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The Tangent - Not As Good As The Book CD (album) cover

NOT AS GOOD AS THE BOOK

The Tangent

 

Eclectic Prog

3.87 | 297 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
4 stars I approached this favorably-received 2008 release by The Tangent without any preconceived notions of what I was in for other than knowing that the rhythm section of drummer Jaime Salazar and bassist Jonas Reingold (of The Flower Kings) would at least guarantee professional, tight tracks being generated under the music. I have yet to experience the earlier offerings of this band so digest this review as coming from a progger who jumped into their pool unaware of what might lie beneath the surface of the intriguing cover art. At first I wasn't exactly thrilled because leader Andy Tillson Diskdrive's rather toneless voice (a curious combination of Al Stewart, David Bowie and Greg Lake) takes quite a bit of getting used to. But I tend to rate my prog by the musical content first, the lyrics second and then vocal ability last so I was patient. And once I got a few listens under my belt I started to discover the considerable charms of this album and began to look forward to every investigative spin. This is superb prog, indeed.

I do wish to clarify my position on singing styles. There are plenty of vocally-challenged artists that I admire immensely (Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Tom Waits come to mind), so the fact that Andy is less than a virtuoso in that department isn't necessarily a deal-breaker for me. He's stuck with the warble he was born with and, besides, it's really a matter of putting your heart where your mouth is when all is said and done. But, as Dirty Harry put so well, "a man's got to know his limitations" and there are times when Tillson doesn't. For some that might not be a big bugaboo but for me it's as distracting as an overplayed, annoying guitar or synthesizer solo would be. Fortunately, those moments are brief in duration and his composition skills, along with the intelligent, literate words he and his cohorts sing throughout, go a long way in compensation.

"A Crisis in Mid-Life" is a great opener with its straightforward rock beat and crisp synthesizers that are reminiscent of the jazz rock/fusion territory that Bill Bruford was exploring in the late 70s and early 80s. Very bright and exciting keyboard sounds. The disemboweling agony of divorce and the stark reality of aging are prominent topics on this album and here he expresses the total bewilderment of not knowing who or what to turn to for solace. ".Now we're in the middle/our heroes bought houseboats with their wives/there's no one left to sing along with/as we make the crossing of our middle lives" he laments.

"Lost in London 25 Years Later" has a much jazzier motif, thanks in large part to Theo Travis' sprightly flute and Salazar's deft drumming. A lively intro leads to laid-back verses where Tillson sings about the frustration of facing the fact that he and his pal are no longer part of or even eligible to enter the enclaves of the "hip" generation as they are turned away from a trendy nightspot. "The guy we need to see is just inside the door/but he might as well still be in Malmo/we talk about our kids a bit and wish that we were them/and hark back to our younger days again," he relates. The spicy, high-spirited instrumental movement they segue into midway through is one of the best parts of the album. Here the blistering piano and saxophone performances are hair-raising and marvelously memorable. Bravo.

"The Ethernet" is greatness. It features a mysterious start that takes you directly to wonderful verse/chorus melodies. Jonas and Jaime provide an extraordinarily firm foundation below and the tune's steady build up climaxes in a huge, exhilarating wall of sound. The lyrics about the unending loneliness of a life centered around a computer-based existence are poetic and thought-provoking. The instrumental "Celebrity Mincer" follows and it's a much heavier affair where Andy's growling organ, Jakko Jakszyk's blazing guitar and Theo's hot saxophone are a treat to hear.

After a seamless transition the album's namesake track arrives and it's a decent rocker but, unfortunately, Tillson crosses that line I spoke of earlier. The guitar sound is delightfully Jeff Beck-ish, the bridge is unexpectedly jazzy and delicate and the flamenco-tinted movement is a true eyebrow- lifter but the vocal harmonies are surprisingly loose and when Andy strains his voice it makes me wince because it wasn't necessary in the context of the story. "What happened to me?/was it a turning that I took?/what happened to the future?/it's not as good as the book," he complains. (These are questions folks my age ask all the time so I can relate.) "A Sale of Two Souls" is next and it suffers from the same malady in that the vocal is unnaturally forced in places. It's a very dramatic number and Travis's flute is inspiring but the predictable structure of the song makes it the nadir of the proceedings. Yet, once again, the perceptive words save it from the abyss. "The sky's as blue as when I was young/and I've as much right to play there/as the young guys beneath the billion-year-old sun/and I still have my fingers/and they still push the keys/'cos everyone I know got older/at the same rate as me," he sings.

"Bat Out of Basildon" ends the first disc on a witty note with its hard rockin' groove, gritty sax runs and Keith Emerson-styled Hammond organ stalking the grounds like a hungry panther. While I've been immune from the lure of motorcycles since I almost did myself in on one back in college, I have plenty of acquaintances who have found their fountain of youth astride a dangerous, horse-powered hog. They're mild-mannered Clark Kents during the work week, Supermen on the weekends. "He's got 'Born to be Wild' on the Walkman/and the devil tattoo doesn't show/but the guy from the chip shop down your street/is a heavy metal God of the road," he exclaims. For many it's better to burn out than to fade away and this tune captures that attitude brilliantly.

The second CD has two long, very involved epics that are well worth your time. The political "Four Egos, One War" leads off with the addition of guest Julie King on "Ours" as she assists Tillson in some unison singing while the background, filled with excellent acoustic instruments, provides a nice change- of-pace. On the more forceful "Theirs" Andy gets perilously close to shouting his words but in this instance the lyric content somewhat justifies his angst. "The world is awash with dictators and moguls/between them we don't stand a chance/caught between egos and cold economics/we all know the steps to the dance," he cries. Following a short reprise of "Ours" they dive into the meat of the song on "His" where guitarist Guy Manning takes a turn at the mike. It features acoustic guitars, flute, a very funky clavinet and mood-shifting dynamics that'll bring a smile to your mug. Jakko's singing is a welcome turn of events for the groovy "Mine" with its large Hammond organ sound surrounding the central guitar riff and the interesting fadeout deserves your rapt attention.

"The Full Gamut" is totally different from anything else on the album. Here Tillson's cathartic, personal description of the demise of his marriage makes this a tragic but gratifying journey to travel with him on. He takes an almost operatic approach from the get-go with piano and vocal but the piece never gets tiresome as it flows gracefully through various moods and landscapes. The first instrumental sequence with its driving organs, synths and clavinets rolling over the ever sturdy bass/drum track and the riff-based segment where Andy conveys his angry alarm ("This is not a rehearsal, this is not a drill/madness rides tonight, banners flying/this is FOR REAL!") are major highlights. The whole marvelous tune undulates up and down much like one's emotional state during a life-changing breakup and his last lines that tie the broken couple's present to their romantic past are passionate and heartbreaking. The somber but emotional symphonic ending is absolutely gorgeous.

One thing I can assure those who have yet to try out The Tangent's "Not As Good As The Book," is that it is pure, Grade A prog from beginning to end. It may take a few listens for it to get under your skin but I strongly recommend it to the adventurous among you who, like me, are ever in search of reaffirming musical experiences. Do I detect obvious influences from past prog rock giants in the composing? Yes, but I find that quality endearing and an attractive characteristic rather than a detriment. It's like quoting from the classics. My bottom line is always the songwriting and the musical presentation in general and this double CD has both of those in spades. A solid 4 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |

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