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The Tangent - A Place On The Shelf CD (album) cover


The Tangent


Eclectic Prog

4.17 | 43 ratings

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4 stars After "Down and Out In Paris and London" topped my personal choices for last year it was inevitable that this was going to become part of my collection. I missed the first release of "A Place On the Shelf" last year and was pleased that the band saw fit to make it available to more people. This, a mere album of otherwise discarded tracks and unfinished demos, seems likely to be one of my favourites of this year already.

"A Place on the Shelf" is marketed as "A special enthusisast's collection". It's nearly an hour long and there is only one track that I have heard before, this being another version of "Everyman's Forgotten Monday" which itself surfaced as a bonus track on the Paris and London album. This track was my least preferred on that album, and despite being preferable to the original remains my least preferred here too. And for the same reasons, it's a sort of Pink Floyd thing with an imitation Gilmour guitar solo and lots of swearing that belongs neither with the Floyd or the Tangent. Lead vocals (good ones) by Guy Manning on various parts of this song do little to enhance or rescue it, these being one of the main differences between the versions, and this version does seem to be slightly faster and therefore less ponderous. that's probably why I prefer it.

Happily, this is (once again) the only track to let down the set. The album kicks off with something I have always wanted to hear:

As a youth, I was always thrilled by the great prog bands' desire to play and reinterpret classical music. As such, ELP's "Pictures at an Exhibition" has been a lifelong favourite, along with many other shorter examples. I have since yearned for something similarly large scale, similarly ambitious, pretentious, portentous and horribly totally PROG. And here it is. The Tangent's version of "The Rite Of Spring" by Igor Stravinsky. Previously unreleased due to copyright, this track according to the sleeve notes formed the basis for a whole Tangent album which was to be called punnishously "Le Massacre De Prentemps". It seems that the band got half way, because the whole of the the first of two main sections of the piece are here, beginning and ending the album. The first section is entirely instrumental and sticks pretty much to the score of Stravinsky's original. It's not an imitation orchestra though. Imagine if ELP had done it in 1978 instead of recording some of the things they did record in 78! But add to that, that Canterbury sound which the Tangent have reintroduced to us all in the past few years and you have a really exciting piece that works so well in the small electric band's hands. The piece is melodically led by synthesisers, hammond organs and woodwind, driven along by a sparking and powerful, as well as uncredited rhythm section! Although some of the hammonds are a bit vicious in tone from time to time (this is an uncompleted recording after all) I found myself turning this into a strength by the third time of listening. A bit, perchance, like the horrible fuzzy guitar tones that make "20 Century Schizoid Man" so wonderful. Listening to this piece, presented in prog format now lets you see where pieces like "Schizoid" may well have found their inspirations!

The second half of the piece comes at the end of the album. Like ELP again, Tillison and his sidemen have decided to add song structures to the original piece with lyrics. Although it seems that the corresponding Stravinsky section is mostly "there", some of the themes have been turned to riffs, the voicings turned to dark power-chords and from these, the song has been grafted in. Typically, Andy Tillison has found something in the title "The Rite Of Spring" with which to inspire another spate of his complaints about our species' behaviour. In this case it appears to be a tirade against everyone decamping to the countryside on a nice hot summer's day armed with Range Rovers, barbecues, and "Cheap Gazebos". There are regrettably no lyrics provided with the package, but lines such as "Coming out like flies on the first hot day", "Ducks feast on the corners of white loaves", "Stella tins on the river-a-floatin'" are particularly well observed objects for his sarcastic dark humoured wrath. I realize that this is a reason many don't like Tillison or The Tangent (Hello Neil!!). To me though, it's part of the deal, part of prog's story, and Peter Gabriel would have written something similar. In fact he DID, but that was when prog had sharper teeth and the audience wanted to see them used. The Tangent still use theirs, as we will see in the other major part of this album "Live On Air".

On the whole I do prefer the more "original" first half of this excellent attempt at "The Rite Of Spring", but still think all of it is just, well, wonderful. I'd always wanted to hear how it would work, and here it is. I guess that perhaps the intrusion of the song in the second section probably breaks up a piece I am too familiar with, whereas when ELP plonked their bits into Mussorgsky I was young enough to probably not have realized, or more likely, more open minded!

"I wanna be a Chick" which doubtless is some reference to Return To Forever, is a pleasing and snappy little piece in a jazzy style with lots of piercing synth soloing and melodic figures, certainly reminiscent of the sound of the "No Mystery" album by the early RTF. Another homage, in much the same way as "The Canterbury Sequence" and "Ethanol Hatnail" pay tribute to the influences in the songs with the titles themselves.

Despite the successes of the tracks described above, it's the 20 minute epic "Live On Air" that is the real meat on the bone on this album. I'd be tempted to say that the Tangent goes where no-one else dares with this song, were it not for the fact that they openly declare that they didn't dare go there and that's why the track was not on (as originally intended) the album "Not As Good As The Book" and why it appears, quietly, here. It's particularly difficult to grasp what it's all about at first. It opens with a displaced guy in a bedsit flat looking out at the rain, feeling lonely and isolated and "writing an opus about his tiny past". Continuation perhaps of the "Full Gamut" love saga one might think. But just as the vampires suddenly take over what appeared to be a heist/outlaw/road movie in the film "From Dusk Til Dawn", we realize that there are terrorists in the flat next door, and that these are the very same who did the 7/7 tube bombings in London - (these people were from Leeds where Andy still lives). From this realization onward, the song goes through some remarkable twists and turns from more Stravinsky influenced orchestral stuff, through space rock, jazz, lampooning of James Bond and 24, terrorists singing in Russian accents, a totally unexpected RAP section ( believe me) a few (mainly American) radio comments of the day including one pundit suggesting that after a disaster like this is a good time to buy stocks and shares, and, wait for it, gasp, the actual final suicide speech of Siddique Khan himself, juxtaposed against an interview with Tillison! Jeez!

If all this sounds like the worst taste thing you ever heard of, think again. Think again a lot. Remember that this piece was withdrawn by the band to start with, and then analyze what you are hearing. Its elements of bad taste are, to these ears at least, specifically there to make you realize in just how bad taste the reporting and depiction of events such as these are. "Without us Mothers", sing the terrorists, "you ain't got no film". "They make entertainment of the horrors that it seems appear" sings the narrator, This whole song sums up our rubbernecking and macabre desire manifested through modern media. I think it's fair to say that the "Sun" and the "Daily Mail" would be disgusted. maybe I should send them a copy and get the band some free publicity.

"Live on Air" is no easy listen. The Tangent have delivered through the years a fair mix of "easy" and "difficult" music to listen to, the uplifting "Where Are They Now" and "Darkest Dreams" is stark contrast to "The Gap In The Night" , "The Full Gamut" and this tortuously complex affair, "Live On Air". I think they were right to shelve it. I can imagine a good part of a hemisphere not 'getting it'

The recordings made on this album are what are described as demos. There were days when recordings like this would have won Grammys. If this band can put out stuff like this as spare material, heaven knows what they still have to offer us. To my mind, the most exciting prog band in a decade, the new Van Der Graaf, the new Roy Harper, the new Yes and the new Billy Bragg all rolled into one, then ignored by everyone.

grimtim | 4/5 |


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