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The Tangent - Le Sacre du Travail CD (album) cover


The Tangent


Eclectic Prog

4.00 | 406 ratings

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5 stars An orchestral treatise on the work day.

Up there among the Tangent's best albums, Le Sacre du Travail (The Rite of Work) is effectively a single 63-minute-long symphony dedicated to understanding and critiquing the regular work day with which we all have (too much) experience. Starting (and ending) with the ticking of the alarm clock, the five tracks - perhaps better described as 'movements' - that make up this piece take us in roughly chronological order through our predictable daily routine, from being woken by the news on the clock radio, to the daily highway commute, the hours we work for others, the afternoon rush home, our final ability to relax (often by watching TV shows and news), to the preparations for the next day. In doing so, Tillison (who wrote all the words and music), brings together much of his ongoing social critique of the way most of us live, from our concentrations in little boxes far away from work necessitating the burning of tons of fossil fuels so others can profit from our best hours, to the control of communications technologies over our lives. Listening to this, I am always reminded of French scholar Henri Lefebvre's classic book "Critique of Everyday Life". Tillison shares with Lefebvre an attempt to look behind the things we all take for granted, and to see the regular every-day as a form of social control in which we all willingly (albeit often under compulsion) participate. The lyrics, and indeed the music, is intellectual, yet also very authentic. Most of us can easily and instantly identify with it. This is one of the things I have liked about The Tangent and Tillison's writing from the beginning - it makes you think, and identify with it.

In terms of sonic textures, this is the most orchestral of The Tangent albums. There are lots of slower sections dominated by the sounds of oboes, clarinets, flutes, and the like, and many of the pieces/movements are structured around orchestral themes and phrasing. This is not to say that the band doesn't rock at times - with such a great band, there are some really excellent solos here, and the band does get heavy once in a while. But for the most part the music is subdued, orderly, precise. It sounds like it was written as a symphony.

The band here is fairly unique for a Tangent album, and it sounds more like a Tillison solo album with hired hands rather than a band album per se. Jonas Reingold, one of the best contemporary bass players in my opinion, is back here (and would stay for further albums), which is wonderful - he adds so much to the Tangent's music, and Theo Travis is thankfully still here (some great solos, etc). However, despite Luke Machin joining on the previous album ('COMM'), he is not on this album, which is a shame, although Jakko Jakszyk (who now plays with King Crimson) fills in on electric guitar, and of course does an excellent and precise job. The drumming here is handled by Gavin Harrison (from Porcupine Tree, and now King Crimson too), and he does a great job, laying down some great grooves under the solos. Finally, on backing vocals is Big Big Train's David Longdon. A common critique of other Tangent albums is that Tillison's singing is not super accurate. Well, it seems he took those critiques to heart here, as his singing is among the most in tune of any Tangent album, and Longdon's harmonies add a lot to the vocals, and raise them up over the typical Tangent sound. There is really nothing to fault on this album vocally.

Finally, the music here is great. Tillison has come up with some great evocative musical themes, including a repeated triplet-based syncopated pattern that permeates and delimits certain movements, somewhat like (but different from) Holst's work or Pat Metheny's 'This Way Up'. These rhythmic patterned themes are very musical, and do a great job in evoking the rushed feel of getting ready for work, commuting on the highway, etc. And while generally slower and quieter than the typical Tangent album, I think it is also one of the most musical, with virtually no sections that are off-putting. Everything here is very rewarding if you give it the time for multiple listens. Some who prefer really fast, loud and heavy playing may not dig this album as much. But I like to see a long piece developed over a series of movements. And there is a lot of space for great instrumental sections here (unlike, say, Tangent's earlier epic 'In Earnest', which put singing over top of much of that piece). Harrison and Reingold lay down some really excellent rhythms, and there are some fantastic solos by Travis, Tillison and Jakszyk. So, even though I really dig the lyrics, it is the music that for me really shines. The two long epics - the 23-min "Morning Journey and Arrival" and the 19-min "Afternoon Malaise" - are the centrepieces of the album. These are really well-developed, with excellent lyrics and extensive instrumental sections that allow the band to shine. In addition to the main pieces/movements that make up the album proper, there are three bonus tracks. Of these, I really like the live proto-punk "Hat" recorded during Tillison's high-school years. A very nice added bonus.

This is for me one of the strongest Tangent albums. I of course still have some minor critiques. In particular, the final movement (the 12-minute "Evening TV") could have gone further and really blown the roof off with some extended solos and the like (like, say, the finale of Yes' "Tales", etc), but instead plays it safer and feels a bit complacent (perhaps matching the musical vibe to the lyrical message?). It is not bad in any way, but it could have been even better. Because of this, the album does not rate quite as high for me as CD2 of Tangent's double-CD album 'Not as Good as the Book' (of which CD2 I rated 9.3). But 'Sacre' still scores very strongly. On balance, I give this album 9.1 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which puts it in the 5 PA star "Masterpiece" category. Highly recommended.

Walkscore | 5/5 |


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