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IQ - Subterranea: The Concert CD (album) cover





4.22 | 83 ratings

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5 stars In My Not So Humble Opinion:

"Subterranea: The Concert" by IQ is one of the best live concept double albums of the past twenty years.

Ok, I realize that was a bit specific, though I'm certain there are other ones to compare it to . . . I just can't think of any at the moment.

So, after I picked up "The Seventh House" I read more about IQ on here and was immediately intrigued by the concept behind Subterranea. A man is locked in a dungeon with no contact from the beginning of his life until the beginning of the CD, at which point his cave is opened without explanation. 'Huh', I thought to myself, this is a new story. So shortly thereafter, I ran out to one of my local used CD stores and lo and behold, I found the live version of "Subterranea". I was only slightly bummed as I typically prefer studio versions, but beggars couldn't be choosers. Well, the CD was amazing enough to spur my love of IQ and as it turns out, I enjoy the mix on the live version better than the studio version. So, as I'm writing this, I'm listening to the playlist on my computer and here's what I started to write.

"The mix for the concert is pretty good, I'd give the mix an eight out of ten with points being knocked off as the lower end is a little muddled. I'm not complaining, it's just not perfect."

As I wrote that, I thought that I had never noticed how muddled it sounded, I waved it off assuming that I was just being more critical, until one of the points where I expected to hear the audience and I only heard silence. I was actually listening to the studio version. Oops.

The mix for this concert is fantastic. In general the drums and Peter Nichols voice are both clarified with a bit of well needed reverb, as such they sound much better on the live recording. With only three exceptions, every song on the live version is faster than the studio recording. This was a conscious decision as the programming on the drum machine for "The Narrow Margin" had to have been set to play at a faster tempo. The faster tempo and included crowd noise adds to the energy of the CD.

One of the first big improvements was the Michael Holmes guitar lick at the three thirty three mark of "Overture". The lick in the live recording is one of the most powerful moments of the first disc mostly due to the vastly improved guitar tone. Shortly thereafter, in "Provider" Peter Nichols makes his entrance with the chilling question, "Are you inside, Provider or am I", this is the first of many goosebump worthy moments of the concert.

The increase in tempo of "Subterranea" is an energetic improvement to the feel of the song, turning a decent song into a great one, highlighted by the vastly improved sound of Paul Cook's drums. The energy continues with "Sleepless Incidental" and on into "Failsafe", another of my personal favorites; keep your ear out for the previously mentioned Michael Holmes guitar lick at about the six minute mark. Again, the improvement of the guitar tone at the concert is apparent. "Speak My Name" is not one of my favorite tracks on the CD, but again, Peter Nichols' voice is both more up front and softer in the live version which is a vast improvement.

In "Tunnel Vision" Martin Orford plays a beautiful mood piece / solo at the five minute mark. For the studio recording, he initially used an organ that gradually fades to bells. For the concert, the organ was dropped allowing the bells to shine beautifully from the beginning of the section onward. This brings on another batch of goosebumps.

"Infernal Chorus" shows Martin Orford can play a blistering solo a la Jordan Rudess when he wants to. The increase in tempo on "King of Fools" really works with the audience clapping along only adding to the energy. "The Sense of Sanity" is the first of three almost Clive Nolanesque pieces, reminiscent of the 'Crying for Help' series of songs, only with Peter Nichols. Finally disc one ends with the rocking instrumental, "State of Mine".

Disc 2 starts with the second atmospheric keyboard interlude, "Laid Low", it's a hauntingly beautiful piano ballad by Mr. Orford with Mr. Holmes adding to the atmosphere as his guitar cries along. "Breathtaker" is a solid rocker, in the same vein of "Tunnel Vision"; keep an ear out for a precursor of "The Narrow Margin" at about the three minute mark.

"Capricorn" is the first of three songs that are at roughly the same tempo as the studio recording. Personally, the Ian Bairnson (The Alan Parson's Project) sounding guitar at the beginning of the song really starts it off on the right foot. "The Other Side" is the third of the atmospheric Orford pieces and the second song at the same tempo as the studio recording. This is a haunting and beautiful piece. "Unsolid Ground", "Somewhere In Time" and "High Waters" are kind of like an avalanche, they all begin and continue the momentum downhill leading up to the last track. One point of note, "Somewhere In Time" is the third and final track played at the same tempo as the studio recording.

Finally, we get to "The Narrow Margin" which is in the top two of my favorite IQ songs. As I've mentioned previously, the added energy of the higher tempo really adds a new edge to this song. Another goosebump moment comes at the very beginning of the song, the drum machine drones on it's electronic beat and I get chills, I can only assume it's anticipation of the next twenty minutes of bliss because the beat itself is relatively nondescript. Every time Peter Nichols cries out, "Don't know where I know you from", the added reverb of the concert just pierces through me leaving a sense of sadness as I experience the loneliness of the main character. John Jowitt and Paul Cook are at their best beginning just before the nine minute mark driving the earlier sadness away with a frenzy of energy until the maddeningly intricate rhythm just before the ten minute mark. The ten minute mark is pure goosebumps for me as Martin Orford does, arguably, his finest work playing a rhythm that continues to spin around the straight time kept by Misters Cook and Jowett. In the midst of this chaos Peter Nichols sings of the mass murder of his brethren. Chills I tell you, Chills! Again, Misters Jowitt and Holmes bring us out of the misery into another extended instrumental section with Paul Cook shining behind the band. Finally, the big ending hits, Peter Nichols sings his heart out, bemoaning the life that he was forced to experience. Finally, the rhythm section drops out allowing Peter Nichols to take the center stage one last time with the most beautiful and heart rendering part of the entire CD. The main character, bitter at having love and then loosing it retreats to his hole, asking one last time, "Provider, are you inside or am I?" before sliding the grate back over his cave, locking the real world out. In the right mood, it can bring a tear to this cynic's eye.

All in all, "Subterranea" is an amazing album and "The Narrow Margin is one of the most emotional pieces of music written in recent times. The concert recorded on these discs captures the emotion and energy of the piece better than the studio recording. This one is a no brainer, five stars.

Roland113 | 5/5 |


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