Issue 2006-006: The Tangent Special
Round Table Review
Tracklist: In Earnest (20:03), Lost In London (8:08), DIY Surgery (2:16), GPS Culture (10:07), Follow Your Leaders (9:21), The Sun In My Eyes (3:44), A Place In The Queue (25:19)
Special Edition Bonus Disc [47.10]: Promises Were Made (7.26), First Day At School (5.54), Forsaken Cathedrals (4.53), The Sun In My Eyes Remix (9.12), Yoni On Mars (6.12), Kartoffelnsalat Im Unterseeboot (13.33)
Bart Jan van der Vorst's Review
The Swedish/British supergroup come band are back with already their third album, the first big release of 2006. There have been some line-up changes since the previous album. The sacking of Zoltan Czorsz from The Flower Kings automatically meant he was out of The Tangent, however, it was quite surprising when Mr Flower Kings himself Roine Stolt announced his departure from this band (and all his other side projects for that matter).
To keep things in the family (and in Sweden) Csorsz got replaced by former Flower Kings drummer Jamie Salazar and Stolt himself has been replaced by Krister Jonsson, guitarist of Karmakanic, the other band of Tangent/Flower Kings bassist Jonas Reingold.
The Tangent is the brainchild of Andy Tillison, who is one truly gifted keyboard player. He is also an excellent lyricist and his society critical lyrics are always a treat. A good singer however, he is not! Whereas the previous two albums had Roine Stolt's vocals as a counterpart to Tillison's, on A Place In The Queue almost all lead vocals are by Tillison. And that is a real pity because the band now falls in the stereotyped category of so many prog bands: great music, poor vocals.
When I first heard the album I was seriously disappointed. I rate the band's debut The Music That Died Alone in my top 10 of the last decade, and also the second album The World That We Drive Through is one I still play regularly, but I put the album away for two weeks. However I picked it up again when the deadline for this review was looming, and fell in love with it instantly.
Once over Tillison's vocals (or used to them) a musical world of utter beauty and genius unfolded. Seven songs, including two epics that clock in at over 20 minutes, with lyrics which revolve around the idea of our place in society being similar to a queue where everybody lines up.
More than on the previous albums A Place In The Queue is a real band effort. It is evident that their live shows last year have resulted in a tighter band.
Starting with the two epics, these will for many be the unmistakable highlights of the album, and will no doubt score high in next years DPRPoll for best track. My vote goes to In Earnest, which is quite close to the band's previous work with as many jazzy passages as full-on orgasmic prog firework. Tillison's keyboards are the absolute star of this song, sounding like the strengths of Wakeman, Banks and early eighties Kelly combined. Newcomer Jonsson does a fairly good Stolt impersonation on guitar - you wouldn't notice the man had left the band if you didn't know.
Album closer and title track A Place In The Queue is of different class. Theo Travis' saxophone plays a leading role, making me think more of Clarence Clemons of the E Street Band than any seventies prog. Once again this track is like an ode to all things prog, with Canterbury style ditties, ELP style classical passages and keyboard solos a plenty. It feels a bit disjointed at parts, but great stuff nonetheless. This is also the one track where Guy Manning noticeably adds anything in the vocal department.
The rest of the album is a collection of mini-epics and filler. The Theo Travis penned DIY surgery falls in the latter category. It is a quirky tune with noisy saxophones and odd singing by Travis himself (I think).
Proving that a bad music can also sound very good at times is The Sun In My Eyes which can best be described as The Tangent's ode to the Pet Shop Boys, complete with typical eighties synths and a catchy chorus, and a little bit of Yes' Nous Sommes Du Soleil incorporated. Horrible and great fun at the same time. The bonus disc of the special edition features a nine minute remix of the track, which reminds of those excellent twelve inch mixes of the eighties. Love it!
Also worth mentioning is the excellent GPS Culture, which I would describe as the type of music Genesis would (should?) have made in the Eighties if they'd continued to play prog songs. It sounds like a cross between the up-tempo bits of Supper's Ready, combined with the moog work of eighties Marillion. Interestingly enough not Krister Jonsson, but Dan Watts of Po90 plays guitar on this song.
Once again the album is available as a standard edition as well as a limited edition with bonus disc. The bonus disc brings another 47 minutes of music, largely songs from the Place In The Queue sessions which didn't make the final cut on the album. They range from interesting to very good indeed. Apart from the aforementioned remix of The Sun In My Eyes there is also the excellent Promises Were Made, which in my opinion should have been on the main album instead. The song is basically The Tangent doing Mostly Autumn, with Tillison singing the verses and Sam Baine singing the choruses. The guitars are also a bit more raw than on the songs on the main disc and Jonsson excels with an excellent guitar solo.
The bonus disc also features two improvisational pieces, one atmospheric live jam called Yoni on Mars and the second a very Tangerine Dream/Jarre like piece with the very apt title Kartoffelnsalat im Unterseeboot (Potato-salad in a Submarine).
With A Place In The Queue The Tangent has delivered another strong album. While the band by now has a very distinct own sound, they have evolved musically nonetheless. Whereas The Music That Died Alone leaned heavily on the origins of prog with late-sixties Canterbury influences, the second album seemed more influenced by mid-seventies prog. On A Place In The Queue there are some occasional Eighties influences and at times the band sounds shamelessly neo. I'd be interested in hearing whether the fourth Tangent album will incorporate some of the nineties' rise of prog metal...
Special mention must also go to Belarussian artist Ed Unitsky who has once again created stunning surreal artwork.
Oh, and remember my review of The Music That Died Alone where I complained the album was too short? Well, A Place In The Queue is in fact twice as long, hence the subtitle "a double album on a single CD". And the bonus disc even triples the length. Highly recommended.
Geoff Feakes' Review
When The Tangent released their debut album The Music That Died Alone in 2003 it caused something of a stir in prog music circles, not the least here at the DPRP where it was voted second best album of the year. The following year saw the release of The World That We Drive Through, which was almost as equally well received. The start of a new year sees the release of the third album A Place In The Queue and a couple of changes in personnel. Roine Stolt has departed to concentrate on solo and Flower Kings business; taking with him band mate Zoltan Csörsz. Remaining Flower Kings member and bassist supreme Jonas Reingold shrewdly suggested Krister Jonsson and Jaime Salazar as replacements. Krister was the guitarist on the last Karmakanic album with Jonas, and Jaime Salazar was the FK’s original drummer prior to the Rainmaker album. They both do a very fine job, although guitar appears to be less prominent than on the two previous outings.
Principal songwriter and vocalist Andy Tillison remains the bands prime mover, ensuring that whatever else is going on in the mix, and there’s always plenty, a rich keyboard sound is ever present. His organ work in particular is the best I’ve heard for some time. The rest of the band are present and correct with the beautiful piano playing of Sam Baine, the ever reliable Guy Manning supplying acoustic guitars and vocals, and Theo Travis blowing a storm on saxophone, woodwind and vocals. Andy’s inspiration during the recording was Yes’ Tales From Topographic Oceans, a work he wanted to emulate in terms of depth, rather than recreate. As Tales is a personnel of favourite, I cannot fault that sentiment. My initial reaction was to compare the album to a wholesome meal, with a number of rich ingredients sandwiched between two thick slices of epic prog.
In Earnest relates the story of the songs central character, alone in old age recalling his wartime exploits. The poignant lyrics are successful in commemorating, rather than celebrating his nostalgic memoirs. It opens with silky smooth piano, graceful flute, delicate percussion, a sprinkling of acoustic guitar, and Andy’s plaintive vocal delivering one of his strongest melodies to date. A fanfare of organ and synths shatter the tranquil mood, recreating the spirit of ELP as the story unfolds. Expressive organ and synth continues to dominate, weaving an intricate musical tapestry, with inventive drums and bass providing crisp support. Electric guitar becomes more assertive as the piece develops, adding a harder edge, and a fiery synth solo is reminiscent of Rick Wakeman at his most intense. The moments of high drama are interspersed with light jazz and classical interludes courtesy of piano, woodwind, synth strings and mellow guitar. A reprise of the opening theme sets the scene for a full-blooded finale, which comes in the shape of strident guitar, passionate vocals, scorching synth and orchestral keys. A stunning ending to a memorable opener!
The autobiographical Lost In London may be an account of a northern lad’s first encounter with the big city, but musically its heart lies 75 kms to the south east, recalling Canterbury bands like Hatfield And The North. A breezy jazz tone is affectionately conveyed by electric piano, spacious rhythm, lilting flute, and strummed guitar. As Andy takes the listener on a tour of the sights, his accented vocal put me in mind of both Al Stewart and Robert Wyatt. The summery feel is shattered by gutsy guitar, percussive organ and piercing flute, tempered by a lyrical synth solo. DIY Surgery is a short but complex Frank Zappa inspired workout dominated by saxophone, bass and drums. The rapid cascading chord sequence typifies jazz-rock at its most flamboyant. GPS Culture on the other hand is a prog fans delight, with an articulate organ rhythm, spacious acoustic guitar, and majestic synth providing a breathless musical rush. The memorable melody and sharp harmonies instantly recall Yes in their prime. Krister Jonsson must have been given the day off, as the lyrical guitar work this time comes courtesy of Dan Watts from Po90.
Follow Your Leaders is a song that’s very difficult to pigeonhole. Although mostly instrumental, it features biting lyrics, with a commanding bass line, incisive drumming, and distinctive synth soling, all jostling for attention in this elaborate musical soundscape. The short, but inventive bass solo, and the soaring guitar break are particularly impressive. Another autobiographical song, The Sun In My Eyes includes a line one minute in that will have Yes supporters grinning from ear to ear! Musically, this is a clever pastiche of the 1970’s disco sound complete with repetitive chorus, funk style guitar, a dance rhythm, and sharp brass and string synth punctuations. At under four minutes, this would make an excellent single if only there was an audience out there astute enough to appreciate it.
A Place In The Queue opens with a stately sax led theme surrendering to a pastoral section with mellotron strings and a sensitive vocal, an arrangement that brings to mind a youthful King Crimson with Ian McDonald. An inspired sequence beginning with moody synth mimicking saxophone, gives way to a searing solo from the real thing, before colourful guitar, also sounding like sax at the start, eventually takes over. A pounding rhythmic section will bring a flicker of recognition to anyone that remembers Flash by Queen. The warm vocal tones of Guy Manning make a welcome appearance around the half way mark, giving Andy Tillison a short breather. In a piece full of musical invention, mention has to go to a jazz tinged instrumental development commencing with Oscar Peterson style piano, followed by weighty but skilled guitar, and concluding with a sparkling Patrick Moraz inspired synth solo. Throughout, the drumming continues to be inventive, and the bass work is truly inspirational. The opening sax theme returns for the finale, joined by emotive vocals against a symphonic backdrop. The short coda is a tip of the hat to the albums inspiration, with sublime Steve Howe like weeping guitar and serene mellotron strings.
Once again, the band has drawn upon the legacy of classic prog, utilising vision and virtuosity to create a skilful fusion of styles and influences. It may be too early to say if it is due the same classic status afforded to its predecessors, but it certainly has all the necessary elements. If I can return to the food analogy, then an onion springs to mind. Not that the album makes you cry, although In Earnest is especially moving, because with each successive listen a layer is peeled back revealing something new. I have a deadline to meet for this review, so at this moment in time I’ll settle for the rating I’ve given below. But who knows, ask me again in a few weeks time and it might well receive top marks!
Martien Koolen's Review
As much as I like the Flower Kings, I always have listening “problems” with “similar” side project bands like Kaipa, Karmakanic and The Tangent. A Place In The Queue is their always-difficult third album and I must say that it is again a hard musical nut to crack. Their previous album The World That We Drive Through (2004) was an album that never returned in my CD player after reviewing it, mainly due to the fact that it lacked power and there were far too many vocal passages. On this new album the line-up of the band has changed and out of the three Flower Kings members who took part in the last recording only bass guitar player Jonas Reingold remains. The new guitar player is Krister Jonsson, who plays with Reingold in Karmakanic and the new line up is completed with Jaime Salazar. Both players are definitely more rock oriented making this new album a bit “heavier” than its predecessor is.
The album starts with the epic In Earnest, which has a definite Flower Kings feeling to it, however it is jazzier, due to the fact that it features flute, saxophone and clarinet. The song offers lots of beautiful symphonic melodies, organ passages and melodic guitar solos, making clear that guitar player Jonsson is a worthy successor of Stolt. Lost In London is again jazzy and sometimes even funky with weird vocals and a Pink Floydish-like vibe and atmosphere. Lyrically this song is also very interesting as it deals with the story of a person walking through London telling us how he is going to be successful and making it in the big capital. The musical mood, especially in this track, recalls the notorious Canterbury scene and keyboard player Andy Tilson plays the main role here, filling that song with great keys components. Weirdest song on this CD, and probably also the funniest, is called The Sun In My Eyes, which features “disco” beats and rhythms and has some great humorous lyrics (“get my head kicked in for liking Yes, instead of Suzie Quatro or The Rubettes”).
The title track ends this interesting album and what an ending it is; 25 minutes of sheer prog rock magic with fresh, varied and melodic musical passages, combining tradition, innovation, construction, improvisation and enthusiasm for playing. The album can be described as a concept album, as each song deals with the idea that our place in society is similar to a queue where everybody lines up. We all follow the person before us, we all follow trends and religions and we act following the ads we see. A great concept for the best Tangent album so far as I have already listened to this album more in a week than to its predecessor in a year…..
A Place In The Queue is also released as a special edition with bonus disc. That CD is fully loaded with six exclusive songs that were written during the Queue sessions but did not fit into the concept of the album.
Yalcin Inel's Review
The Tangent are back with their third album. As most of you might know, the band went through a major line-up change some months ago when the drummer Zoltan Csörsz was replaced by Jaime Salazar. I find this simply ironic since Salazar was the one who was replaced by Csörsz some years ago in The Flower Kings camp. Being a fan of Zoltan’s gentle and versatile playing style I was not quite sure about how Salazar could fit into the band’s sound, but thankfully he is just great as always and it is clear that he quickly became one of the key elements of the band’s music. Also, Roine Stolt, one of the major figures in the band had to leave and was replaced by Krister Jonsson, also known from the band Karmakanic where he plays together with Jonas Reingold. The departure of Stolt created big question marks regarding the future sound of The Tangent, but I guess those who know Jonsson’s capabilities from Karmakanic were assured that this line-up change was going to bring some fresh wind to the band’s sound. And since Andy Tillison is the mastermind of the band, it was somewhat silly to be afraid of a major downfall for the band.
And it feels great to be right. In my opinion The Tangent have never been so original and tight. Although their debut album The Music That Died Alone was an instant classic, it somehow lacked the feeling of a band working as a tight unit. As Tillison states, the departure of Roine Stolt and the relaxed attitude of Krister Jonsson created some space for the other band members to roam freely. I guess this is a key factor for the band’s success in creating the “band-feeling” in A Place In the Queue. It seems that the new chemistry worked very well in the studio and the product of this harmony is simply an astonishing album, although the guitars could have been “a lot” more prominent.
The sound doesn’t differ radically from their previous effort. Their debut album The Music That Died Alone consisted of four stylistically different suites and lacked the sense of a “unique sound”, but their second one The World That We Drive Through was incorporating all of these distinct styles in each and every song, which was a step towards establishing their own interpretation of prog rock. Now, this album follows the steps of the second one and excels on this path.
The opening track, In Earnest is a typical Tangent epic which is about a fighter pilot who fought in the WW2 and musically it is in perfect harmony with the spirit of the story told. The song’s ending contains some moments reminiscent of U2. Not typical for The Tangent, but it suits the atmosphere perfectly. Lost in London, the second track lets Theo Travis to come to the front with his wonderful flute. Being like a homage to the Canterbury scene, this track definitely is one of the highlights of the album. DIY Surgery is probably the “sickest” track The Tangent ever wrote. First and foremost it’s the first track which was completely written by someone other than Tillison, Theo Travis and it’s also his first ever vocal performance for the band. Although it’s quite short, it’s a perfect combination of the dark and atonal melodies in the best VDGG manner executed in a jazz-fusion setting and it’s unlike anything they’ve done before.
The following track, GPS Culture is based on a simple and uplifting organ riff for the most part and it contains quite a few Yes influences, both in the instrumental department and vocal harmonies. The electric guitars on this song are handled by Dann Watts from Parallel or 90 Degrees, Tillison’s other band. Not to forget is the light-jazzy middle section, which provides beautiful sonic textures for the proggers who’re also into jazz. The song overall could have been a lot better, but it’s a little bit repetitive for my taste.
Follow Your Leaders starts off with a passionate keyboard riff and then slowly builds into a masterpiece. The tight rhythm section, melodies that get instantly carved in your mind, an intelligently written song structure which never loses its versatility, wonderful sax by Theo Travis, amazing guitar, keyboard and bass solos… Everything is in its right place and I can clearly say that this track is my favourite on this album. But then comes the shock: The Sun In My Eyes. If the solo sections are left out, this one could have been a disco hit in the seventies. It’s about the passion for prog, very much like the song The Music That Died Alone from their debut. But unlike that one, this song has nothing to do with prog. Quite ironic, isn’t it? Anyway, it’s quite entertaining and thanks to the beautiful melodies it’s quite enjoyable, but the trick in this one lies definitely in the lyrics.
The last track of the album is A Place In The Queue, which was co-written by Tillison and Travis. The epic song kicks in with a powerful blow but it immediately slows down and builds up slowly until it reaches its climax which consists of some fine sax work courtesy of Travis, but it’s not over yet. From that point on the song becomes amazingly versatile, changing styles so coherently until the end. It also features Guy Manning’s vocal promenade in a part which is once again instrumentally reminiscent of U2 and also the great solo by Krister Jonsson is worth mentioning.
Artwork? As usual, it’s made by Ed Unitsky and not surprisingly it’s fantastic and reflects his otherworldly style. Production? Come on, we’re talking about a super-group. What do you expect? Of course it’s top notch.
This band may not be re-inventing prog rock, but that’s not the intention of the band either. While the band’s both previous albums were beautiful efforts recreating the sound of the good old 70’s retro-prog along with Canterbury influences, A Place In The Queue is an amazing album which merges a few fine aspects of modern rock (which was more or less absent in their past work) with their old formula, but more important is that it’s much more unique than its predecessors. The Yes, Van Der Graaf Generator, Genesis and Hatfield & The North influences are still there, but I guess The Tangent have finally found the magic formula and created a sound to call their own, which I’m sure will be a cornerstone in the band’s career, maybe also in modern day prog.
Dave Baird's Review
OK, I admit it, I have never heard the first CD by The Tangent, even worse, I won the second in last year’s DPRP poll (that was before I became a reviewer of course) but after a few listens I just couldn't get into it at all; and now I find myself confronted with reviewing their third studio offering. Life, as they say, can be hard... Despite these misdemeanours, my salvation is at hand because this is a great album, better than that - it's superb. The Tangent have crafted songs that you may think you've heard before and yet at the same time they sound totally fresh, new and original - now that's quite an achievement in my book.
Andy Tillison is the driving force behind The Tangent, writing music and lyrics, playing keyboards and the main vocalist. He is fully supported by a cast of highly competent musicians, some well-known and long-established in the prog world, others a little less. Just for once, Roine Stolt gives it a miss being capably replaced by Karmacanic's Krister Jonsson but the biggest surprise must be Jamie Salazar sitting on the drum-stool in place of Zoltan; what a small world we live in and how ironic - I distinctly remember Roine stating that Jamie left The Flower Kings because he didn't actually like playing prog, hmmmm. Jonas Reingold is still there on bass, Sam Bayne on more keyboards, jazz star Theo Travis on the wind instruments (sax, flute and clarinet) and Guy Manning adding some acoustic guitar and voice.
I wonder if it's Jamie's return that has really made a difference for me with this release. Throughout there's a real good grove going on in quite a different way from how Zoltan would have played it. Jamie's really busy on his snare and hi-hat throughout large swathes of the music and this combines richly with Jonas' fluid and powerful bass. For me, Jonas is the best bass player in prog and has been for some years - he's like a reincarnation of Jaco Pastorius mixed with the best elements of Chris Squire's style, I really love his playing and it shines on this recording, especially on the track "Follow Your Leaders".
Stylistically the album leans on it's influences, if I had to guess the contents of Andy's CD collection I'd put Hammill on the top of the list followed by ELP, Yes, Tull, VDGG and a load of Canterbury stuff, UK, Bruford, National Health etc. The opening piece, "In Earnest" really could be a Hammill solo track for the first couple of its minutes, however it then goes off in other directions. I did find the first half of its 20 minutes a little difficult, the melody isn't so easy but it really comes alive in the second half and by the end you've completely fallen in love with the piece.
There's some great keyboard work throughout and nice patches too, none of these horrible cheesy sounds you hear in a lot of prog metal but rather warm, rich organ, lush strings, scintillating piano and crazy moog. "GPS Culture" highlights this, you'd swear it was Keith Emerson playing that opening riff too, great stuff. The production deserves more than a passing mention, this is perhaps the best sounding CD I have ever heard - all instruments are crystal clear, even piercing on occasion but at the same time remains soft and relaxed. There's a lot going on but you never feel like you're drowning in the mix.
Vocally I'd also point to Hammill as the main inspiration, but as he's one of my heroes I'm fine with that and although Andy's voice takes some getting used to it's actually very good with a lot of character. The lyrics are both intelligent and entertaining, each one either telling a little narrative, somewhat auto-biographically one feels ("Lost In London", "The Sun In My Eyes"), or complaining about globalisation ("GPS Culture", "Follow Your Leaders"), in the latter case I think Andy has been spending too much time with Roine...
The 25 minute closing piece on the CD, "A Place In The Queue" I will reserve comment as I haven't yet fully appreciated this track myself - I suspect it will take another five listens at least. However, I have no doubt that I will appreciate it very much when it finally hits me (hey, it took me two years to get into VDGG, once upon a time).
This is the first new release of 2006 that I have heard and it's thrown down the gauntlet for the rest of the year, a yard-stick against which all prog releases will be measures. To be honest, I'm really not sure many will even get close to the quality and consistency of this album. It's with egg on my face and a slight cower that I go looking for my copy of "The World That We Drive Through" to see what I missed.
A must for all discerning prog lovers, ignore it at your peril.
The Tangent - Pyramids And Stars
Tracklist: The World We Drive Through (14.46), The Canterbury Sequence (9.15), The Winning Game (12.15), Band Introductions (1.29), The Music That Died Alone (13.10), In Darkest Dreams (20.39), Lucky Man (5.40)
My memory of the one Tangent gig I have seen is not a good one. The under-rehearsed state of the band (particularly Roine Stolt, who once again failed to deliver as a live artist) and the incapability of Andy Tillison as a live singer, combined with my high expectations of the show resulted in one of the most horrible live performances I have ever seen. To their defence, it was their first ever show and apparently the first time they ever performed the entire songs together on one stage.
The memory of the gig didn't really make me run out and buy this live album, which was recorded during their final gig of their short 2004 European tour. However, I have to say that when hearing the album, it's not all that bad. Sure, Tillison isn't the greatest of singers, but I have heard a lot worse on albums too. Official live albums, I must add, as Pyramids and Stars is largely intended as a fan-only thing, and only available through the band's website.
The album presents a nice selection from the band's first two albums, with the absolute highlight being the 20-minute In Darkest Dreams and the quirky The Canterbury Sequence, both off The Music That Dies Alone.
A nice bonus is the cover of ELP's Lucky Man though I would have preferred their version of America which was played earlier in the tour.
Because both Theo Travis and Guy Manning were not able to join the band on tour, the live versions of the songs differ somewhat from their studio counterparts. Most flute parts are played on keyboard by either Andy Tillison or Sam Baine, while the saxophone parts are either missing, or replaced by guitar solos.
The album is mainly something for fans only, but in that respect it won't disappoint!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10