Monday, June 30, 2008

The Tangent - Not As Good As The Book

Getting early access to this disc -- was a gift. So it’s no surprise that I waited till a certain milestone before making the decision to give it a spin: That would be my birthday. While friends and family wished me well, it was Andy Tillison who made my personal day all that more special.

To get the punch line out of the way, this is one of the best albums ever to be released. It’s not that it has strong melodies, insightful lyrics, clever artwork or a brilliant concept. It’s that it fulfills the bill in each of these aforementioned areas, and that doesn’t even get into the novella he wrote for select patrons.

Leading up to this day, I dug up some old Parallel or 90 Degrees. It is clear to see his raw potential back in those days. Rather than short out the circuitry with his imposing load, his kinetic energy has increased tenfold. With each new album he outpaces himself, and he does so in no small way. Now he’s taken this sturdy foundation and built a colossal sky rise upon it. It’s as if he’s collapsed earlier works and put all that brick and mortar into this project. Yet, it’s as exhilarating as a teenager’s first kiss.

With all the innovation cooped up in the past, it’s seems as if there is no slowdown in sight from his pen. It’s a conundrum of sorts that he has never experienced writer’s block. The musicianship could only come from practiced veterans whereas his wizened slyness is something that could challenge a lion’s lissome pride. It would make sense if this vigor and pep came from the youngsters of Engine of Earth; not a finely aged band of this caliber.

As for the actual litany applied here, he gives us seven song-oriented opuses followed by two artfully-engineered epics in the breadth of two discs. To ask me to pick a favorite would be like asking me to choose between savory entrées and delectable desserts. So I’ll give it to you quick and straight with this semi-automatic list of bulleted points:

“A Crisis in Midlife” is altruistic and astute (almost futuristic disco). The second it’s set to go, we are met by that ephemeral fork in the road. Inline with Yogi Berra’s advice, we rely on the hasty decision and take their modern transport into psychedelic oblivion. In other words, Star Trek thematically prefaces the episode, which is ironic since that distorted notion ascends later on sans the Enterprise. For the record, the new guitarist isn’t shy when it comes to carving his signature on the hull. Once the keyboards deploy and the bassist’s ballasts safely expel, he flips the switch on the propulsion system. Whether you’re progressively-minded or wet behind the ears, you’ll find that his shuttle craft warp by in a blink of an eye.

“Lost in London Twenty Five Years Later” is similar to that influential iceberg that tore up the Titanic. You don’t know what’s coming until it hits you. While I never expected to return to that passionate endeavor so soon; it’s a great way to spend the interim stretch of precious spare time. Go ahead and forgetaboutit cause it’s inevitable that the frosty slab will make first contact. It’s “Up-Hill from Here”, “Skipping the Distance”, and “GPS Culture” all rolled into one. If you were looking to further confirm Jakko M. Jakszyk’s skill, don’t even think about jettisoning past this timeslot. As for Tillison pipes – both piano and voice - they are shockingly spot on. Plus, it goes without saying that Reingold’s bountiful vibes sent such chills through my spine that I thought I was dipped in a vat of liquid nitrogen. At a minimum, his incessant air conditioning gave me an acute case of hypothermia. By the way, they enter into the taboo by mentioning a certain ‘S’ word more than once – well, not that particular one but a tricky topic nonetheless. So if the neighbor’s asking, “How’s the craic?” [This is the intended spelling], the correct response is not to smoke it because this bluesy rock boils way beyond a simmer. Funky jam aside; they penetrate the heat shields and cause the carburetor seals to splinter long before the toaster warms the pop tart. Resistance is surely futile in this bewildering instance. Nevertheless, when the sax sidles up against the fuselage, you’ll be overcome with respite because it set the voyager straight when it’s about to enter an uncontrollable tailspin. Before it’s over, Theo substitutes the frantic sax with a faithful flute. By now the most unbalanced audience member will be soothed into the La-Z-Boy position.

“The Ethernet” brings us something that’s both spirited and posh. This autonomous storyboard could be about Jim Halpert and Pam Beesley’s dubiously platonic love affair in NBC’s The Office. It parallels that mockumentary to a tee whilst one-upping the cynicism poignantly pointed out in “A Place in the Queue”. The comparisons hold true to such a degree that I am suspicious if this song possesses dual citizenship in its creator’s psyche. Could it be that Tillison already put this to paper and then decided to pay it forward? Like a tootsie roll tootsie pop, the world may never know. While it’s as ominous as The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”, this sacrosanct anthem gets flowery at the end. One would have expected Roine Stolt’s meticulous hands to have watered these ginger riffs. As it turns out, the surrogate is just as convincing as the initial lickster.

“Celebrity Puree” is a guilty pleasure. The reason why: This satisfyingly short feature is purely instrumental. Our instant gratification isn’t t the only reward as this naughty number leads guilelessly into the next piece.

Not until we’ve been wowed beyond belief do we encounter the quintessential title track. “Not as Good as the Book” is so fantastic that the written word cannot do it justice. Jakszyk demonstrates additional firepower from his arsenal of skill. In this scenario, he sings with a style that’s very Ritual-like in nature.

The next showing is lounge loafers followed by biker boots. The Tangent’s soles are far from tattered when they reach these consumer-approved top-shelf items hidden in the backroom. There is no telling why they were relegated to the clearance rack.

At its bleakest, “A Sale of Two Souls” is Van Der Graaf Generator and Blue Öyster Cult. As for the upbeat interludes integrated into its zealous theorem, take your pick between Jethro Tull and Procol Harum. Above all, I love the line where Tillison tells himself to, “Hold on for a moment. The sky is as blue as when I was young, and I have as much right to play here as the young guys under a billion year old sun.” The optimism of this wayward son carries on with, “I still have my fingers and they still push the keys. Everyone got older at the same rate as me.” This is poetically slick staccato if you ask me; somewhat like this pragmatic closing tag.

Pursuant to that manic depressive strain, a blind marsupial classified under “Bat out of Basildon” swoops in and skins George Thorogood’s teeth. To put a reference to the name, this ditty is “Bad to the Bone”; though it’s predominantly tongue-in-check. Therefore, it’s not exclusive to a belligerent brood of hell’s angels. By the way, they mention the ‘F’ word here – yes that sexy verb that earned George Carlin a night in the clink. I wonder if this cuss word qualified the album for an explicit label or if it went completely overlooked by censors. For the record, it’s not the easiest axiom to catch.

Anyhow, they end side one by showing us diversity in their output. By now I am convinced that they are the archetypal leaders of the progressive pack. For those of you still deliberating over their status on the totem pole, this disc just might convince you to put them on the utmost fulcrum of the stick.

That aside, there is more. We turn the page and find a twist. While the table of contents leads us to believe that there is no more than a pithy pair to chew on, each rind is long and winding. They call this anomalous section Throwing Metal At The Sky and in rapid-fire succession; this is what that couplet of keenly-coated auras entails:

“Four Egos One War” makes the Four Feathers look like a petty squabble. It also proves to be an example where the sequel is more acerbic than the setup. This gives us more than we could have ever expected from the trite premise. One of my favorite sequences is socked squarely to its midsection. Believe me; it’ll knock the wind out of you too.

Before the bibliography is reached, we finish with “The Full Gamut”. While I was more exhausted than Cloverfield’s cameraman from all the panning around in prior tracks, I refused to let go of the action. It’s so daunting and audacious that it would be an unfathomable task for a journeyman to transcribe this lively script. Even with all my know-how in regards to Progressive Rock, I could hardly keep up with this melodious monster. My consciousness was in the dust as I tirelessly tried to process the scenes that had just been witnessed. It seemed as if I was always a frame behind. In terms of speed and stamina, the last leg gives “All of the Above” a run for its money. Not to mention, this mini-concerto of sorts paces itself with necessary breathers. Those lightning quick recesses are where you have the best chance to close the gap. My heart goes out to those of you who are foolish enough to play it after a hard day’s night. Speaking of cardiovascular systems, I later found out by someone in Tillison’s camp that this was meant to be a mix between bittersweet remembrance and an apology to his longtime running mate.

With that cheerless note in the captain’s log, let’s return to my innermost thoughts…

In terms of birthday presents, there is one that I have always cherished. It was a deluxe Adventure Bound jacket from Wilsons Leather. At the time, I couldn’t afford and neither could the bequestor.

So while I cannot say this was better - because that jacket was extraordinary in its own right, I can tell you this: Not as Good as the Book is just about equal to the best present I ever received on that annual day where my friends, family and I celebrate my incremental click in age.


[This awesome album surpasses A Place in the Queue by a nanoparticle even if my review is an editorial mile shorter in length. For corroboration on the quantitative analysis, look back a blog to witness this galactic difference firsthand.]

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