The Tangent - Proxy
Héctor Gómez's Review
I've seen many fans and geeks, or in our particular case audiophiles, deal with their passion-of-choice in two main polarised ways. On the one hand, embracing anything coming under that specific umbrella/tag/label, regardless of its quality, as long as it sticks to the common places and tropes of the genre or style. On the other hand, being really demanding and accepting nothing but the best. Which of these approaches is more beneficial, is not for me to say, but when it comes to the things I love and hold dear (music, books, films) I definitely adhere to the, say, "picky" end of things; always with a constructive mindset, that is.
Is it good? Yes. Could it be better? Definitely!
Now, I've been a fan of The Tangent since day one, and I hold their first four albums in very high regard, but after Not As Good As The Book (2008) it's been an uneven path; hit and miss if you will. The thing is, there's always something to enjoy on a new Tangent album, but also there's always something which doesn't quite work, and Proxy is no exception in this regard.
For instance, I believe the epics of recent years, from Where Are They Now (included on the Down And Out In Paris And London album) to last year's Slow Rust, tend to lack focus, and unfortunately outstay their welcome. Both epics on Proxy, the now traditional "protest song" opening title track, as well as The Adulthood Lie clock around 16 minutes apiece and display plenty of "entertainment" value. However, had they been trimmed to 12 to 13 minutes they would be simply killer, especially The Adulthood Lie, a fairly experimental tune (for this band's standards anyway) with hooks ("when I was young I fell in love..." is catchy as hell) and a dance-y spirit, with electronics to match.
Also, I have some reservations regarding the production, the drums in particular. Andy Tillison did a fairly decent job with the electronic kit on the previous album, but I'd rather have real drums and real drummers any day; in this regard, Steve Roberts' playing here is impeccable, but the thumping sound of his kit prevents me from fully enjoying his performance. Oh well...
OK, stop the moaning and be positive, you say. Indeed, Supper's Off is a blast, and has been finally given the "official" nod after a few years of being a sort of cult/hidden classic (albeit with a bit of a face-lift). It is both proggy and infectious, and features sharp, thought-provoking lyrics. Besides, The Melting Andalusian Skies is definitely one of the band's best instrumentals, a beautiful Flamenco-infused trip where light and shade is king (I could do without the fake castanets and hand-claps, though). Being Mediterranean myself, the more evocative passages of this piece manage to capture a certain hazy, gentle atmosphere which feels warm and familiar to me.
Speaking of instrumentals, there's also a bonus track, Excerpt From Exo-Oceans, an appetiser from the Kalman Filter project which pairs Andy Tillison with The Fierce And The Dead's very own Matt Stevens. It will appeal to those who are into Tangerine Dream and even Miles Davis or Herbie Hancock's brand of jazz-rock, but I must admit I prefer Tillison's previous experiments with electronic music.
As you'd expect, the playing is top notch, from Jonas Reingold's trademark punchy bass lines, to Theo Travis' sultry, jazzy runs on the saxes and flutes, but this time the (surprising) highlight for me is Luke Machin, a guitarist with undeniable chops whose style I had not fully embraced until this release, where he displays a remarkable versatility and a gentler tone than on previous outings.
So, after 16 years and 10 studio albums, Proxy sits comfortably in the middle of the table along with other dynamic and creative releases such as A Spark In The Aether (2015), and easily above lesser (to me) releases like Comm (2011). However it's not a patch on modern classics like their stunning debut The Music That Died Alone (2003) or the monumental A Place In The Queue (2006).
Geoff Feakes's Review
Back in 1974, after unfairly savaging Tales From Topographic Oceans the previous year, the UK music press (Melody Maker, NME, Sounds etc.) greeted Yes’ Relayer with mostly cautious praise, with one review headline reading: “Hesitant Steps to Freedom”. Given my antipathy towards The Tangent’s last album, The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery, that headline very nearly echos my thoughts regarding this latest offering from Andy Tillison and co.
Whereas The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery seemed (to my ears at least) weighted down in its musical and lyrical morose, Proxy has a welcoming spring in its step. And whilst it may not reach the dizzy heights of earlier works, like The Music That Died Alone and A Place In The Queue, it's certainly a step in the right direction.
This is studio album number 10, and the core line-up from the previous two remains unchanged, namely Tillison (vocals, keyboards), Jonas Reingold (bass), Theo Travis (sax, flute), and Luke Machin (guitar). Steve Roberts (ex Magenta) takes over on drums (a role filled by Tillison himself on the last album).
Proxy was recorded during the band’s 2017/18 outing with Karmakanic, a tour of convenience you might say with several members performing in both bands. Back in 2009, Karmakanic undertook a similar venture with The Agents Of Mercy, which resulted in the 2010 live album The Power Of Two. But I digress.
The 16-minute title song sees Tillison in typically acerbic form, alluding to the super-power’s manipulation of other states (hence the pawn in the cover artwork) to incite wars that serve their own political and economical interests. Tillison cites “ELP, Egg, Hatfield, Caravan and Camel” as influences. Certainly the fuzzed organ intro, improvised bass solo, sax playing and scat vocals recall the more jazz-inclined students of the 1970s Canterbury school. Likewise, a glorious Hammond and Moog section around the halfway mark, evokes the spirit and attack of Keith Emerson, without resorting to mimicry.
The Melting Andalusian Skies is described as: “A sun-drenched Mediterranean fusion instrumental, more Chick Corea than Che Guevara”. It features fluid piano playing from Tillison and tasteful jazz noodling from Machin, demonstrating why he’s regarded as one of the best guitarists in the current prog scene. In fact, unsurprisingly given their pedigree, the whole band are on top form throughout this album.
A Case of Misplaced Optimism is referred to by the band as "an attempt to find the missing link between Porcupine Tree and Jamiroquai”. It's a case of prog-meets-jazz-funk, with the latter stealing the honors thanks to an upbeat chorus and triumphant guitar hook.
Matching the title track in length, The Adulthood Lie is propelled along at a brisk pace by Roberts’ economical drumming (a less fussy player than some of his predecessors). Probably my favourite track, it boasts a supercharged organ-led section and a blast of fiery synths. Only the free-form sequence in the latter half, where Machin and Tillison wreak instrumental havoc, lets the side down.
The title of the concluding song Supper's Off will no doubt be familiar to Tangent (and Genesis) fans. It originally appeared on the 2013 disc L'Étagère du Travail, a collection of outtakes available from the Tangent website. Not to alienate said Genesis fans, in this re-recording “Genesis” has been replaced with “the Seventies” in the otherwise scathing chorus. Similarly, the original verses, referencing Yes and The Who, have also been removed. To be fair, Tillison isn't attacking these bands or their fans, but the sorry state of affairs, where heritage shows, tribute bands and countless album reissues remain popular, whilst more contemporary and equally worthy acts struggle to find an audience.
Lyrics aside, this is a more fully realised version of Supper's Off and another album highlight. From the opening guitar and synth volley (reminiscent of Trevor Rabin’s intro to Yes’ Make It Easy), to the infectious guitar and synth hook, it bowls along at a lively pace, only pausing for breath for a lyrical flute, keys and guitar interlude.
The album includes a bonus track Excerpt From "Exo-Oceans” by Kalman Filter, a side project involving Tillison and Matt Stevens (of The Fierce And The Dead). Unfortunately Inside Out neglected to include this track in their promo, so I can offer no comment, although Exo-Oceans can be heard in its entirety on Bandcamp at https://kalmanfilter.bandcamp.com/album/exo-oceans.
After 15 years of hard work involving a few personnel upheavals, Andy Tillison should be congratulated for keeping the Tangent banner aloft, remaining true to the band’s potent synthesis of virtuoso prog-jazz. Once again he demonstrates his ability to keep one foot in the past, whilst remaining hip to the current music scene (although you’ll be relieved to know that doesn’t include Simon Cowell!). Here’s to another 15 years.