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Twelfth Night - Fact And Fiction  CD (album) cover

FACT AND FICTION

Twelfth Night

 

Neo-Prog

3.93 | 115 ratings

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4 stars Just Brilliant - but poorly remastered

Along with the earlier "Live at the Target" and the later "Live and let Live", "Fact and Fiction" forms the best portrait of so-called "Neo-Prog" in the 1980s. Imitated by many, including Pendragon and IQ, Twelfth Night drew from many influences, primarily, it would seem, Hackett/Genesis, but targetted themselves at the burgeoning New Wave Of British Heavy Metal - albeit right at the fringe. Note that Twelfth Night do not fit into the category of NWOBHM, but then, apart from neo-progressive rock, what other category is there for music like this? It's next to impossible to separate TN from punk in attitude - but there is very little in the music that is punk. Anyone approaching from a metal or punk perspective will be in for a shock - a truly open mind is required - especially to get through the budget production...

It's worth noting that this album was released in 1982 - the year before Marillion released "Script for a Jester's Tear", and the year after Diamond Head's "Living on Borrowed Time". Hackett/Genesis, it must be noted, is just a convenient handle. Twelfth Night's sound was incredibly original, and remains a challenge to get into, let alone indentify the source inspirations.

Easily on a par with Peter Hammill, Gabriel or Fish, Geoff Mann's biting social commentary puts the finger somewhat uncomfortably on the pulse - given that this was written in 1981, the relevance the lyrics maintain is quite staggering. Mann also had a superb ear for a melody, and a way of slotting in his tunes and words to the existing music in such a way that you would think that either the two were written together, or that the music had been written to fit the words. The proof that this is not the case lies in "Sequences", a fine 25-odd minute track that appears in its original instrumental form on "...Target", and with Mann on "Live and let Live".

Mann's vocal style is quite unique, and an acquired taste. Once you have acquired the taste, it is impossible to imagine the songs being sung by anyone else - although Andy Sears did try after Mann left. His lyrics are a little inconsistent, but on the whole are very intelligent and well thought out with just the odd rhyming clanger such as "This woman's place is in a home, society has judged - She does not fit official standards and they cannot be budged". If social commentary and home-spun philosophies are not your bag then you may find the lyrics annoying - but I have found that they do improve with age!

Fact and Fiction opens with "We Are Sane", a colourful 10-minute piece in 3 sections, with 2 "Files". These "Files" are spoken sections, which provide a unique contrast in texture - pre rap, one might observe. The opening "Te Dium" section is sung in a pseudo choirboy voice, adding irony, and the "We Are Sane" section opens with a short commentary before Geoff launches into one of the superb melodies that he was so good at. File #1 reflects the general Orwellian utopian obsession, which was very pertinent in the pre-1984 years and the continuing cold war. Britain was under Thatcher, and those who did not appreciate the good things she did tended to share the vision of a control-freak bent on bringing Orwell's warnings true. The "Chorus" of "We Are Sane" is incredibly powerful, and the through-composed music appears to freely flow through the next few sections in a blaze of colours from TNs unique pallette - the section following the second "File" is my favourite in this song, a driving concoction of arpeggiated chords and a strong melody, Geoff practically barking out the lyrics. 5/5

Human Being regresses slightly into early Genesis territory, but with TN's driving slant on the style. Geoff's solo voice opens the track uttering a warning to all those who would go against the system. In today's relatively free society it's sometimes hard to recall just what it was like in the UK in the early 1980s, but if you didn't just shut up and go along with it, your life could be made very hard. A sumptuous Genesis-derived riff pushes the verses to the gently flowing chorus - although this is not your simple verse-chorus structure. TN add their usual composed magic and produce a coherent piece of prog as any. 5/5

This City is just incredible, musically, although I'm not keen on the lyrics - which, it has to be said, are not bad - there are no rhymes, just Geoff's thoughts in a kind of verbal painting of a city in decline - just not to my taste. The music almost defies description, it is so beautiful. Just listen and enjoy! 4.5/5

World Without End is not remarkable in itself, but lends a nice musical interlude between the intensity of the sung tracks.

Fact and Fiction, the title track, begins with an infectious prog rhythm - straight 4/4, but broken up superbly to give the effect of a wierd time signature. As with "This City", the lyrics are pure poetry - there are no rhymes. Example;

TV is switched on the screen reveal a spokesperson adverts, politics, editing the real cheap words, money talks naming itself to be the key to Utopia, Cornucopia to a better world you go buy and buy

There is a chorus section of sorts which sends shivers down my spine - "Don't make me laugh!", which Geoff sings with absolute passion. 5/5

The Poet Sniffs a Flower is another necessary reflective breather, and was often used as the introduction to "Creepshow", as "Horizons" was an introduction to "Supper's Ready" on "Foxtrot". Creepshow is TN's second masterpiece after "Sequences", and again, you will find no cheesey rhymes in the poetry - I hesitate to use the word "lyrics". These are chilling words of sheer genius set to music to match. There are several stand-out sections in this piece; from "Amanda, so sad..." to "Amandahahahahaha!" is just inspired genius, and possibly inspired by Hammill, but clearly identifiable as TN. Next there is a fantastic pounding musical section following "anymore for any more? no!". Following that is the incredible section about Cyril Has-Or-Might-Have-Been, leading to another pounding! But my favourite is the next section about the mirror. I guess some might find it all very pretentious, but once you've got over the fact that these are better lyrics than Peter Gabriel EVER wrote, it's quite incredible. Geoff used to indroduce this piece live by saying "In this life you become what you want to be, and what you can't be bothered, not become." In short, this piece is an antidote to apathy, if used correctly. 5.5/5

Love Song is a gentle meditation - much required after the intensity of the previous 40 minutes or so.

In short, a perfectly rounded and dynamic album which goes slightly beyond plain "concept" album. Requires deep thought, open mind and repeated listenings infrequently over a period of, say, 70 years.

There is a wide range of dynamic and drama in the structures which throws TNs music beyond the prog that had gone before, and there is much that remains hidden until repeated listens reveal the inner glory of the incredible song structures. This is pure progressive prog at its finest - neo prog seems too much of a negative term to apply to it. However, it is distilled, and, like good single malt whisky, will not be to everyone's taste - especially for the first few listens. I have owned this album since its release in 1982, and every time I hear it, there is something new and rewarding about the experience - but because it is so condensed, it is not an album I would want to have on repeat.

The CD appears to have been remastered in a way that flattens out the bottom end, which is a shame, as the original production was never very strong in the first place due to Twelfth Night's reluctance to sign to a major label. Thus there is a slight amateurish charm in all of TN's recordings.

The range of textures on this album is quite incredible, and ultimately seem to serve Mann's lyrics although really, the two components are inseparable. "Fact and Fiction" is as much a coherent work of poetry as it is a musical masterpiece - so why do I not give it the full masterpiece rating?

I guess that most will buy the CD, which sounds quite flat in comparison to the original vinyl, and that is what I am reviewing here. It sounds like the remaining members of Twelfth Night tried to improve upon their masterpiece in the hope of bringing it up to date and making it sound contemporary. Some of the instruments seem to have been re-recorded, ie "Love Song" at the end. This latter now sounds like a throwaway afterthought, where before it was a fitting Camel-esque meditation which completed an incredibly dynamic concept album.

Utterly recommended despite the bad remastering - great music will always shine through poor production! 4 and a half stars - Essential for any collection of prog.

Certif1ed | 4/5 |

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