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Thinking Plague


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4 stars "In This Life" is THINKING PLAGUE's third album. Besides 7 new songs it also contains 2 old songs: a re-mix of "Moonsongs", released in it's originally version on an LP with the same name in 1987, and a re-mastering of "Possessed", originally released on Thinking Plague's debut LP "a Thinking Plague" in 1984. Tree of the musicians on this CD has been replaced between this CD and their most recent CD "In Extremis" (1998). Gone are Susanne Lewis (voice, guitar), Maria Moran (bass, guitar) and Lawrence Haugseth (clarinet), and the new ones are David Kerman (drums, percussion), Deborah Perry (voice) and David Willey (bass guitar, accordian). In my review of "In Extremis" I mentioned that THINKING PLAGUE had similarities to bands such as MAGMA, ESKATON and YES. This album has the same similarities and I can also add some KING CRIMSON to the reference. There's a lot of experimental freshness, musical geniality and craziness and you can listen to it repeatedly and always hearing new things. I also like the surreal cover painting by THINKING PLAGUE member Susanne Lewis. It really captures the spirit of their music. "In This Life" is close to the masterpiece "In Extremis" and I strongly recommend them both, but only if you want something different and if you're an adventurer in progressive rock. Because it isn't easy listening!

Report this review (#23875)
Posted Tuesday, March 2, 2004 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
2 stars Rarely have I been this disappointed with a group of the Cuneiform label stable. Thinking Plague is made from great musicians who apparently are very knowledgeable and gifted as is the standard at Cuneiform.

The trouble is that the Thinking Plague seems to be making complex music for the sake of making complex music (much like a certain artistic movement did Art for Art's sake), taking away all sense in the Musical Oeuvre (in terms of sense) but this does not mean that there is no creativity. One thing is certain, though: Bjork must've heard this band before starting her solo career because there are many elements present in this album and the earlier ones that one can detect throughout Bjork's career.

The people used to reading my reviews know that I enjoy listening to elaborated and dark/obscure stuffbut here,I think that Thinking Plague should only please progheads with an acute taste for non-sensical and difficult music. And I seem to rate myself out of that category....... This should warn you about this band.

Report this review (#23876)
Posted Wednesday, February 9, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars 'In This Life' is the 3rd album by Thinking Plague. In many ways this represents a crossroads in TP's career. Some components are ending now but on the other hand, new things are starting to happen. In a way, this was the last album for TP in their incarnation as a band during the 80's. A band in terms of a crew of people that create together, influence each other, fertilize each other's imaginations, live in the same place, rehearsing and performing together.

Later on,TP made two masterful works, one in the 90's, one in the 2000's, but somehow, this is not a band anymore, in the usual manner. Actually there were also line up changes in the 80's; indeed in the future there will still be a steady core of people in TP. Moreover, the successor album 'In Extremis' is also 'bandish' as well. However, it is not the same. I claim that in the 80's Thinking Plague was a true band, much more than afterwards. So this is the last chance to listen to TP as a band, in the traditional manner.

On the other hand, exciting things are beginning to happen. The compositions here are more consolidated than ever before, more mature, and less experimental (not that experimentation is that bad). According to any musical parameter that I know of, these are perfect compositions - and so beautiful. In addition to great melodies, intricate harmonies, well structures, and very complex rhythms, a serious effort has been made in the arrangements and the instrumentations. For now, each instrument gets its own line and could be listened to as a separate line, but all together they somehow combine in a peculiar way to create that unique TP sound. Above all those musical parameters, Mike Johnson appears as a true composer, who knows what he wants to say, and how to get his listeners there. This process will be wider, deeper and more refined in the coming years. Here is the start of this process.

However, Johnson is not alone in the compositions: vocalist Susanne Lewis has a significant contribution to the compositions in some melodies, and also one complete song of her own, 'The Guardian', a charming and catchy song. While I cannot be absolutely sure which melody line belongs to Johnson and which belongs to Lewis (although I have my own guesses), the overall result gains more accessibility in the melodies, and this is one parameter that turns this album into TP's most accessible album, and an excellent starting point to TP's discography.

Compared to the previous album 'Moonsongs', and also to the subsequent album, 'In Extremis', the atmosphere is calmer, mellower, and less extroverted. So this is a mellower album in between two strong, extroverted albums. In addition to the 'predictable' electric guitar, Mike Johnson has chosen to add a lot of acoustic guitars, and usually his guitar is angular, sharp, vivacious, but it also could be soft and sentimental. Another important element here is ethnic sounds and musical ideas, just one minute before everybody was doing that in the 90's. Sound and melodies from the Middle East and the Far East are mixed together with more Western attitudes, in a peculiar way.

I'll concentrate in the more 'Western' compositions, leaving the 'Eastern' ones to other reviewers: 'Run Amok' expresses very well the craziness of everyone's day, trying to wake up in the morning, manage to do everything and get through another busy day, and 'certainly I am aware that it is day, a day exactly like any other day' as Susanne Lewis claims (she wrote the lyrics for this album, which I appreciate as being of high standard and artistic although unfortunately I couldn't grasp it all). This song contains a simple, innocent melody, as opposed to 'crazy' lines of the other instruments, to emphasize the idea. Brilliant!

'Malaise' is dark, ominous , and mysterious, featuring a beautiful modern melody that emphasizes that 'modern' and 'beauty' are terms that does not necessarily contradict each other. This is my personal favorite from this album.

'Love' is the most 'progressive' composition here, in terms of style. 70's prog elements (YES? GENESIS? GENTLE GIANT? You name it.) along with virtuosic guitar phrases, soaring keyboards, moving melody with jazzy feel, and much more. join together in original and creative development to create one of the most powerful progressive compositions of the post 70's prog. a composition that is strongly anchored in the roots of progressive rock but sounds like no other 70's composition.

'Fountain of All Tears' is the closer, a rock song in steady 4/4 beat, feature accessible melody, great refrain, delightful acoustic guitars harmonies, deep and reverberant bass, and some TP twists here and there. What a wonderful way to end this album.

The relatively weak point of this album is concealed in the performance. Not that this TP line up does not contain utterly talented and creative people, as always, but compared to the 'In Extremis' line up or even to the 'Moonsongs' line up, this line up seems to be slightly inferior. Particular when it comes to vocalist Susanne Lewis. She has a pleasant voice, well pitched, and she could do some nice things with her vocals - but that is more or less all. These compositions definitely require better performance, mainly in vocals, which are a very important component here.

It's maybe unfair criticism, but knowing what the compositions will gain from great performance and great vocals, and listening to Susanne Lewis's performance leaves a sensation of miss out. On the contrary, her contribution to the album is very significant, and this album could not be what it is, without her involvement. However, to end this paragraph in a more positive way, I'll mention the woodwind man Mark Harris, who does most of the woodwinds, along with Lawrence Haugseth. This is his first performance in TP, and he will continue to contribute his unique feeling and sound, until nowadays. It's great to listen to him during his first performance in TP.

So overall, this is an excellent album. Compared to the previous and the subsequent albums, this one is less experimental, less powerful, more mature, and more accessible, featuring lot of ethnic elements, and it contains superb compositions. These properties make it the best place to start your TP journey. So, if you considered giving TP a try but somehow hesitated, you don't have to hesitate any longer with this album. If you already own one or more Thinking Plague CD's, well, you don't want to miss adding this one to your collection. In any case, I believe I could easily guarantee your pleasure.

Report this review (#156904)
Posted Friday, December 28, 2007 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
5 stars This would be vocalist Susanne Lewis' last album with the band. She would go on to guest on 5UU's "Hungers Teeth" several years later. What a talented lady though. She did the art work for the album cover, wrote almost all of the lyrics, played some guitar, accordion and violin besides singing. Bob Drake and Mike Johnson are the cornerstones of this band in creating the music as well as engineering and mixing the tunes. I was impressed by Maria Moran who plays a mean and in your face bass, and she's cute too. Lots of clarinet and keyboards here as well. I wasn't expecting this album to be so good. For me it's their best album. Sure it's challenging and complex but it's also melodic with some amazing tunes top to bottom.There is nothing average about any of the music here, it's all brilliant as far as i'm concerned.

"Lycanthrope" opens with strummed guitar as a full sound kicks in quickly. Nice bass and we get vocals before a minute. Incredible sound here. It settles after 1 1/2 minutes and this sounds amazing as well.That heavy rhythm kicks back in and you gotta love that chunky bass.Vocals are back. I'm just blown away by this opening number. "Run Amok" has this insane intro with vocals. It settles beck then picks back up.This is psychotic. It reminds me of UNIVERS ZERO when they play that uptempo and intricate music in that classical style. It settles back again to the end. "Malaise" is heavy, dark and slow moving with melancholic, almost spoken vocals. Great tune. "Organism (Version II)" opens with percussion sounds including tablas as well as guitar before it turns dark and eerie. By the way that's Fred Frith guesting on guitar at the beginning. It's building before 2 minutes then it settles back and the vocals join in. A change before 4 minutes as percussion comes back to the fore. It turns heavy and vocals return as the music continues to twist and turn until that relentless percussion returns right to the end.

"Love" is a heavy mid paced track with vocals. Great sound 5 minutes in and I like the way the song ends too. "The Guardian" is one of my favourites.There's an ethnic vibe her with violins and vocals standing out.This just sounds so good and i'm actually rocking out to it as well (haha). "Fountain Of All Tears" is another amazing track.The sound builds and we get some deep bass sounds here.Vocals after 1 1/2 minutes. Love the vocal melodies and that catchy rhythm late. Interesting that Bob is on bass here and Maria is on electric guitar.

This album is just an incredible feast for the ears with all that lights out instrumental work.This is my favourite recording from the band.The two bonus tracks from earlier in their careers is a nice touch as well.

Report this review (#450192)
Posted Friday, May 20, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is a very engaging album, that, to my mind, is a bit underrated...

There is a rather dry production, which is usual for Thinking Plague... The vocal performance is adequate to exceptional... The vocals are in the mix as another instrument.... Compared to the later Thinking Plague albums this one is not as 'out there'/modern classical, nor is it as 'noisy' as the first two records...

This album achieves a nice compromise and as such it definitely figures as a transitional record for the band... In Extremis seems both much more compositionally dense and inaccessible/left field(though it is far preferred judging by the reviews on this site)-from whence springs the oft-repeated judgment that this record is 'indie-rock'-ish... I don't think that's a fair estimation (if it's meant in the sense that this is 'dumbed-down', because it is not)...

Some very catchy and atmospheric tracks-often simultaneously... highly recommended avant prog album

the tracks 'Fountain of all Tears' and 'Possessed' create a nice continuum on the second half of the record-these tracks are the highlights for me and they lead into the last two, strangely-titled, tracks 'htrsw' and 'htrqw' which are rather ambient and jammy

I believe this is available as a digital download... I also recently heard Chris Cutler has some copies at ReR

Report this review (#774173)
Posted Tuesday, June 19, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars Thinking Plague's In This Life finds the band following the precedent set by the Henry Cow/Art Bears/News From Babel dynasty. Blessed with the intriguing vocals of Susanne Lewis, who would part ways from the group after this release, I am particularly reminded of the Art Bears side of the equation, since Thinking Plague also seem to be seeking a balance between structured songwriting and avant-garde soundscapes this time around. It has a somewhat different vibe from In Extremis, most likely because of the personnel changes between the two releases, but it's a strong and credible release from an earlier era of the Plague.
Report this review (#1014683)
Posted Friday, August 9, 2013 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
Honorary Reviewer
4 stars Reissued as a remastered edition in 2015, 'In This Life' is not merely a fascinating album of extraordinary rock-based songs. It is a landmark recording in the life of one of America's most distinctive bands and in the international spread of Rock in Opposition-style sophisticated post-rock. Recorded in 1988-89 by Denver-based Thinking Plague, one of the most esteemed and longstanding American avant-progressive ensembles, 'In This Life' marked Thinking Plague's stylistic coming-of-age. The band had recorded two earlier albums in the years since its 1982 co-founding by Mike Johnson and Bob Drake: those early works brought Thinking Plague national "underground" acclaim. But the line-up responsible for In This Life, with Mike Johnson handling composition and Susanne Lewis supplying lyrics and vocals, proved to be the early group's ideal creative brew. It was originally released on Recommended Records (ReR), the London-based label run by Chris Cutler, founder of the Rock in Opposition movement and member of renowned band Henry Cow. One track on the album featured a guest appearance by Fred Frith, the legendary Henry Cow/Art Bears guitarist. It became ReR's first-ever release on the then-radically-new format of CD - a format that simplified the disc's international distribution.

Even now, all these years on from when it was originally released, this is in many ways quite a frightening and disturbing album, almost as if Art Zoyd have gone to another level and have then brought in a female singer who is totally at odds with what else is going on musically behind her. This was never meant to be an album that was easy to listen to, and with its discordant melodies and other worldliness, is one that will repel far more people than would ever listen to it. It is off key, it is controlled, it is anarchic, yet for me is also deeply compelling. It isn't an album that I will ever play a great deal, but I find myself drawn back to it time and again. This isn't music for a large audience on a bright sunny day, but is to be enjoyed in the night, when nothing else will suffice. RIO doesn't get much more inventive and important as this.

Report this review (#1704653)
Posted Friday, March 24, 2017 | Review Permalink

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