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It Bites - Once Around The World CD (album) cover

ONCE AROUND THE WORLD

It Bites

 

Crossover Prog

3.74 | 94 ratings

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FragileKings
Prog Reviewer
4 stars This album was a pleasant surprise for me to find out about and listen to. I first heard about It Bites a year ago when they released "Map of the Past" and it showed up on my Amazon page. I thought they were some new band but somehow heard that they'd released an album or two before. Then while reading Stephen Lambe's book "Citizens of Hope and Glory: The Story of Progressive Rock", I was surprised to read that It Bites was a band from the 80's! Lambe wrote that their "Once Around the World" album was a surprise piece of prog in the prog parched 80's. I felt that I must check it out and with little more than a glimpse at a video on YouTube I ordered it.

The first two tracks are what I had expected from an 80's album. This is 80's rock that is too synthesizer-swamped for the guitars to make it hard rock, but too rockin' to be just 80's pop. Call it 80's pop rock if you like. Not quite my taste and a little embarrassing to have playing on the car stereo. But not bad songs for what they are.

The third track "Yellow Christian" is in the same vein but more synth and less guitars, making it seem closer to bubblegum pop except that in the middle there's a smart section that turns to prog flavour. The first time I heard this my ears pricked right up after having tuned out of the music. Now I knew that this album might have a few surprised before the big 14-minute-plus finale.

"Rose Marie" sounds to me like mid-eighties Uriah Heep or Blue Oyster Cult. The guitar playing is enjoyable but particularly so because in the YouTube video segment I watched, guitarist Francis Dunnery explained about using a guitar where the strings are higher off the fret-board, making the finger work necessarily more precise. My first guitar also had such high strings and it was not easy to learn how to play a lot of hard rock songs at first. Later when I bought a Gibson Epiphone (a Les Paul would have been nice but...) I at last had an easier time of playing. So, I could appreciate Dunnery's skill and the different quality of sound his guitar solos have on the album.

"Black December" is much like most of the album sounds so far. But things are about to get more interesting.

While on the surface "Old Man and the Angel" sounds like another pop rock track, it soon changes and fits in a wonderful prog section in the middle. At first I was thinking that this is what Yes should have been doing on "Big Generator" but then I thought It Bites were pre- saging the prog revival of the 90's, in particular sounding a bit like The Flower Kings. When the song concludes with its pop rock chorus it maintains an odd drum beat. It Bites came to the dinner party in an appropriate jacket but has now taken it off and is showing a prog T-shirt underneath.

"Hunting the Whale" and "Plastic Dreamer" both take us away from the pop rock factory in different ways. At times I felt the vocals sounded a bit theatrical like Peter Gabriel but "Hunting the Whale" really comes off sounding like what Genesis might have been had the classic line-up held together into the late 80's. It's a bit bizarre with a raucous tavern dinner atmosphere at the beginning and the end, whale sounds, some crusty old salt singing from his boat all blended with an 80's synthesizer as the main music. "Plastic Dreamer" tells the story of someone who gets himself locked in the toy store so he can confirm his belief that the toys come alive at night. Darth Vader dressed in drag is one of the many humorous images conjured up in the lyrics. The whimsy of the song sounds like what some otherwise serious pop rock band would have put on their album and have had it criticized as filler or inconsistency. But I find this song and the previous one showing the band's humour and willingness to go out on a limb.

Of course the song that Stephen Lambe praised was the album closer "Once Around the World". Clocking in a just under fifteen minutes, this song begins very smoothly and appropriately where the music of "Plastic Dreamer" ended off, with very beautiful and delicate synthesizer. The song picks up and goes through some interesting changes not unlike "Supper's Ready" by Genesis with odd clips and snippets of what could have been other songs fitted in smartly. As the music graduated through its atmospheres, tempos, and flavours, I felt it could easily have appeared on any Flower Kings album.

My conclusion thus far is that this album introduces itself as a pop rock album but reveals its secret intention to keep symphonic prog alive in the 80's. Considering that the old guard of the 70's were either split up or recording pop music and the neo-prog movement was by 1988 turning towards the mainstream more and more, finding an album like this one is quite a surprise. Once again I must restate my impressions that It Bites sound like a mixture of how classic Genesis might have sounded in the 80's and The Flowers Kings with a hint of what 80's Yes could have been. Pop rock songs aside, I think this was a very bold and intriguing album for the band to make. It is perhaps due to be rated as one of my favourite prog rock albums of the 80's.

Not quite essential to any prog rock collection but certainly essential for an 80's prog collection. For the effort put toward prog on this album I'll give it four stars.

FragileKings | 4/5 |

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