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It Bites - The Tall Ships CD (album) cover


It Bites


Crossover Prog

3.88 | 199 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

5 stars The remastered reissues of the two John Mitchell-led It Bites albums is a timely reminder of just how good these releases were when they came out in 2008 and 2012 respectively. Not that I needed reminding ? they are amongst my most played albums over the last decade or so. The Tall Ships, in particular, holds memories of time and place that are so special to me. As a result, this music remains fresh, vibrant and contemporary to this day.

It was a bold step for It Bites to reform many years after the iconic Francis Dunnery moved on to fresh pastures. Recruiting long-time fan John Mitchell on vocals and guitar was a masterstroke, and whilst some of the original fanbase would only ever accept the return of Francis himself to the fold, most were encouraged by John's experience with a range of bands (Arena, Frost*, Kino, etc.), his vocal style, virtuoso guitar playing and love of prog with a strong melodic content. With John Beck adding his magic on the keyboards and Bob Dalton providing the driving beat, the combination built on some positive live performances and transferred itself into the studio.

The Tall Ships (2008) is one of the very best examples of that rather vague genre label known as 'prog-pop'. Yet it sums up the style perfectly; complex instrumentation and compositional structure but married to a popular and commercial style that produced the most 'catchy' melodic hooks you can find on any prog rock album. John Mitchell admits to writing largely to a template defined by the original line-up in the '80s, especially on the classic Once Around the World. However, he was able to add something of himself as well, creating real synergy at the time.

Starting with the amazingly fresh hit of harmonies and powerful guitar noodlings of Oh My God, the album flows seamlessly through each track with not a single mis-fire, making in remarkably consistent throughout. Ghosts storms through powerfully, but with that other-worldly keyboard motif complementing the pace. Playground brings down the tempo and has a typical Mitchell-style poignancy, seen in abundance on his Lonely Robot albums. Memory of Water picks up the tempo and adds grandiose instrumentation to the memorable lyrical lines before the stately elegance and melancholy of the wonderful title track (one of my all-time favourites, it never fails to bring a lump to the throat).

More overtly proggy, The Wind That Shakes the Barley pushes through memorably into the joyous exuberance of Great Disasters and the insanely catchy '80s pop vocal refrain that rapidly becomes an earworm that is difficult to lose! Fahreheit maintains the quality, but it is the emotional beauty and intimacy of For Safekeeping that lingers longest in the mind, and it is Mitchell's vocal highlight for me. No time to succumb to its pleasures for too long, though, as Lights crashes in with another melodic Mitchell guitar line augmented with Beck's layered keyboards. In any parallel universe where popular and musicianship go hand in hand, this would be top of the pop charts for weeks!

The epic This is England may well have been an attempt to mirror the Dunnery-era Once Around the World track, as well as push the long-form prog style to a greater extent. It is a very good track for sure, but never quite fulfils its remit or reaches the complex conclusion it deserves ? although repeated plays do reveal its undoubted charms. It is interesting that Mitchell reveals in the liner notes that the titles largely come from books lined in order on a shelf at his residence ? so my searching for hidden lyrical meaning over the years have been rather wasted!

The two bonus tracks from the original sessions, These Words and When I Fall are pleasant and bouncy enough, but don't particularly add to the album's gravitas ? which is why, no doubt, they were original outtakes. However, any 'new' It Bites material is always worth a listen and they are both steadily growing on me with repeated plays.

For many out there who still treasure the original releases, the question is whether purchasing the reissues is worth doing. I would say undoubtedly yes. The bonus tracks are fun, but it is the sonic upgrading and fresh sparkle and polish the albums exhibit which is the real bonus. Even with these old ears, I can see the benefits of the remastering process and the whole quality of the CD packaging (and vinyl versions), with new linear notes included, make these two reissues more than worthy of your pennies!

John Mitchell maintained the impetus from the It Bites reboot with the four wonderful Lonely Robot releases, but the rumours that another It Bites album could be released in the foreseeable future is an exciting prospect. His stunning musical interplay with John Beck remains clear to see, and hopefully the logistics (and the stars) align to allow the story to continue!

(Extract from The Progressive Aspect)

Squonk19 | 5/5 |


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