Two Rope Swings (6:32), Dr. Livingstone (I Presume) (11:58), Slow Rust (22:31), The Sad Story Of Lead and Astatine (16:00), A Few Steps Down The Wrong Road (17:31)
Geoff Feakes' Review
As a major player in the current prog scene, a new release from The Tangent is always greeted with a degree of heightened anticipation. Their debut album, The Music That Died Alone, caused quite a stir in prog circles back in 2003, and to some extent the subsequent releases have lived under its shadow. So much so, that the last album, A Spark In The Aether (2015), was subtitled The Music That Died Alone – Volume 2.
The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery is their ninth studio album and only Andy Tillison on keyboards, vocals (and drums for the first time on a Tangent album), and bass supremo Jonas Reingold remain from the original line-up. They are joined by familiar Tangent regulars Luke Machin (guitars, vocals) and Theo Travis (saxes, flutes), plus new member Marie-Eve De Gaultier (keyboards, vocals). Marie-Eve also recently made her album debut, with Machin's band Maschine.
Tillison remains the creative force in terms of songwriting. His music is influenced by the classic sounds of the 1970s, but given a contemporary twist. His lyrics are always astute and unambiguous, often topical and occasionally witty. In the press release for this album he likens his willingness to confront social issues head-on, to that of Roger Waters, which is a fair comparison. Ironically, Tillison's half-sung, half-spoken vocal style is also reminiscent of Waters at times.
If the lyrics give much food for thought, there is also a good deal to take onboard musically, with a running time of 75 minutes, and with three out of the five tracks clocking in at over 15 minutes. However, for me it's the two opening and (perhaps tellingly) shortest tracks that prove to be the most rewarding.
Two Rope Swings is a fine example of taut and concise songwriting, opening and closing with an elegant piano motif. In-between there is ample scope for Tillison, Machin and Reingold to flex their musical muscles, without once resorting to self indulgence.
Similarly, the all-instrumental Dr. Livingstone keeps its excesses in-check. Opening with a memorable guitar hook, it contrasts melodic, jazz-inflected interludes (Travis' playing is at its most lyrical here) with a masterclass of guitar pyrotechnics from the young Machin.
The sprawling Slow Rust on the other hand doesn't fully justify its 22-plus minutes, despite the lengthy vocal sections. The high point is a soaring guitar and keyboard excursion that brings The Flower Kings to mind, not least because of Reingold's articulate bass contributions. The vocal melodies prove to be less memorable, and although Marie-Eve is the first female singer on a Tangent album since 2008's Not As Good As The Book (featuring Guy Manning's partner Julie King), sadly she is underused, doubling Andy's vocals for the most part. Also contributing is DJ Matt Farrow, and if quoting from Grandmaster Flash's 1982 rap hit The Message seems out of place in a Tangent song, look no further than Mark Buckingham's grim image of urban decay on the album cover.
The Sad Story Of Lead and Astatine is another song that fails to fulfil its initial promise. Despite the Focus-style organ punctuations, it meanders along at a languid pace for the most part, with low-key jazzy musings and (to my ears) often indulgent soloing, including a drum solo from Mr T. himself. It does at least regain its composure for a scorching guitar coda.
The concluding A Few Steps Down The Wrong Road, is a scathing attack on British nationalism, but unfortunately the heavy-handed lyrics are symptomatic of the piece as a whole, not least the inclusion of Jupiter from The Planets suite by Gustav Holst. A classical standard, it was adapted for the patriotic hymn I Vow to Thee My Country, which no doubt inspired the mockingly bombastic arrangement here. Even more surprising, the song mutates into heavy-rock territory, complete with Tillison's frantic vocal, followed by a long-winded epilogue from guest Boff Whalley of Chumbawamba fame.
There is no doubt that The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery has some inspired moments, but overall it lacks the consistency of previous Tangent albums. It's perhaps ironic that despite its derisory treatment, the standout tune on the album by a long mile belongs to Holst. The late Keith Emerson did at least treat his classical sources with a little more respect.
Ian Smith's Review
Andy Tillison has survived a fairly recent heart attack and has obviously spent his recuperation time writing this new album, The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery, which deserves the attention of many prog fans in terms of its music.
However, one thing I really don't appreciate is an album which is entirely political, and I find it hard to ignore the vocals, and concentrate on the music because of that. A little subtlety would go a long way to help me enjoy the album a lot more.
I do like some of Andy's compositions, as they are accompanied by the throbbing bass of the one-and-only Jonas Reingold, and they tend to have influences ranging from Pink Floyd to Van Der Graaf Generator, with some jazz elements which I do like, and decent guitar work throughout.
Ultimately I have always found Tillison's vocals an acquired taste, and I have yet to acquire that taste. He grates on my nerves and he is distinctly lacking in melodic class. Prog vocalists don't need to be great singers, but they do need to keep the listener tuned in. Peter Hammill isn't the best vocalist, but it fits VDGG. I'm afraid I can't be positive at all towards Tillison's voice.
The album kicks off with two tracks called Two Rope Swings and Dr Livingstone (I Presume), that musically have plenty to enjoy, with standout guitar playing from Luke Machin.
Slow Rust bores me to tears, but The Sad Story Of Lead And Astatine redeems the album to some extent, as Jonas displays some typically superb bass. This track is a jazz rock classic and really does deserve to be applauded.
The album closes with the overly-political A Few Steps Down The Wrong Road, which reminds me of some of Roger Waters' preaching (except he gets away with it to some extent). The message here just does not appeal to me at all. I say that, not because I disagree with everything he says, it's because I don't like being bombarded with politics when I am relaxing and listening to good music.
So to conclude, the musicianship is class throughout. Some of the jazz rock compositions are quality, but the album doesn't appeal to me because of the politics and vocals.
Patrick McAfee's Review
The Tangent certainly needs no introduction, and The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery is the band's ninth studio album. Leader Andy Tillison has always aspired to create prog that is not only adventurous, but also lyrically insightful. As a listener, I have always appreciated his efforts, but will admit to being challenged by his vocals. Somewhat similiar to latter-day Fish or even Andy Latimer, his vocals are certainly an acquired taste. They also lend a bit of a Canterbury feel to the procedings, which works at times. I think it is fair to begin this review though, by acknowledging that I go into each Tangent release wondering how much his vocals will sway my opinion.
The album opens effectively with Two Rope Swings. It's quietly-jazzy first half, transitions into a heavy prog song that includes some very tasty organ soloing from Mr. Tillison. The vocals from Marie-Eve de Gaultier also add a nice touch to this track, and to most of the album. The Tangent have always been rated highly from an instrumental perspective, and in many ways they perform with the complexity and style of a great jazz-fusion band. That fact is amply on display on the scorcher, Dr. Livingstone (I Presume). A highlight track and one of the better instrumental prog songs that I've heard in quite some time.
Running at almost 23 minutes, Slow Rust is the longest track on an album that contains several epics. Like most of The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery, the track is also politically charged from a lyrical perspective. As the publicity notes state, the album "laments the new trend in building walls and defending borders across the world, yet takes time to look at the break-up of friendships and other more personal issues". Tillison's conviction, as it relates to the subject matter, is very apparant. There are times where things get dangerously close to preachy, such as on the spoken word segments of A few Steps Down the Wrong Road. Ultimately though, music is often the most effective forum for speaking out about current world issues, and Andy certainly utilises this opportunity well.
Though some may find the lyrical content a bit too heavy, there is no debating the stregnth of the performances. Instrumentally, this is an extremely strong album and The Sad Story of Lead and Astatine is a showcase for some impressive soloing from several band members. Overall, I very much enjoyed the entire album, though I still found myself wondering how it would have sounded with a different singer. Regardless, Andy's voice has become a part of the overall Tangent sound, and even at its least effective, it doesn't significantly affect the overall quality of the material.
I give Andy a lot of credit for attempting to record a progressive rock album that has something substantial to say. As strong as the album is musically, the lyrics do demand your attention. The performances contained within are very strong, and to me, that is what truly distinguishes The Tangent. From jazz to prog to straightforward rock, the urgency of the lyrics are equally matched by a strong and diverse musical intensity. This is an impressive album, and the band may even pick up a few new fans who prefer their music with some lyrical substance.