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The Tangent

Not as Good as the Book

Review by Julie Knispel

The Tangent grew out of a series of pieces written by Parallel or 90 Degrees front man Andy Tillison that he put off to the side for a solo project, feeling that their more retro-prog sound was not in keeping with the more contemporary areas he was exploring with Po90. A series of fortunate incidents led to copies of these demos getting into the hands of Roine Stolt, and several phone calls later, the Tangent was essentially born. 9-odd years, later, how things have changed.

Gone is Roine Stolt, focusing now on the Flower Kings and his solo work, rather than the series of bands he had a hand in. Also gone is David Jackson, who added sax and flute to the first album. In their place on Not as Good as the Book, the band’s fourth studio album, are Jakko M. Jakszyk and Theo Travis, he of the long resume (work with Gong and Porcupine Tree, among others), respectively. They join the core band (Tillison, acoustic instrumentalist/vocalist Guy Manning, bassist Jonas Reingold and drummer Jamie Salazar) on an expansive and diverse 2-CD set that explores the ordinary experiences of ordinary people placed in situations that end up being extraordinary as a result of the unique nature of that creature called "the human being."

Also gone are the fanciful/fantasy-based covers by Ed Unitsky. In their place are edgy and urban/modern illustrations by French artist Antoine Ettori. The darker look of these images matches the material on this new release, which is edgier by far...less comfortable, darker, more intense. The feeling I get, looking at the cover, is that of a person lost in the city. I think that ties in to what seems to be the intent by Tillison to craft an album drawing from his experiences, and perhaps feeling lost in the sea of humanity and emotion that comes from being part of that sea. Ettori’s illustrations are also seen more expansively in the novella packaged with the special edition of this album. The novella takes the themes and stories told through the album’s 9 songs and shifts them to memories of a character nearly 90,000 years in the future, in a world destroyed by the band Yes, and the fate of the universe “resting on the memories of two Van Der Graaf Generator concerts.” The novella is something I am looking forward to reading; it may not be essential to the listening experience, but it’s a huge thing to not only craft a 90-minute double album, but add in a lengthy piece of fiction to pair with it. 2 albums on now from the departure of Roine Stolt from the Tangent, the band has almost fully shed itself of the obvious Flower Kings influences and forged a sound that can be fully called its own. Brewing up a pleasing mix of symphonic power and Canterbury whimsy, Not as Good as the Book is the group’s strongest musical statement to date.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
A Crisis In Mid-Life
Disc 1 of this set is subtitled “A Crisis in Mid-Life,” and feels more like a 50-odd minute suite rather than a series of 7 shorter (i.e., not shorter than 6, not longer than 13 minutes) pieces. Don’t let the retro/neo- synth opening on “A Crisis in Midlife” fool you; despite the fact that it sounds almost like a 1980’s Genesis outtake in some ways, it’s far deeper lyrically. The groove is undeniable, and the song rises above the sometimes-suspect choices in synth patches.
Lost In London 25 Years Later
Fans of the band’s occasional forays into more Canterbury-influenced areas will go ga-ga over “Lost in London (25 Years Later),” which wears its Caravan influences proudly on its sleeve. Theo Travis’ sax and flute really shine here, and the song bubbles along pleasantly and gently. It’s just a precious composition, fragile and airy, and the difference between this piece and the poppy, sprightly “A Crisis in Midlife” can’t be more obvious.
The Ethernet
This track opens with gentle keyboards and plaintive vocals, shifting nicely from the jazzy, Canterbury inflected track it follows.  I have fears that songs that focus so heavily on a single facet of modern society (in this case, our current obsession with virtual lives and the computer) may seem incredibly passe in a few years.  Taking that out of the equation, this is an interesting almost love song with a definite Peter Gabriel vibe, bubbling electronics building to a heavier rock vibe about three minutes in.
Celebrity Purée
“Celebrity Purée” offers the band a chance to stretch out instrumentally, Jonas Reingold and Jamie Salazar lock into some tricky grooves while Jakko Jakszyk’s guitar snarls and wails. All too brief at under 4 minutes, I’d have been pleased with another 4 minutes just like it.
Not as Good as the Book
The album’s title track opens with a keyboard line that somehow reminds of Marillion, but more in execution than actual note choice. I love the vocal phrasing on this piece, with the faux-funk chording in the background of the mix helping to drive the track.
A Tale Of Two Souls
“A Tale of Two Souls” perhaps lays some foundations for what’s coming on the album’s second disc, with painfully self-observant/autobiographical lyrics delivered with a slight Hammill-esque edge.
Bat Out Of Basildon
Disc 1 closes with “Bat out of Basildon,” which is for me perhaps the only misstep on this album. It’s a nice enough song, but I fond it unintentionally hilarious. I don’t have any experience with bikes, or bikers, or riding a motorcycle, and as such I just can’t connect with the song at all. I have difficulties even getting past the title, which elicits images of 1970’s pomposity. Having said this, the song is sleazy, bluesy, filled with grungy sax and snarling guitar (and one lovely alto sax solo from Theo Travis). I just think it defuses some of the intensity built up at the end of “A Tale of Two Souls.” Perhaps different placement on the album might have changed my opinion on this piece (it might also help if I lived in Basildon, but that’s neither here nor there), but for the time being it's a song that doesn’t make it for me.
Disc 2
Four Egos, One War
While the first half of the album is made up of a series of mid-length vignettes, CD 2 sees the Tangent shift into more expansive prog rock mode. This disc, subtitled "Throwing Metal at the Sky,"is darker by far, with a pair of 20-minute epics touching on seriously heavy subject matter. The disc opens with “Four Egos, One War,” a piece originally composed for Tillison’s previous group Parallel or 90 Degrees, and recorded here finally because, as Tillison states, “the damn war won't go away.” Julie King’s vocals mix impossibly well on this composition, and the shifts in mood, from gentle acoustic/pastoral guitar movements to heavier sections that bear comparison to ELP and Egg (especially the heavy use of thick, punchy Hammond organ sounds) flow with fluid grace. Theo Travis’ flute playing is sublime, and the vocals are delivered emotionally...be it wistful, world-weary, strident...the individual building blocks on this piece create something fantastic.
The Full Gamut
Then there’s “The Full Gamut.” If you have ever had a long term relationship fall apart...if you have ever met someone who you believe is The One (tm), building everything around them and with them, only to have it come apart at the seams years later, then you will immediately understand the depth of emotion lyrically on this song. There’s a lot of information out on the web that tells exactly what this song is about, and it’s not necessarily my place as reviewer to pull this information into the review. All I’ll say is that the piece as a whole resonates with me, and it feels honest and true and right.
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