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It Bites - Map of the Past CD (album) cover


It Bites


Crossover Prog

3.73 | 167 ratings

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4 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. 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.

Map of the Past (2012) was released several years after The Tall Ships (see review), and whilst retaining the popular and accessible feel of that album, it is a more mainstream prog release with both complexity and shifting themes and also a general concept concerning a revisiting of the Mitchell's family past through photographs and memories and the role that fate and events stamp on our futures. The Edwardian period and the demands of the First World War on the common man are there in the atmosphere the album generates. It is an excellent, focused, album steeped in heavy melancholy and poignancy despite once again having some very catchy melodies, humour and insights throughout. Bass guitarist par excellence Lee Pomeroy joined for this release (Mitchell and Beck handled the bass duties on the previous album) and does a fine job, combining well with Bob Dalton rhythmically throughout the tracks.

The atmospheric Man in the Photograph starts the album and sets the wistful tone perfectly as the radio dialling reveals the sounds of the past, but then Wallflower powers in with a driving guitar riff followed up by keyboard runs to wake us up. Map of the Past is an uplifting and sincere return to the album concept, with another memorable lyrical theme. Clocks and Flag are fine precursors to one of the undoubted highlights of the album, the thunderous The Big Machine, with Dalton's drums kicking off full ensemble playing ? and setting an ominous tone that will be revisited before the end.

Cartoon Graveyard is unbearably catchy, from the gentle vocal introduction, the staccato guitar riffing, flowing keyboards and memorable sing-along chorus. There is even a touch of Supper's Ready keyboards and percussion towards the end for prog-heads to identify. However, the sombre, ironic tone returns for Send No Flowers with its sardonic lyrical edge, and the contemplative, but also highly melodic, Meadow and the Stream. The gradual sad, pensive sense of loss that has been building up is summed up by the epic, piano-led ballad The Last Escape, as our journey into the past takes in the sinking of the Titanic ? with not a dry eye in the house, supported by the brief words of Exit Song, rounding things off. Unlike The Tall Ships, where every song is very much a stand-alone effort, Map of the Past works best when listened to in one full sitting, in my view. As a result, its charms reveal themselves more slowly, but for many, maybe for longer.

Once again, the two bonus outtake tracks, Lighthouse and Come On, are nice additions rather than essential works, but the former flows pleasantly and the latter has some meaty and edgy swirling guitar and keyboards which should be prog-enough for any It Bites fan.

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 | 4/5 |


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