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





3.83 | 494 ratings

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4 stars (9/10)

IQ burst onto the newly formed Neo-Prog scene in 1983, the same year that saw compatriots Marillion rise to fame. Whilst their debut album "Tales From The Lush Attic" didn't come quite as fully formed, didn't sell nearly as well, and wasn't as instantly iconic, there is a lot to enjoy, and in fact I consider this album to be quite underrated in the IQ discography. There is a sort of joyous ambition to the compositions here, the exciting sound of a young band full of ideas striving to make their mark.

All of what is good about this young IQ is encapsulated in the first track, "The Last Human Gateway". Coming in at nearly 20 minutes, I would call this the greatest Neo-Prog epic of the 80s. Full of dynamic keyboards, and with all the different parts fitting together really well, it made good use of the newer sounds available at the time, sort of an update on the classic epic born in the early 70s. A lot is packed into "The Last Human Gateway", from the first soft flute-like sounds to the glorious reprise near the end which frames everything so well. Shifting rhythms, passionate and varied vocals, the highly enjoyable keyboards, a bunch of weird noises at 13 minutes in. So much I can't possibly list it all!

One thing that has been pretty consistent through IQ's career is their ability to deliver appealing melodies whilst keeping the rhythm section complex, yet still catchy and accessible. You can hear this all over the album, and a good example is in "Awake And Nervous" where they have an almost Rush-like ability to make odd time signatures feel very natural (not that the music sounds anything like Rush, though). In my opinion, there really are only a handful of bands that pull this off so well.

Things get a little dark on the final song of the album, another long one, called "The Enemy Smacks". IQ start to develop some eerie atmospheres, and introduce a bit of aggression. At around the 5 minute mark the song descends into a quiet period of great tension, Peter Nicholls delivering the ominous lines "Here in my rocking-horse house//I keep the curtains drawn//Inside my little head//I hear them screaming out my name". Chilling!

However, I believe that Peter Nicholls was yet to fully realise his potential. In fact, right up to even the present day, his enigmatic voice has improved and matured with every IQ album. Here it can occasionally be a little scratchy and unsure, whereas nowadays there is so much more richness of melody and purity to his singing, and he sounds a lot more in command. A rare quality in a vocalist indeed. The same could be said of guitarist Mike Holmes. Whilst he has moments here where he really does shine, he is also yet to truly develop his own iconic style and the dynamic appeal of future compositions. But then this is only the start, at this point IQ had their whole career in front of them to blossom. For a debut this is outstanding, and whilst by Nicholls own admission, it was really their second release "The Wake" where they properly carved out their own identity as one of the classic Neo-Progressive bands, there is still a lot of it present here (that's not to say they ever gave up on their clearly symphonic influences though).

The occasionally rough (perhaps 'basic' would be a nicer choice of words) production can sometimes hold the songs back too. If you can, try to find a live version of "The Last Human Gateway". I was lucky enough to see them on one of their 30th anniversary shows (the first with new keyboardist Neil Durant) and they played it near the end. I was blown away by how much they improved it. The vocals were a lot more assured, and the guitar was better in particular, bolder and more prominent. They also greatly extended the majestic symphonic finale and it absolutely brought the house down. If they revisited the material now, (similar to what they did with "Seven Stories Into 98"), this would probably have been a 5 star release.

Breaking up the 3 longer tracks are two short (2 minute-ish) numbers: the fast and surprisingly catchy "Through The Corridors" with its rapid guitar picking; and the sarcastically named "My Baby Treats Me Right 'Cos I'm A Hard Lovin' Man All Night Long". I say sarcastically because it is in fact just a solo piano piece, about as far away from the title as you could expect. Perhaps it's a dig at the extremely generic lyrics of mainstream rock at the time, or just a personal joke. Either way it shows a charming sense of humour on the part of the band. These short songs are not a waste of space. "Through The Corridors" is very enjoyable, and "My Baby Treats Me Right 'Cos I'm A Hard Lovin' Man All Night Long" serves as a good introduction to "The Enemy Smacks". The two have become linked in my mind the same way "Horizons" and "Supper's Ready" are on "Foxtrot" by Genesis. In any case, both serve to pace the album well.

So there it is, an excellent first album from a band that even today is still developing. This is where it all began, and I think IQ can be very proud of this initial effort. Despite keyboardist Martin Orford's insistence that IQ were never 'Neo-Prog', I have to differ, and say this is one of the clearest examples of an early classic of the genre, and we should be thankful for excellent music like this keeping prog alive in the so-called 'dark ages'.

ScorchedFirth | 4/5 |


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