- Epic Proportions
Andy Tillison, the brains behind the UK based prog giants The Tangent, is, to me, one of the most fascinating minds in the genre. If you want to know what I mean, read any number of interviews with him in which his responses are often brutally honest, candid, philosophical, or political, with frequent gems of wisdom regarding the prog scene itself; truly among the most fascinating interviewees I’ve had the chance to come across. All that’s fine and dandy, but what about the music? Well, in that area I must confess that this man is quite the artist and has managed to carve out a sound which is firmly planted in his influences but uniquely his as well. That said, I’ve not necessarily been a fan of 100% of The Tangent’s musical output, but they have had a number of albums that knocked my socks off, and I’m not gonna lie, their latest release, Le Sacre Du Travail thoroughly impressed me on all levels, from songwriting to performance, arranging, concept, and lyrics.
Those familiar with Tillison already should know that he has a knack for lyrics and concepts that are extremely well written, down to earth, poignant, witty, and often which let his inner prog geek show. Such is the case with this album. Le Sacre Du Travail, in its essence, unveils (in a most pleasing manner) some of the harsh realities that the proles face as they rise to the daily ritual of work and monontony while employing, as so often The Tangent does, frequent references to information technology (“just look on Google Earth”), a light sci-fi twist, and little snippets of prog culture dropped in here and there (“2112 tatooed on his hand”). Furthermore, to get us into the story, the liner notes give us 5 pages of cleverly written narrative by Andy himself, reminding me very much of the autobiographical fiction style of the wonderful Tangent novella “Not as Good as the Book,” and leaving me wanting to read more and more. Although to some the content of this album may come off as a bit political, in my opinion it is a remarkably accurate depiction of the often meaningless nature of what many of us face every day. Kudos to Andy for creating such an enjoyable portrayal of something so mundane as wrenching oneself out of bed and going to work.
Musically speaking, Le Sacre Du Travail is on par with, perhaps even beyond, the best work that he has done, rivaling even The Music That Died Alone. From where I’m sitting, the key to this is twofold: 1) a conscious effort to make a large scale and grandiose piece of art music; 2) putting together a remarkable group of musicians to execute an already majestic vision. At this point it should be no news to most that Tillison’s latest effort, subtitled “An Electric Sinfonia,” is highly influenced by Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” This is instantly noticeable from the very start of the album in terms of syncopated rhythms, odd tonalities, and phrasing; the Stravinsky feel is seamlessly woven throughout the length of the album in ways that blend it perfectly with the prog, jazz, and canteburian influences that are staples of The Tangent’s signature sound. Three out of five movements are of epic length, clocking in at 23, 19, and 12 minutes respectively, but the fascinating thing about these pieces is that despite their length they maintain a very ‘songy’ feel, with catchy vocals and choruses, memorable motifs, and all the sort of wonderful solos we’re accustomed to with Andy’s music. The glue then becomes the classical influences and sections which weave their way throughout the songs beautifully. Speaking of the classical element, Mr. Tillison’s liner notes even gives us a fun little look into his love of synths and their unique interpretation of classical sounds that have developed into becoming their own unique element. All in all, the composition throughout the album is top notch, ambitious, and simply fun; a sort of best of both worlds between the elite music snob and the simple man’s tune.
As mentioned before, the cast of musicians that The Tangent brings together for this record is key to breathing plentiful life into these pieces. First off, this album marks the return of bass giant Jonas Reingold (TFK, AOM, Karmakanic, etc.), and what a glorious return it is. Andy claims that Jonas’ playing here is the best he’s heard since Unfold the Future, and I have to give him credit, there may be some truth to that statement, though it’s hard to be conclusive when it comes to such a monster of a bass player. Nevertheless, his playing on this album is huge, consistently laying down nice grooves and melodic lines which greatly enhance the pieces. Furthermore, who would’ve guessed that we’d see Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree) on a Tangent album? As always Harrison’s drumming is tasteful, complex enough to grab our attention, subdued enough to focus on enhancing the music, and musical enough to remind us that drumming isn’t just for keeping the beat. Additionally, Theo Travis’ jazzy flutework once again hits the sweetspot, and David Longdon’s additional and backing vocals do wonders to enhance Andy’s parts, much like Wilmer Waarbroek’s voice finely complimented Arjen’s on his more or less recent album, Lost in the New Real. All in all, it’s a good guarantee: when you put together a brilliant crew of players without a ‘too many hands spoil the soup’ sort of composing scenario, the results are stunning, as is evident in this case.
In my humble opinion, Andy really outdid himself this time. I came back from listening to such a fantastic album as was Comm with some doubt in my mind as to how the next one would turn out, due to essentially what amounted to be a major split up of the band. Despite that, Le Sacre Du Travail pulled through, showing Tillison’s keen hear for composition and sound, creating a whirlwind of synth leads backed by classical sounds which very well make this record a staple in symphonic rock alongside great albums of the past.