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Thinking Plague - In This Life CD (album) cover

IN THIS LIFE

Thinking Plague

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.96 | 45 ratings

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ShW1
4 stars 'In This Life' is the 3rd album by Thinking Plague. In many ways this represents a crossroads in TP's career. Some components are ending now but on the other hand, new things are starting to happen. In a way, this was the last album for TP in their incarnation as a band during the 80's. A band in terms of a crew of people that create together, influence each other, fertilize each other's imaginations, live in the same place, rehearsing and performing together.

Later on,TP made two masterful works, one in the 90's, one in the 2000's, but somehow, this is not a band anymore, in the usual manner. Actually there were also line up changes in the 80's; indeed in the future there will still be a steady core of people in TP. Moreover, the successor album 'In Extremis' is also 'bandish' as well. However, it is not the same. I claim that in the 80's Thinking Plague was a true band, much more than afterwards. So this is the last chance to listen to TP as a band, in the traditional manner.

On the other hand, exciting things are beginning to happen. The compositions here are more consolidated than ever before, more mature, and less experimental (not that experimentation is that bad). According to any musical parameter that I know of, these are perfect compositions - and so beautiful. In addition to great melodies, intricate harmonies, well structures, and very complex rhythms, a serious effort has been made in the arrangements and the instrumentations. For now, each instrument gets its own line and could be listened to as a separate line, but all together they somehow combine in a peculiar way to create that unique TP sound. Above all those musical parameters, Mike Johnson appears as a true composer, who knows what he wants to say, and how to get his listeners there. This process will be wider, deeper and more refined in the coming years. Here is the start of this process.

However, Johnson is not alone in the compositions: vocalist Susanne Lewis has a significant contribution to the compositions in some melodies, and also one complete song of her own, 'The Guardian', a charming and catchy song. While I cannot be absolutely sure which melody line belongs to Johnson and which belongs to Lewis (although I have my own guesses), the overall result gains more accessibility in the melodies, and this is one parameter that turns this album into TP's most accessible album, and an excellent starting point to TP's discography.

Compared to the previous album 'Moonsongs', and also to the subsequent album, 'In Extremis', the atmosphere is calmer, mellower, and less extroverted. So this is a mellower album in between two strong, extroverted albums. In addition to the 'predictable' electric guitar, Mike Johnson has chosen to add a lot of acoustic guitars, and usually his guitar is angular, sharp, vivacious, but it also could be soft and sentimental. Another important element here is ethnic sounds and musical ideas, just one minute before everybody was doing that in the 90's. Sound and melodies from the Middle East and the Far East are mixed together with more Western attitudes, in a peculiar way.

I'll concentrate in the more 'Western' compositions, leaving the 'Eastern' ones to other reviewers: 'Run Amok' expresses very well the craziness of everyone's day, trying to wake up in the morning, manage to do everything and get through another busy day, and 'certainly I am aware that it is day, a day exactly like any other day' as Susanne Lewis claims (she wrote the lyrics for this album, which I appreciate as being of high standard and artistic although unfortunately I couldn't grasp it all). This song contains a simple, innocent melody, as opposed to 'crazy' lines of the other instruments, to emphasize the idea. Brilliant!

'Malaise' is dark, ominous , and mysterious, featuring a beautiful modern melody that emphasizes that 'modern' and 'beauty' are terms that does not necessarily contradict each other. This is my personal favorite from this album.

'Love' is the most 'progressive' composition here, in terms of style. 70's prog elements (YES? GENESIS? GENTLE GIANT? You name it.) along with virtuosic guitar phrases, soaring keyboards, moving melody with jazzy feel, and much more. join together in original and creative development to create one of the most powerful progressive compositions of the post 70's prog. a composition that is strongly anchored in the roots of progressive rock but sounds like no other 70's composition.

'Fountain of All Tears' is the closer, a rock song in steady 4/4 beat, feature accessible melody, great refrain, delightful acoustic guitars harmonies, deep and reverberant bass, and some TP twists here and there. What a wonderful way to end this album.

The relatively weak point of this album is concealed in the performance. Not that this TP line up does not contain utterly talented and creative people, as always, but compared to the 'In Extremis' line up or even to the 'Moonsongs' line up, this line up seems to be slightly inferior. Particular when it comes to vocalist Susanne Lewis. She has a pleasant voice, well pitched, and she could do some nice things with her vocals - but that is more or less all. These compositions definitely require better performance, mainly in vocals, which are a very important component here.

It's maybe unfair criticism, but knowing what the compositions will gain from great performance and great vocals, and listening to Susanne Lewis's performance leaves a sensation of miss out. On the contrary, her contribution to the album is very significant, and this album could not be what it is, without her involvement. However, to end this paragraph in a more positive way, I'll mention the woodwind man Mark Harris, who does most of the woodwinds, along with Lawrence Haugseth. This is his first performance in TP, and he will continue to contribute his unique feeling and sound, until nowadays. It's great to listen to him during his first performance in TP.

So overall, this is an excellent album. Compared to the previous and the subsequent albums, this one is less experimental, less powerful, more mature, and more accessible, featuring lot of ethnic elements, and it contains superb compositions. These properties make it the best place to start your TP journey. So, if you considered giving TP a try but somehow hesitated, you don't have to hesitate any longer with this album. If you already own one or more Thinking Plague CD's, well, you don't want to miss adding this one to your collection. In any case, I believe I could easily guarantee your pleasure.

ShW1 | 4/5 |

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