Issue 2013-067: The Tangent - L'Étagère du Travail - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
Tracklist: Monsanto (7:49), Lost in Ledston (6:39), The Iron Crows (14:09), Build a New House with the Lego (6:25), Supper's Off (8:17), Dansant dans Paris (6:58), Steve Wright in the Afternoon [Andy T Vocal] (6:07), A Voyage Through Rush Hour [Piano Duet] (2:28), The Ethernet [Jakko Mix and Vocal] (9:11), The Canterbury Sequence [Live] (9:10)
Basil Francis' Review
One is never quite sure what to expect when approaching unofficial fan club material, a form of entertainment that's been around since The Beatles began recording their own Christmas records of witty - and occasionally witless - banter. Of course, Andy Tillison of The Tangent is no stranger to such forms of fan interaction, having released A Place on the Shelf a few years back as an optional extra to the Tangent canon. Naturally, I was a little wary of what might be contained on this release as I wasn't too keen on this year's Le Sacre du Travail. It seemed rather unlikely that any prime cuts would make it here.
Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised. In short, the unofficial L'Étagère du Travail is a far more satisfying listen than its counterpart, Le Sacre... - although, let's face it, it could hardly sound much worse could it? The mere fact that I can stand to put these tracks on after listening to that album says much about how the music has improved. Though the music here was conceived during the writing of Le Sacre..., according to the liner notes, it's almost as if Tillison has taken heed of the advice I wrote earlier this year. It's very fulfilling to see an artist take a step or two in the right direction. I'm being rather vague here, so let's get down to some album specifics.
This is an album of two halves; the first half comprises new tracks and these will be my primary focus in this review, and the second is a collection of 'revisitations' of old tracks. Importantly, Tillison plays all the instruments on the first five tracks, save a few guitar solos from ex-Tangent man Luke Machin, current leader of Maschine. He achieves this all through the use of a single keyboard and some computer software. He could just as well release this album under his own name, but the music is so clearly of Tangent nature that it would be difficult to categorise it otherwise. At any rate, his mastery of the instruments through just a keyboard is quite remarkable, especially the drums which manage to retain a generally natural feel. Of course, this just leaves the tracks themselves.
If you'd asked me what the name Monsanto meant just a week ago, I would have guessed and said a holiday villa in Spain. However, through the convenient medium of Netflix I chanced upon a very highly acclaimed documentary called Food, Inc. that unveils the rather abominable state of the food industry in the U.S.. Monsanto is just one of the companies that Food, Inc. lampoons for its patenting of genetically modified soya beans.
It appears that Tillison has also seen this movie as he attacks the company in the opening number with precisely the same argument. Indeed, the reason tracks like these were left off the main album is because they're too politically 'hot' for InsideOut to deal with. Even though I don't live in the U.S., I still believe that this is a more important issue than the argument Tillison was trying to advance on Le Sacre..., giving the track more merit. However the music itself is not entirely tasteful. Set at a speedy pace, and with an excited chorus segment, the music almost seems like a celebration of the 'evil' company. The chorus itself is quite catchy, but only in an irksome way that means you can't get it out of your head for hours on end. On top of this, the keyboards used are too zappy and thus the music loses a lot of its aesthetic value. The cons outweigh the pros here.
Every Tangent album - and song perhaps - could be seen as a game of 'guess that musical influence', and sometimes Tillison makes it all too easy. Lost in Ledston clearly takes a leaf or two from the book of Camel, and lifts a memorable hook from the instrumental Chord Change. I can't tell if he does it on purpose, but it can be rather distracting when you're reminded of one particular song whilst listening to another. It takes you out of the moment somewhat. Besides this particular hook, the song itself has a solid prog structure and good musicianship, with Tillison's 'drumming' coming to the fore. Out of nowhere, Tillison has gained the ability to write a strong instrumental section, one of the many things that Le Sacre... was lacking.
This may have been why I was so impressed with the instrumental on Lost in Ledston. However, I knew nothing of Tillison's musical capabilities until I heard the fourteen-minute The Iron Crows, an interpretation of Debussy's La Mer. Though usually one to talk a lot in his songs, Tillison leaves vast swathes of time devoted to well meditated instrumentals. Admittedly, he doesn't escape ripping off some older tracks as he does so; ELP is in the crosshairs here as both Tarkus and Karn Evil 9 are 'sampled'. It seems appropriate; after all, ELP were always updating classical tracks themselves. Nevertheless, Tillison must be commended; for a neo-prog track of this length, he does a surprising job of staying on track without wandering off too far. Things are kept simple yet interesting, just how I like it.
The fourth track bears an unwieldy, off-putting and possibly grammatically incorrect title; I'm sure it should be "Build a New House with Lego" rather than Build a New House with the Lego. Tillison readily admits in the liner notes that this is a filler track, and so I feel justified in not finding it so appealing. While the instrumental section is more interesting and varied, the lyrical section is rather bland and uninspiring, and the repeated title during the chorus doesn't do the song any favours.
The final original track, Supper's Off, is possibly the 'hottest' of the lot. Tillison hits the listener with a Phil Spector-esque wall of force, both lyrically and musically. However, yet again, the music and the lyrics don't match; the music is triumphant while Tillison is nearly spitting with anger over the top. For the first two minutes of the song, he doesn't sing, but speaks pointedly. The initial effect on the listener is one of confusion and perhaps even slight embarrassment on the behalf of our host, just as you'd be embarrassed if your granddad started shouting inappropriately at a polite function. However, the effect works, as it draws the listener to the very words of the song, which are perhaps the most important on the album. Here is a rant on behalf of many newly formed prog bands who find it hard to earn their keep when 'dinosaur' prog acts such as Yes and King Crimson suck up all the money with new tours and new remasters. But it's not aimed at those bands, it's aimed at the fans of Tillison's generation who would prefer to spend money on a new remaster of Abacab rather than discover a wonderful new prog act like Haken, UKoG or even Panzerballett.
With his pointed words however, Tillison goes slightly off topic and criticises a bunch of other traits he has noticed in people his age. Rather than a prog rock version of Punch magazine, it's basically a prog rock version of an episode of Saxondale - which is essentially what an episode of Saxondale is anyway! The message becomes rather convoluted, although the chorus is very clear. Perhaps if Tillison exercised a bit more subtlety, a few more double entendres and tried being a bit more allegorical, he could get away with saying so much more about society. After all, Tillison's lyrics will always bash the social norms, just as progressive rock bashes the musical norms.
The extra tracks also deserve a brief rundown. Dansant dans Paris is, as you may be able to guess, a dance remix of 2009's Perdu dans Paris. Horribly cheesy and unnecessary, I won't be putting this one on again. We're then privy to a couple of Le Sacre... out-takes, tracks that made me wince with the terrible memories of that album and its fall-out. A demo from Not as Good as the Book with Jakko Jakszyk on vocals is played before a live version of 2003's The Canterbury Sequence. I must admit, anything with a snippet of Hatfield and the North is going to make me sit up. I enjoy how the band slow down the particular section they cover as it is played so fast on The Rotter's Club that one can barely appreciate the odd time signatures.
It may only be a low-key fan club album, but L'Étagère du Travail boasts far better tracks than Le Sacre..., and I'm beginning to wonder if Andy sent the wrong set of tapes to InsideOut. Jokes aside, he has proven that he is more capable than I gave him credit for back in June, and has thus redeemed himself somewhat. He's not totally out of the woods though, as there are still flaws on a few of the tracks here - we'll forget that Dansant dans Paris ever happened, okay? Perhaps his biggest weakness is the marriage of lyrics and music; on occasion they tug in opposite directions, creating a confused atmosphere. On other occasions, the lyrics are so raw that the complexity and fine trimmings of prog simply don't seem appropriate. Here's to hoping he addresses some of these issues before Tangent #8.
James Turner's Review
After delivering one of this years masterpieces, The Tangent present L'Étagère du Travail, or 'the shelf of work', a 10 track supplementary disc of outtakes and alternate mixes available direct from The Tangent's website which showcases another side of Andy Tillison and the band. For those who love Le Sacre du Travail you are drawn in by the demo version of Steve Wright in the Afternoon and the fantastic jazzy piano duet of A Voyage Through Rush Hour. For older Tangent fans there's an alternative version of Ethernet from Not as Good as the Book, this time with Jakko Jakszyk on vocals, a blinding live version of fan favourite The Canterbury Sequence, the fantastic Dansant Dans Paris (a remixed version of Perdu Dans Paris from Down and Out in Paris and London) which, with its great lyrics and fantastic sax, is the closest I've heard to Andy doing straight pop.
If those tracks draw you in then it's the 5 new tracks that keep you coming back. The driving Monsanto is a protest song in its truest sense with Andy's outrage evident. The reflective Lost in Ledstone is one of those rare beasts, a song about the death of Margaret Thatcher and the conflicting tributes she was given. Contemplative rather than outraged it simmers with the politics of the age as well as reflecting musically on the North/South divide which has never gone away. The Iron Crows, based on a piece from Debussy's La Mer, features excellent guitar work from Luke Machin and can be viewed almost as a dry run for the orchestral pieces in Le Sacre..., was also inspired by the film Iron Crows about the life of Bangladeshi ship breakers. Build a New House with the Lego is a great piece about trying to be an individual in the corporate age, a theme that echoes Le Sacre.... Finally, Supper's Off is probably one of the tracks of the year, an amazing piece of work in anybody's book, and it's amazing that this has sneaked out on a companion album, looking at changes from the free festivals of the '70s to the corporate greed of today with strong questions about why people have stopped making things and only want to make money. This is a musical angry young or grumpy old man statement, with questions about musical recycling, and how big bands remaster stuff all the time, people lapping it up whist the new breed of prog bands can release major new works and barely get noticed. However, this is no poor me rant, this is intelligent, mature musical questioning, more a "where did it all go wrong?" lament for a society from someone who is from the generation who hoped they could change the world for the better.
For most artists a work like Le Sacre... would be considered job done, and they could rest for a year. Andy Tillison, however, isn't most artists. He's one of the most intelligent lyricists and a true progressive pioneer who's giving us his all, album after album.
While Andy Tillison and The Tangent are still making music of this quality, then rest assured Andy, you are doing your bit to change the world, one album at a time.
Eric Perry's Review
Somewhere in a parallel universe there is a version of The Tangent, in particular a version of Andy Tillison that is a multi-million, platinum disc seller who produces hit after hit. There has to be. However as we listen to the version that exists in this universe, who battles against the odds, logistically and financially with each release, we see the reasons to respect the Andy Tillison in this universe more than the other ones.
Respect is earned and Tillison produces it in abundance. Respect for musical integrity, respect for a high level of musicianship and respect for doing the seemingly impossible: self-producing two new releases in the same year with no budget.
L'Etagère du Travail follows hot on the heels of Le Sacre Du Travail and presents fans with another 40+ minutes of new music as well another 20 odd minutes of some interesting and fun versions of older material. Its title sums up the content perfectly - "The Work Shelf". Designed as a 'Companion' release to Le Sacre Du Travail, this is an impressive collection of music that stands up well against the other seven studio releases over the past decade. Far from being a gathering of leftovers there are some really sublime pieces of music here, and many of the classic elements that make up the Tangent sound are present.
You might think that a series of tracks that came together through a variety of scenarios such as line-up changes and scrapped projects would result in a bitty or disjointed ensemble but surprisingly there is unity between a handful of tracks that binds the album together nicely.
Anger and outcry and a sense of injustice from the world are the notable themes that present themselves through the songs. The opener, Monsanto, taking the brunt from the word go. A straight forward 'tell-it-like-it-is' set of truths about the aggressive and dubious practices of the U.S. food and agriculture industry, forged from the explicit and revealing documentaries about the subject, such as Food Inc. (2008). The title of the track refers to the company of that name known for their production of chemicals and insecticides and genetic crop modification as well as reports of the aforesaid alleged dubious operational practices. Tillison is in his usual territory taking on this kind of material and the meatiness (or should that be soya-ness?) of the topic sits well against some very fine Prog, pop and jazz infused moments. It's a driving piece that bounces from the stabbing keyboard synth sounds and a bubbling sequenced backdrop.
The frustration and injustice continues in Lost in Ledston. Unlike Monsanto however this isn't a clear cut rant or damning verdict as it deals with the death of Margaret Thatcher and the differing media portrayal that followed. As hard as it tries to remain impassive, there is a real sense of head-shaking and frustration at the perceived legacy of the former Conservative Prime Minister. Musically it ties in with the Lost in... series in The Tangent cannon, the familiar refrain from the previous songs resurfacing neatly here. It's a relaxed, sometimes smoky, jazz tinged piece and represents the sound of the sound of The Tangent from the albums prior to Le Sacre....
The Iron Crows follows and continues with the darker ecological themes, in particular the mistreated ship breakers in Bangladesh who 'pick apart' old container ships under the most horrendous condition, the song reveals the long days endured for a wage of just a few pennies, an existence we could not begin to imagine. It's a stark and ugly man-made contrast to the piece that inspired it, Debussy's La Mer which celebrates the natural beauty of the sea. The track itself is the album's epic foundation stone and demonstrates the direction that Tillison was moving towards before the development of his own Stravinsky inspired 'Rite of Work' (Le Sacre du Travail). It's a track of wonder and symphonic excellence and reminds the listener how much progressive rock owes a debt to the genius of Debussy. The Iron Crows looks set to remain a 'what if?' track and we can only wonder at what magnificent album would have been released if the project had been cultivated through to the end.
The album is not doom laden, as the content of the first three tracks might suggest, and is not hard to digest as these songs are frequently lively and very engaging as is Tillison's own wry look at this challenging subject matter. Breaking the flow, Build A New House With the Lego presents the listener with a different flavour from the classics in a pacey and again jazz based keyboard extravaganza. The title implies the truth of the world slowly lacking in originality.
The final piece of new material, Suppers Off, is Tillison providing his own tongue in cheek, mocking suspicion of the world of today, name checking Simon Cowell and sneakily, David Cameron and the U.K. conservative party through the "We're all in this together" catchphrase. Written from the point of view of the skint Andy Tillison, we see his level of feeling (albeit again with a glint in his eye) towards the changes he has seen from the time of his youth, a period of innovation and promise, now lost to a world that is manufactured, contrived and fake. Ironically Tillison mirrors this theme into the successful return of Genesis in 2007, a band that he grew up listening to passionately. The greatest hits tour at the end of the last decade fired up Tillison against a version of the group that came out to massive success again, worldwide, all completed without producing a new record. "We tried to change the world", he laments, "but the world won't take the hint, they go running back off to Genesis, and all the other bands are skint". The lack of money earned by talented, struggling musicians is the flip side to the wealth of cash spent on music that was neatly vacuumed up by a manufactured reformed Genesis.
The final revisited tracks on the album are made up from a mixture of alternative versions from Le Sacre... as well as the older side of the band's catalogue. Standing out head and shoulders above them is Dancing in Paris, a brilliantly realised pop version of the song Perdu Dans Paris from Down and Out in Paris and London (2009). More than just a casual bit of tinkering, Tillison has revealed the other version of this song that lay hidden inside the original track and has perhaps bettered it in the process. Like a house re-design program which focuses on restoration, this is Tillison's own transformation into a very well-crafted pop song. One that could make him into a multi-millionaire star, if someone was brave enough to take it on. Without too much of a stretch it's possible see someone like Robbie Williams having a big hit with this song, who knows, maybe it has happened in that parallel universe?
This release may be seen as a must have for The Tangent fan base, a suggested curiosity of ideas and styles but in actual fact it probably represents a really good way into the heart and soul of the band and Andy Tillison. One thing it does highlight is the level of steadfastness in the music against a modern world that largely ignores talent and originality. Let's hope it survives and continues to light the way.
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Recommended The Tangent CD & DVD Reviews:-
|The Music That Died Alone|
|"Although rooted in the classic progressive rock style of the 1970s, it stands up fully to the prog scene of the new millennium."|
(Mark Hughes, 10/10)
|The World That We Drive Through|
|"Have The Tangent managed to live up to the promise of their debut and come up with another classic album? On the whole I'd have to say yes, although I think the debut still holds the edge."|
(Mark Hughes, 9/10)
|Pyramids And Stars|
|"The album is mainly something for fans only, but in that respect it won't disappoint!"|
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 7/10)
|A Place In The Queue|
|"A must for all discerning prog lovers, ignore it at your peril."|
(Dave Baird, 9.5/10)
|Going Off On One [CD/DVD]|
|"...an impeccable selection of material and an unbeatable line-up of musicians and you have one highly recommended DVD."|
(Geoff Feakes, 8/10)
|Not As Good As The Book|
|"This really is The Tangent at their best but, it took a lot of patience and effort to get there."|
(Chris Jackson, 9.5/10)
|Down And Out In Paris And London|
|"Bold personnel changes and yet another super quality album..."|
(Dave Baird, 9/10)
|A Place On The Shelf: A Special Enthusiast’s Collection|
|"This is an absolutely essential purchase for Tangent fans."|
(Brian Watson, 7.5/10)
|Going Off On Two [DVD]|
|"You are seriously going to be impressed with what has been presented here."|
(John O'Boyle, 10/10)
|"This album stands tall among other Tangent work, maybe bested only by Down And Out In Paris And London for me."|
(Brendan Bowen, 8/10)
|Le Sacre du Travail|
|"This album just does not work for me. It is grandiose and it is ambitious but it doesn't fit in with the exaggerated expectations."|
(Jez Rowden, 6.5/10)
|Previous The Tangent Live Reviews:-|
|2005:-||ROSfest 2005, U.S.A.|
|2008:-||Zoetermeer, The Netherlands||Summer's End Festival, U.K.|
|2010:-||Progeny 3, U.K.||New Mill, U.K.|
|London, U.K.||Electric Garden Festival, U.K.|
|2011:-||Bradford, U.K.||Summer's End Festival, U.K.|
|Danfest, U.K.||Progresiste, Belgium|
|2012:-||Celebr8 Festival, U.K.||Bristol, U.K.|
|Previous The Tangent Interviews:-|
|with Bart Jan van der Vorst (2003)|
|with Dave Baird & Ian Butler (2008)|
|with Dave Baird (2009)|
|with Brian Watson & John O'Boyle (2010)|
|with Dave Baird (2011)|
|with Dave Baird (2013)|