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IQ - Tales From The Lush Attic CD (album) cover





3.83 | 490 ratings

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5 stars Okay, close your eyes, relax your mind, and travel back in time.

It is 1983. Disco is finally dead, after having joined punk rock in helping "kill off" prog (for the most part) in the mid-70s. With the possible exceptions of Pink Floyd (who were still riding the success of The Wall in 1981), King Crimson (already deep into its "second wind" with Beat), and Rush (who had just released the marvelous Signals), any "prog" bands still extent (Genesis, Yes, Tull et al) had "gone commercial" in order to stay "viable." The predominant trend in commercial rock was the "80s sound," with cheeky synthesizers, simple studio tricks and flanged voices added to often minimalist chord progressions and simple arrangements. The only interesting new music to speak of was being made by "new wave" bands like Talking Heads.

And then.something happened. The unexpected emergence of a new prog "zeitgeist" occurred as if by magic. The Church, until then a straight-ahead (if good) rock band with only occasional prog inflections, released Sťance, a radical departure from their norm. (They would not release another truly proggish album for five years.) And two new bands - Marillion and IQ - both influenced largely by Genesis, released their debut albums, Script for a Jester's Tear and Tales From the Lush Attic, respectively. These two albums would go on to become among a precious few early masterpieces of what came to be called "neo-prog."

In reading the reviews of Tales, it seems that everyone has missed an important - indeed, critical - element of the album: notwithstanding the lack of some segues, Tales is a concept album from beginning to end. One need only read through the lyrics of the album, and listen carefully to the underlying musical themes, to see that there is a single continuous story being told. And although admittedly esoteric, that story has similarities to Genesis' "The Lamb."

Where The Lamb was (at least superficially) about two brothers, and the choice that one of them makes to save the other (even if it costs him his own life), Tales is (at least superficially) about a single person with two "sides," how and why those sides develop, and how the two sides fight each other for control. As well, the title of the first track (The Last Human Gateway, which is death) is an almost too-obvious reference to the similar "gateway" that Rael goes through (the "wall of death is lowered in Times Square"), and the title of the second track (Through the Corridors) is another almost too-obvious reference to the "corridors" referred to in "Carpet Crawlers." Given these and other similarities, while some reviewers made a connection between the 20- minute "Gateway" and epics such as Supper's Ready, I would make a far more radical statement: not content to simply "take on" Supper's Ready, Tales essentially "takes on" The Lamb - and succeeds beautifully on its own terms.

Although not nearly as lyrically or musically cohesive as The Lamb, Tales has all the right elements: esoteric lyrics; a mix of sweet balladic passages, heavily orchestrated progressive passages, and majestic, often exciting keyboard-dominated instrumental sections; unexpected dynamic changes; quickly shifting time signatures; interesting and well-used sound effects; and a no-holds-barred creativity that brings everything together in gestalt-like fashion - i.e., the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

As I have said before, in my opinion the success of any neo-prog band (and by that I mean any prog band that appeared after the nine or ten "seminal" bands, regardless of their subgenre) is determined by how well they channel their influences; i.e., whether they are simply "copying" (or, more annoyingly, ripping-off), or whether the result is something new, interesting and/or compelling. In IQ's case, despite the clear Genesis influence, Tales is not simply interesting, but completely compelling in its own right. And although Peter Nicholls' voice and approach are often unquestionably Gabriel-esque, you never get the sense that he is "imitating"; rather, he is simply applying the same sense of "dramatic flair" that Gabriel does - and he is good enough to carry it off without sounding foolish. (Indeed, over the years I have come to feel that Nicholls has one of the most beautifully expressive voices in prog.)

The album does have flaws. As noted, it is not as cohesive as it might have been. Indeed, there is a "joyful naivete" in its neophyte approach. And, as others have noted, it suffers a bit from inadequate production. [N.B. If this album had been as well-produced as Dark Matter, it would have been a monster, and possibly spoken about in the same breath with the classic concept masterpieces of prog.]

However, despite its few flaws - and despite the fact that it does not really measure up to such seminal classics as The Lamb, In The Court or Close to the Edge - I am giving it five stars - masterpiece status - for three reasons: its historic place in neo-prog; its unapologetic application of the "classic" approach to progressive composition; and the sheer creativity of its concept and execution. It thus joins Museo Rosenbach's "Zarathustra" and Spock's Beard's "The Light" as the only neo-prog debuts to which I have attributed masterpiece status.

For anyone truly interested in the history of prog, and particularly neo-prog, Tales is unquestionably a must-have album - besides being an absolute joy to listen to.

maani | 5/5 |


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