Fire Note Says: Andy Tillison’s love letter to progressive rock hits all the right notes.
Album Review: The Tangent is a strange beast of a band. If Yes were part of the Canterbury Scene of English bands back in the seventies (a clutch of groups that included Gong, Caravan, Hatfield And The North and National Health) they would probably have sounded a lot like this. Andy Tillison is The Tangent in the same way Robert Pollard is Guided By Voices. They have had a different line-up for each album although Jonas Reingold (bass) and Theo Travis (sax/flute) have been in and out of the band since its inception. For this record Tillison has added Morgan Agren (from the great Swedish band Kaipa) on drums and relative newcomer Luke Machin on guitar making this perhaps the strongest team of musicians to grace a Tangent album yet. And that’s really saying something when you count luminaries such as Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings) and David Jackson (Van Der Graaf Generator) as alumni. In a reference to their brilliant 2003 debut album, this one here (their eighth long player) is subtitled The Music That Died Alone, Part Two and, although that may be a mere marketing strategy, it clearly piqued my interest. What the two albums share is their commentary on the state of progressive rock. They also share a brilliance that only 2006’s A Place In The Queue can match in The Tangent’s catalog.
The title track starts things off in a very accessible way. At under five minutes it sounds aimed at getting some elusive airplay in Europe. Tillison’s synthesizer carries a terrific melody while Agren’s agile drumming attempt to steal the show. He plays with great feel and energy – jazzy and precise. Whether you like The Tangent or not basically comes down to one thing: Tillison’s voice. I happen to love it but he doesn’t sing as much as speak with a little pitch variation thrown in. It’s all very British sounding – the dry wit and caustic outlook. “Codpieces And Capes” telegraphs its purpose right in the title. It’s an homage to Prog and Emerson, Lake And Palmer in particular. The excess of that genre and that era come into view with lines like “Your names emblazened on the tops of your three trucks/And you’ve got the roadies for your drugs and Persian rugs.” ELP fans know what he’s talking about. Reingold’s playing evokes Chris Squire at every turn as the song goes through numerous changes. Tillison is searching for some reason to follow in his heroes’ footsteps and comments on fellow modern progger Neal Morse and his conversion to Christianity: “If Neal can find God/Well then what’s in it for me?” And not finding anything comparable asks “Did I really waste it?/That life I could have led.” There’s no monetary reward making this kind of music. Much like the punks in the eighties this is a true labor of love. In typical Tangent fashion it’s summed up: “The critics said ‘pretentious’/By God they were so wrong/(They were probably right about the rug.)”
Every Prog masterpiece needs an epic track and boy do we get one in the guise of the twenty-one minute long “The Celluloid Road” which takes us on an imaginary journey across America through the eyes of a Brit who really only knows the USA via TV and the movies. It’s interesting to hear how Clint Eastwood and Bruce Willis define us more than our politicians, artists or writers. This is well-trodden territory to be sure but lines like “Bought my North By Northwest poster at HMV” make it sound really original. There’s an honesty to his admiration of American pop culture: “But it looks alright/In the TV light.” The subdued jazz-rock gives way to funky 70’s cop show theme music in the later half of the song thus tying in the two central themes of the album: the seventies and the Land of the Free. The device feels effortless and logical for all its ridiculousness (Exhibit A: “Who’s the band that gets all the chicks?/THE TANGENT!/You’re damned right.” Um, enough said.) This section is excerpted and added as a bonus track entitled “San Francisco” in another vain attempt at commercial attention. Good luck with that, lads.
I am extremely cautious about handing out a five star rating to any album. I personally haven’t pulled the trigger since joining The Fire Note team so maybe it’s time. And maybe this record is just that good. Either way – this is one not to miss. Whether you enjoy Prog or not is irrelevant, A Spark In The Aether is a fabulous collection of songs that shouldn’t be missed by any lover of good music.
Key Tracks: “The Celluloid Road” / “Codpieces And Capes” / “San Francisco”
Artists With Similar Fire: The Flower Kings / Caravan / Hatfield And The North
The Tangent Website
Inside Out Music
-Reviewed by Scot Lade