into discordant "traffic" at 5 minutes. The Stravinsky influence is again clear and the orchestral section around 6 minutes is good but doesn't go anywhere, morphing into a downbeat flute and bass section. It just doesn't fly. The mid-section is up-beat but the subject matter so demoralising that it is hard to engage fully and things again fade into dank classicalism around 12 minutes with much quiet and depressing noodling, seemingly devoid of purpose.
The Rush reference in the lyric feels out of place whereas Andy's prog inside jokes usually work well. In the scope of this overarching concept they are unecessary and limit appreciation to a captive audience of those "in the know". The work as a whole is one that should be able to exist beyond the boundaries of prog, as this is where the true ambition lies, but the references keep the audience small, shutting out many potential listeners.
The track continues with exquisite guitar and keys solos and some jazziness but it breaks down again. There's a nice, driving section around 19 minutes with good work from Jakko and the rhythm section before it breaks down again! I suppose continually gaining momentum and then grinding to a halt is all part of the daily commute and maybe that's what Andy is trying to convey but as a listening experience it is quite frustrating. It all makes me want to pack up working and run away screaming into the sunset. But I can't and that's why the concept just doesn't work for me - yes, the current system of work is a cage but for most people there's no escape. Maybe I should go and make an album about it as a release. Oh yes, I can't do that either.
Morning Journey and Arrival is somewhat disjointed and disappointing to my ears, not a total disaster by any means but in need of a good trim and I suspect that there's an excellent track of around 12 or so minutes waiting to escape from it. This seems to be a benefit that can be gained from a good band set-up - judicious editing for the benefit of the music as a whole - as this is often the issue when individuals get too close to their own work. Someone else will undoubtedly spot a potential improvement that can be made somewhere.
Stravinsky-esque string sounds and woodwind return to open Afternoon Malaise (that title is never going instil much in the way of enthusiasm) before moving into a not very interesting drum solo from Harrison and discordant orchestration. Again, when the old-school keys come in they don't fit despite the playing being great. Overall it does not sound like The Tangent to me despite the inclusion of some Tangential elements such as the keys, however, there is enough of it here to ensure that the sound is not different enough. A nice jazzy groove kicks in at around 4 minutes and Andy expounds about annual appraisals. I hate appraisals. There is an infinite pointlessness to them that just wears me out and nothing here makes me look forward to the next one, it's simply an acknowledgement that another year has passed and you're still in the same job. Gee, I hadn't realised...
An uplifting section follows that does work but not well enough and for long enough but more of this "you CAN escape" feel would have been good. Another break down into jazzy noodling with Travis to the fore - good jazzy noodling but somehow inconsequential. There is a sterility to the undoubted professionalism of some of the playing, which is not to run it down as it is universally excellent, but it often moves towards the anodyne. Analogue keys return and there's some lovely piano before a long section involving radio DJ Steve Wright which is well observed but ultimately depressing. Things improve in the last couple of minutes and there is a degree of the soaring musicality that I crave but it is simply too little, too late and before long it falls into a pointless drum solo, flute and noodling. Why? I find it hard to motivate myself through a piece of such languid mundanity with a duration of almost 20 minutes. Again, not interesting or engaging enough over its whole length.
A Voyage Through Rush Hour is a lovely, and again Stravinsky-esque, piano led instrumental with wonderful orchestration and playing that features a welcome return of the main theme from Coming Up On the Hour. This is actually a piece that could have been extended! D'oh! I'd personally take another 10 minutes of this in exchange for half each of the previous two tracks any day.
Bringing things to a close is Evening TV with a Genesis flavoured Hammond, analogue synth and driving rhythm section. It is certainly more engaging than most of what has gone before but still very downbeat and run of the mill lyrically. The music has it's moments though and there is some great ensemble playing. The French lyric section is a little odd and Genesis seeps in throughout but it is generally very good, fairly straightforward stuff with a bit of energy behind it and excellent bass from Jonas; just what the album needed. Around 6 minutes the pace slows, still Genesis influenced with Andy doing his best Tony Banks, before a return to the main theme but the track is still too long and peters out at the end. After a far too long pause, no doubt to synthesise a "good" night's sleep, the album ends in the same way that it started. And it all begins again...again...again. Except that I'm more inclined to press 'Stop' rather than 'Play'.
A quick word about the bonus tracks that are available with early pressings of the album and do not form a part of the Le Sacre du Travail suite itself. Muffled Epiphany is the sort of thing that Tillison does best, an atmospheric personal reflection, this time based on his introduction as a teen to the sometimes miraculous world of weird music and the Mellotron which has influenced him ever since. Smokey jazz rhythms and piano led, the ensemble playing is again superb. Obviously relegated to bonus material as it doesn't fit with the main feature it is very nicely done and more of this would have been great although due to its 'bonus' nature it is likely to be one of those overlooked tracks.
Hat is a brief and very entertaining punky number from a live recording in 1979 which forms an interesting historical snippet, and the album ends with a welcome 'radio' edit of Evening TV which trims off much of the flab allowing the heart of the track to shine through.
The performances are, without doubt, excellent but overall the talent appears to be under used. Andy's voice has always divided opinion but I've always liked it, his idiosyncracies endearing and helping to get his always excellent words across in a personal way, but here it just doesn't seem to fit. The concept, although based on something particularly mundane, is on such a large scale with such high ambitions that something different is needed, like Dave Longdon, to lift it to the next level. The intention of producing an "Electric Sinfonia" with influences from Stravinsky immediately requires a higher quality of vocal and Longdon, although his backing vocals are great, should have provided more of the lead - which are particularly refreshing when the odd burst occurs - with Andy interjecting here and there instead. The balance between the voices seems all wrong.
Jonas seems slightly subdued and despite him being back onboard the Tangent bus for another journey it feels like he arrived at this project too late to really put his stamp on it. This again returns me to the feeling that a solo Tillison album would have benefitted the music by allowing it to shine more brightly in its own right as the expectations of using the band name and involving such talented players are just too high. Similarly Gavin Harrison is asked to do little of real note which is an opportunity missed. However, Theo Travis is, as always, a star of the show, his contributions always worth hearing.
Lyrically, although very well observed and written, the concept is too run of the mill, telling most of us just how shit our lives are - we know. I appreciate realism but much prefer a bit of escapism in my music. Almost like enjoying Spielberg more than Ken Loach even though you know that the latter is the more worthy. Andy's usual finger-on-the-pulse realism, which I generally find very well done and endearing, is just not interesting enough here. It should be no surprise to anyone that Andy Tillison writes a bloody good lyric, he is certainly one of my favourite lyricists, but here it speaks to me all too clearly of a particular part of my life and I'd rather that he'd inform me about something that I didn't know. This is a problem when you try and aim your writing at a universal audience. Thinking "he's talking about me!" is great but I just can't get past the concept as it is, on the whole, the part of my life upon which I'd rather not dwell. You can't please all of the people all of the time.
As stated previously, the feel of Le Sacre du Travail being a Tillison solo album is all pervading and detracts from the band feel from which The Tangent had benefitted after COMM and the subsequent bedding in of the live band. They could well have been unstoppable on the follow-up album but this only serves as a disappointment. I will be ordering the soon-to-be-released companion piece from The Tangent's website as I so wanted to hear more from the 2012 band and it seems that some initial sketches for that never completed album are to be included.
Despite my criticisms above I still love The Tangent and Andy's work in general and will look forward to the next album. I do hope that some kind of band dynamic will return but who knows given the previous difficulties that have precluded this on a number of occasions. It remains to be seen who is to be involved next but I'd expect to see new faces to have their portraits posted in the Tangent pantheon by the time the band next performs live.
Andy Tillison is a huge talent and I appreciate the skill, time and effort that have gone into this album and, Lord knows, I really wanted it to work. From the early gestation I was excited at what was being talked about but became slightly concerned by developments as time went on. I deliberately didn't listen to soundclips during the recording process preferring to wait to hear the whole completed album and early reports of this increased the excitement but when reports started to come in from those who had actually heard it I again grew worried. Upon listening to the album I'm sorry to say that many of these fears have been realised. I've stuck with it and played it a good number of times. I've read the lyrics and played it again but, although it has improved as my ears got used to the constructs and themes, it isn't an album that I can immerse myself in and my hand is likely to move past it on the CD shelf to other Tangent albums as a first port of call.
Quantity over Quality is a frequent prog failing and unfortunately, having often promised the ultimate prog epic and hoping here to produce his meisterwork, Andy has fallen short at that particular hurdle. This album just does not work for me. It is grandiose and it is ambitious but it doesn't fit in with the exaggerated expectations. This is not Andy's fault but it may lead to a problem for at least some of his audience. I'm sure that the next album will be a sea change on this one and I still love Andy Tillison's music but there is not enough on here for me to be absorbed into. Until next time...
Gert Hulshof's Review
The Tangent is without a doubt one of those bands where people will look out for a new release every time around, at least in the world of Progressive rock that is.
Last year Andy Tillison had a surprise for all of us when he announced the dismantling of The Tangent. What would happen next and would we ever see a new album from them? Little did we know then that a new project had already started and new and old musicians were being recruited to join.
The project now has a name - Le Sacre du Travail - and now everyone can listen to a new recording by one of prog's most creative minds. So far, all of The Tangent's albums from throughout their career have had raving receptions but will it happen again for this album? Read on to find out what this reviewer thinks of Le Sacre du Travail.
The album starts with an overture, as should all symphonic and classical concepts, but personally I would not call the first five minutes of this album an overture. It may be due to its musical nature but I would much rather call it an introduction, plain and simple, to the story that is about to be told as a result of the narration during Coming Up on the Hour, as the overture is called, which is performed by none other than Beardfish frontman Rikard Sjöblom. The narration tells us a little of what the to expect from the work and is coupled with orchestral rock with elements of classical music which continues in the second track's legato with piano slowly building the theme of the piece.
All sounds so familiar yet I feel it's new. At times it is like listening to The Flower Kings or older Tangent recordings and maybe it's me but I cannot seem to get beyond the idea of listening to a combination of The World That We Drive Through, The Music That Died Alone and other Tangent material. It may also be that this is completely Andy Tillison's own sound which he has been able to create over the years with his Tangent projects.
All in all Morning Journey & Arrival is more orchestral than all of the other works with, of course, the fantastic keyboard wizardry by Mr. Tillison as a lead throughout the entire song. The latest line-up of The Tangent features some of progs most outstanding musicians in my opinion with Jonas Reingold of The Flower King's returning on bass and Gavin Harrison on drums. I have not forgotten the others in the meantime but I just wanted to emphasize a little on the rhythm section which is no doubt of high importance to creating an ongoing and steady sound throughout the album.
Stepping into the third movement we encounter the Afternoon Malaise where for the first time on a Tangent recording we hear a trumpet playing. The lyrics of the album have been provided and how good it is to know these, to be able to read along with the tracks and understand what is going on at every moment as it gives a better insight of how and why a certain turn or change in musical intonation was used, especially when the music continues and we move into the next track, A Voyage Through Rush Hour, an intermezzo instrumental with a feel, before the whole is continued with the finale movement, Evening TV. Evening TV is about the things that working people do when they get home, or more accurately what we intend to do, or even don't do at all.
An eclectic piece of musicality, Le Sacre du Travail is an outstanding "musical erlebnis". This is not a moment of rest but big time storytelling in an eclectic and symphonic manner not often seen. I keep having deja vu in a "haven't I heard this before?" way but what does that tell you?? Not much I guess, because I haven't said I dislike it, au contraire, I like what I hear very much. It more or less fits like a glove so to speak.
Additionally the album will be released in various versions, some including bonus material. I have three bonus tracks here. Muffled Epiphany is a song with a marvellous jazzy feel to it, a beautiful song with some great piano work. The second bonus is a live track dating back to the Punk era of 1979, the song sounds as if you were listening to the Sex Pistols with a piano present or a song by Dutch musician Herman Brood. Hat, the song in question, has that typical sound of the era. The third bonus track is a "radio edit" of Evening TV.
Andy Tillison and his crew have made an album with Le Sacre du Travail that I will listen to often and will do just fine for all you proggers out there. Is it a must have? For now I do not belief it is but it is still growing on me.
Alison Henderson's Review
Expectations are always high when there is a new album by The Tangent in the offing. Le Sacre du Travail, their seventh studio album, probably carries more of a weight of expectation than ever due to last autumn's dissolution of the previous band line-up coming after the release of the marvellous COMM in 2011 and subsequent stellar live performances at both Summers End and Celebr8.
However, the clue to their existence lies within their name and so it is only natural that, with each musical incarnation, Maestro Tillison and his chosen compadres will be flying off at a different tangent and, from this perspective, Le Sacre du Travail ('The Rite of Work') does exactly what it says on the tin.
Pre-release teasers from the band have revealed everything it is not, so no unicorns, space travel or any other eclectic concepts which tend to dominate the prog landscape, have been involved in its making. In fact, rather than an expansive theme about new worlds or dimensions, this electronic sinfonia focuses on the normal - or should that be abnormal - namely, the daily rituals of life of which we are all, to all intents and purposes, guilty.
As a fervent and acerbic observer of life, Tillison pulls no punches either musically or lyrically here. To do so, he has fused together an impressive array of musical genres to interpret a different segment of the average weekday, embracing the peaks of the morning and evening rush hours along with the trough of the afternoon workaday drudgery and the evening's "at home" activities, before the whole wearisome cycle starts all over again.
To help explain this journey through work day subordination, Tillison has enlisted an all-star cast including former Tangent band mates, bassist Jonas Reingold, woodwind maestro Theo Travis and guitarist Jakko Jakszyk, along with drummer Gavin Harrison and David Longdon, Big Big Train's vocalist and, for the purposes of this album, choral arranger.
Keeping up with Tillison's visions must have been an interesting adventure for the co-opted quintet because of the scope of styles they are asked to perform here.
Starting with the dulcet tones of rock jocks Jon Patrick and Geoff Banks, the overture Coming Up On The Hour has its scene setting narration built into a musical framework in the style of Leonard Bernstein's instrumental depictions of downtown New York in West Side Story complete with the overtones of frantic energy. Here, however, we are looking more at the rush to get to the temporary car park that is the M25 rather than the New Jersey turnpike. That pattern of ebb and flow continues throughout with jazzy, proggy and classical elements emerging from the mix.
Morning Journey & Arrival starts with Travis' plaintive oboe and develops gently to include flute and piano before Tillison's lyrics offer a bird's eye view of the mayhem below as everyone starts the frantic drive into their places of work. He concludes angrily that we are all ants, marching and crawling to work, an analogy which might not sit well with some listeners.
Again, the whole composition is allowed to build through guitar flashes, discordant instrumental passages and sung narratives in which Longdon makes an early appearance, harmonising and duetting with Tillison. This is a fair exchange after Tillison's stunning contributions to Big Big Train's English Electric Pt 1 and Pt 2.
Afternoon Malaise continues with an orchestrated passage evoking a virtual desolation within the working day punctuated with an understated drum solo from Harrison before it all ratchets up a few gears for a big jazzy work-out. The thrust of the words is aimed at the big white chiefs who "want to take it with them. They'll try but they fail". Again, Tillison is only directing our attention to the futility of the mythical existence everyone thinks they want and feel obliged to take.
The whole piece has many layers of jazzy goodness, Travis shining again on saxophone and Tillison mixing it up on Hammond organ, piano and mini-Moog. His verbal meditation on the Steve Wright In The Afternoon Show on BBC Radio 2 is beautifully observed, his role being only to occupy the minds of the masses while they go about their daily routine tasks. Longdon makes a fleeting harmonising contribution as Tillison continues to pile on the futility. It all ends with that excellent Bernstein musical motif from the overture, Harrison's drums and another joyous appearance by Travis' flute.
Then it's A Voyage Through Rush Hour with a piano section which channels Gershwin and echoes Keith Emerson against a big stately rhythm section.
A microwave oven is set then a throaty Hammond organ kicks off the sinfonia's finale, Evening TV, which suddenly explodes into a pounding melodic synth-driven riff, Harrison's drums and Reingold's pumping bass galloping along in tandem. Again, Tillison's lyrics big up the rituals of the evening from putting the kettle on and watching TV, comparing it all to the humdrum lives of the fictional family from the French language textbooks of our schooldays. It's one of the collection's true highlights and brings the whole piece to a rousing end.
And so on to the three bonus tracks starting with the laid-back Muffled Epiphany, taking us back to 1972, a year both Tillison and I remember well, at the advent of the classic prog years and, in particular, the mellotron. It is almost like a meditation on youth with its sparse musical setting which does not swamp or dominate the vocals, the lyrics here almost sounding improvised.
A breakneck speed live version of Hat at Mexborough High School sees Tillison playing punk - and rather well, it has to be said - while ending it all is the radio edit of Evening TV.
So what's the verdict? Well, I fear my other DPRP colleagues may have well sharpened their pen nibs for this one but from my perspective, I totally concur with the overarching message of this compelling and brilliantly realised album. Coupled with this, Tillison and his band of prog brothers work together faultlessly and seamlessly to interpret the many nuances and often complex textures of the five key pieces. Some may well find it uncomfortable listening because of the content. But at the end of the day, it is all about most of us and the truth, however cleverly articulated through such music, will sometimes hurt.
Basil Francis's Review
17:45 - Christopher sits down at his laptop. He opens his Gmail account to see a new email from Basil James Financial Services, a company based in Bristol and Ilminster. Could this be his chance? Of course it isn't: "Dear Christopher, we regret to inform you..."
17:48 - Twenty? Twenty rejections? It simply makes no sense. How can a man of twenty-five with two perfectly good degrees under his belt be struggling to find work? What else does he need to do? Slit his wrists and spill blood? Ever since his rock band 'split up' due to financial difficulties and reformed without him, he's found it tough to get by.
17:50 - Check the news; BBC is in the favourites bar, next to Facebook and Netflix. Floods in Germany, gay couple murdered in Brazil, a terrible new ultra cocaine in Russia, protesters wounded in Turkey, a young girl raped in Chicago, and a city shooting closer to home. Chris turns it off, he can't bear it any more. He pulls a Stella out the fridge; it isn't even cold. He wanders over to the hi-fi he loves so much, with the intent to listen to some music, and escape from the world. That new album by The Tangent looks like it might do.
18:00 - Le Sacre du Travail? Chris dismisses the French title as he slips the disc into the hi-fi. Checking the liner notes, it seems that Tillison has completely refurbished the line-up yet again, so much so that one can't really call The Tangent anything other than a Tillison solo project.
18:01 - Huh? Narration? Sounds oddly like the disinterested narration heard at the beginning of Porcupine Tree's Voyage 34. However, the monologue, delivered by Beardfish's Rikard Sjöblom, is giving a sarcastic look at the world of work, and in particular how the average man lives thirty miles from his job. Chris recoils. "Work? I want work! Why can't I get a job? I'd travel a hundred miles every day if I could begin to feel proud of myself."
18:05 - The next track is 23 minutes in length. "You do love your long tracks, don't you Andy? Let's hope it's a good one."
18:08 - Somehow, Chris seems to have forgotten just how poor a singer band leader Tillison is. Double tracking and backing vocals just seems to make it worse somehow.
18:09 - At one point, Tillison impersonates a child. The child sounds about 50.
18:11 - Chris realises that there hasn't been a single good bit of music yet on the album. "C'mon, hurry up! Where's the good bit?"
18:14 - Part Six of this track is simply titled Bird Shit. Lyrics include 'It all just looks like bird shit! Just look on Google Earth! The higher up you climb/ And each day we traverse it! An hour from waking up we're driving thirty miles'. The music and the words simply don't match the music at all. The complex progressive rock provokes abstract thought and yet Tillison's 'down-to-earth' lyrics simply ruin the mood. Chris realises that the concept of this album is simply to complain about how annoying work is. Chris utters aloud "How can you be so ungrateful? I'll take that job if you don't want it!"
18:18 - "I mean, of all the horrible things in the world to 'sing' about, you sing about having a job? There are so many bigger problems, but you discuss the grievances of having a wage. I've seen sadness in all parts of the world, and yet you choose one of the most mundane topics as the basis for your 'sinfonia'."
18:20 - During, Part Eight, Two People in Two Cubicles, the line 'In a Rush T-shirt, pony tail, 2112 tattooed on his hands' grates on Chris. "Why? Why do you always treat prog rock as some kind of great in-joke? It's almost like you're writing fan fiction for your favourite genre, and we all know what fan fiction is like. Further evidence for this comes in the form of your sci-fi fantasy novella that came with Not as Good as the Book, with the main character called Rael."
18:22 - More borrowed lyrics: 'Houses on our backs'. Chris: "Oh come on, Tillison, this is too easy!"
18:24 - Chris laments that the current song has no cohesiveness. Indeed, the track is separated into several immiscible parts. Frustratingly, as soon as Tillison gets a good theme going, as he does near the end of the second track, he chops and changes before the part has reached its natural climax. "Prog rock ADHD!"
18:27 - Furthermore, rather like Daymoon, one of Tillison's earlier collaborations, this track seems over-composed in the sense that he has spent too long on the small details without looking at the track as a whole. In the end, the piece doesn't have a solid or interesting structure. This is what separates his work from more cohesive long-form tracks like Close to the Edge and Echoes.
18:28 - Part Eleven is entitled More of the Aforementioned Bird Shit. "Is this really masterpiece material, Andy?" The lyrics include 'I don't believe them, not 'til I see it/ Until I put my finger in the holes'. Chris decides that he'd rather not know what kind of holes Tillison is talking about.
18:30 - "Half an hour in and we're only on track three? At least Gavin Harrison's drumming sounds good here, on the part entitled Bored Drummer." The track's title is Afternoon Malaise. "Tell me about it!"
18:32 - "So is this album supposed to be tracking somebody's day whilst simultaneously criticising society? If so, that puts the album somewhere between The Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed and Rage Against the Machine, and to tell the truth, your music is nowhere near either of them. At least Rage showed true anger and passion in their music. You're only interested in pyrotechnics and about writing 'something grandiose and ambitious' as you put it."
18:35 - Despite having nothing to do with anything that has come before, Chris enjoys the brief jazzy interlude with Theo Travis on sax. Chris wonders why Tillison didn't split the track into smaller parts. Since every Tangent album has had at least one twenty minute track, it does feel like Tillison is writing long tracks for the sake of writing long tracks. However, he's cheating; fitting together several shorter tracks is a hollow substitute for a well-formed suite. "You might be surprised to find that fans will still buy your albums even if all your songs are shorter than the time it takes to eat a Happy Meal."
18:40 - In the middle of a fable about a certain Steve Wright, Chris hears Tillison complain once again about commuting to and from work, as well as paying for electricity and gas. "Come on, get things in perspective! You should thank your lucky stars that you have a job to go to, and that you have gas and electric to pay for." The metaphor of ants does seem rather clumsy, as ants themselves do not have to pay their landlord, or indeed pay for commodities such as electricity.
18:44 - Just like the last track, Afternoon Malaise suffers from being too over-composed. "If something becomes over-composed, does it become compost?" Chris chuckles inwardly.
18:46 - "'Your kids will sell it off on eBay!' should never have been the key lyric in a prog song."
18:47 - The ending to the track seems just a little clumsy, as if they forgot to turn off the microphones after recording.
18:50 - Despite sounding a tad old-fashioned, the instrumental A Voyage Through Rush Hour turns out to be the most well thought-out track on the album, simply because it's less than 10 minutes long, and Tillison doesn't sing.
18:51 - The final track, Evening TV starts with a killer theme. It's just a shame that this theme has been entirely stolen from Is My Face on Straight by Premiata Forneria Marconi. "You do love to wear your musical influences right on your sleeve, don't you?"
18:56 - Awkwardly, that main theme keeps coming back. "Maybe Tillison actually believes that he came up with that theme himself?" Unfortunately, this entirely hampers Chris's enjoyment of what is otherwise an adequately fun and energetic track.
19:00 - The track sounds like it's coming to an end. It's over! "Finally!" Except it isn't. In a gimmicky way to show that the next working day is exactly the same as the last, the first minute or so of the album is repeated once again, similar to Pink Floyd's The Wall and Dream Theater's Octavarium.
19:03 - Chris contemplates what he has just heard. The concept is not only mundane, but simply comes across as whinging. Chris wonders whether the title was put in French to make it seem more impressive. "After all, you'd always prefer to drink Evian than Harrogate." The music is largely uninteresting, and the interesting parts are few and far between.
19:07 - Chris isn't surprised though; while the early Tangent albums had more impressive line-ups and better concepts - he'd always found In Earnest rather moving - it was clear that Tillison had begun to run out of fresh ideas a few years ago. Themes plagiarised from earlier prog albums had slipped their way into his music, and his ideas for subject matter had begun repeating themselves. This album itself seems to draw on Tillison's dislike for large businesses, which he also explored in Lost in London. Perhaps if he didn't focus so heavily on writing 'down-to-earth' lyrics about 'real issues', he could allow his lyrics to wander to higher realms of imagery and become one with the music, much like Jon Anderson's lyrics for Yes. He could even let somebody else hold the mic for a change.
19:11 - Chris looks at The Tangent website. "...band-leader Andy Tillison is keen to point out that this concept is something that involves all of us now rather than a rambling fiction". "I've never seen anything more rambling in my life!" Indeed, the album comes off more as several rambling fictions rather than just one. "I also don't see how having a job really involves ALL of us either!" Chris decides that he will never listen to the album again, as it is neither musically interesting nor conceptually thought-provoking.
19:15 - Chris logs onto DPRP to see what the reviews of this album are like and is shocked to find one that agrees entirely with his own...
*To coincide with this RTR we have published a new interview with Andy Tillison concerning all things Tangent*