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IQ - Frequency CD (album) cover

FREQUENCY

IQ

 

Neo-Prog

4.10 | 893 ratings

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Gallifrey
5 stars Aged But Not Tired

People regularly gush over this classic band or that about how after 30 years, they can still release a solid album. I mean it happens every bloody time we have a reunion album that isn't complete trash (since most of them are). But honestly, what impresses me more is that a band can not only stay active for 30 years and release consistent material, but improve each time an album is released, to the point when this, their best album, comes 26 years after their debut.

I have a feeling that my love for IQ's Frequency comes a bit down to my Theory of First Impressions (which I would like to go in depth into sometime, but not in this review), but in my opinion, although IQ have a handful of very strong albums, Frequency stands head-and-shoulders above all of them. The album is their most consistent and inventive, containing a large number of their best melodies and ideas, keeping the traditional sound of IQ alive, while simultaneously bringing both that sound, as well as neo-prog as a genre, to the 21st century in its execution and production.

To get straight in to this, I have to start with the obvious ? the title track of Frequency is the greatest thing IQ have ever done and is one of the best progressive rock songs of all time.

It's just one of those songs that I hold amongst the elite ? a song with nearly no flaws, with multiple intertwining melodies that are all equally brilliant, and with the most perfect sense of direction and structure. For me, it's nearly the perfect example of how to construct an 8-minute song without sounding boring for even a second. Of course, as a seasoned progressive rock fan, 8 minutes is hardly a marathon, but even then I am still impressed by how this track runs through so many fantastic melodies and riffs and yet never truly feels its length. Everything in the song is so perfectly balanced and placed - from the brooding and slow opening, with the first couple of verses sung softly over that wonderful motif, to the shuddering climax, with Peter Nicholls delivering the final punching line "...but I don't remember now where I should be. Find me where you don't believe me."

I love the way the intro motif is reprised here of sorts - even though the time signature has shifted from 4/4 to 7/8. 7/8 is regularly considered a bit of a jokish "PRAGUE RAWK" time signature, especially when done with synthesisers at a quick tempo, but the second half of this song contains some of the best use of septuple meter that I have ever heard, using its skipped beat to create an unparalleled feeling of intensity and quick pace. The synthesiser version of the lead motif that comes in just before the climax is honestly one of my favourite melodies these guys have come up with, done with true neo-prog flair with the tone on the synth. But it's not the only fantastic one here. I absolutely love the melody in the midsection - "Now, as a final fire climbs into the senile spire?", as well as the lead melody in the first verses, yet none of them really feel underdeveloped or out of place. This song essentially has multiple choruses that it just keeps building up to until that climax. I'll admit, I think the final section could have been developed a bit more, since it also contains a wonderful melody, but it does an excellent job of reprising the opening bassline, as well as transitioning into the next track.

The next track, "Life Support" is my other favourite from this album, although I don't love it nearly as much as the title track. It's a far simpler song, focusing on one rather beautiful melody as opposed to the four or five different ones the title track went through. I really like the piano chord progression under the first few minutes, it creates such a sweet and introspective vibe under the rather solemn lyrics. But about halfway through, the song dissolves into full prog mode, breaking out the guitar and synth solo battles in the numbers, but somehow manages to keep itself glued to the ground - the solos somehow never seem too long or too wanky, which is honestly a feat in this style of prog.

Of the rest of the album - I have to admit that it isn't nearly as good as the first two tracks. I have a feeling that this may be part of the reason I do love this album so much - I would always come to hear the first two, and stay for the rest of the record out of obligation to finish it. And in those many listens, I learnt to love every part of this album, the way you do when you hear something enough, although I still think it is slightly disappointing compared to the start. The two following tracks, "Stronger Than Friction" and "One Fatal Mistake" essentially form one suite, with the two songs transitioning smoothly together in a wonderful way. But although I enjoy them, these two are nothing more than "pretty nice, with some good moments". I particularly like the chorus of Stronger Than Friction, as well as the introspective mood on One Fatal Mistake, but these songs really don't serve up all too much on their own.

The album really gets back into stride with "Ryker Skies", a dark and brooding epic, pointing at the more sinister side of IQ's music for a lot of its length. The song begins fantastically, moving from a dark and ominous synth glow, to the rather intense and angry pre-chorus to the epic and rising chorus. The song keeps a great tone and mood for the majority of its time, with Nicholls bringing out some of his punchiest and tightest vocal lines yet. I'll admit, the song still isn't perfect - I'm not a fan at all of the Hammond organ appearances (although when am I ever a fan of that stupid instrument), even if the fantastic synth tones make up for it, and I honestly think the song's fade-out ending is weak and ruins the flow of the record, especially since the previous tracks had all had fantastic transitions.

But the album really comes back with the final two tracks, which would be amongst my favourite IQ songs, even though they still fall short of this album's opening pair. "The Province" makes up for everything "Stronger Than Friction" didn't do in being the album's epic, calling back to the title track both in the way the song runs through many melodies and in a literal sense with the reprise of Frequency's opening melody near the end. I still believe this song could have been a bit better, but in terms of an epic way to finish, it does a great job, and "Closer" (the most incredibly titled album closer ever) does an even better job of being the aftermath. The song has such a pleasant and happy mood, feeling completely like a finish, and reminding me the most of another classic IQ closer, "Guiding Light" from 2000's The Seventh House in its tone. The melody that the song holds is incredibly beautiful, especially during the final couple of minutes, and it does make the album feel complete with its perfect finishing touches.

Frequency is not a perfect album, but it is also the only IQ album in my knowledge without any weak tracks, and the only album with a song as impressive and phenomenal as the title track. A small dip in the middle does bring the album down a bit, but the melodies and performances here are the best IQ have ever done, a true feat for a band this far into their career. This is not just an impressive album from a band who have been at it for 25 years, this is generally an incredible album, and IQ are pretty much the only band I know of who still sound fresh and exciting now, whilst not really changing their sound all too much. The definitive IQ record, and certainly the best neo-prog album that isn't Marillion.

8.7

Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog

Gallifrey | 5/5 |

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