19 November 2009

CD REVIEW: The Tangent, Down and out in PARIS and LONDON (I/O, 2009)

I’ve been a bit of a Tangent fan for a while now…since the release of A Place in the Queue, really. While I enjoyed the previous two released, I really think the band began to soar once Roine Stolt left the group. This doesn’t mean he was a drag on the sound, but I do think that the Tangent really came into their own once he decided to refocus his energies on his own projects. Andy Tillison and Guy Manning are incredibly strong songwriters with unique voices (vocally and songwriting wise), and having the full canvas to work with has allowed them to soar nicely.

Not as Good as the Book, the band’s second release sans Stolt, only exemplified and enhanced this perception. For me, it was the right album at the right time, and so much of it hit home in ways most personal that at times it felt the songs were written for me or about me (or rather, things I was going through). Coming out the other side now, I think it might be fair to say that due to the intense personal nature of that release, reviewing Down and Out in Paris and London would be, as they call it, a sticky wicket. And it’s true…that previous release is still so personal that in many ways it towers over this new album in ways that make it such that there’s just no way to be fully objective.

At the same time, DAOIPAL is an incredibly strong release. There’s nary a dull moment throughout the roughly 60 minutes of music enclosed on the polycarbonite disc or digital bits that you hopefully legally downloaded and paid the artists for. While some of the faces have changed, this is definitely a Tangent album from first note to last. Tillison’s songs are every bit as strong as ever…and while Manning and Tillison’s voices are still the acquired taste they always have been (a taste that I have seemed to find enjoyment in), they are totally suitable for the songs.

Highlights abound throughout the release…I am particularly enamoured of the wonderfully bluesy solo in “Perdu Dans Paris,” while the devoted Canterbury nut that resides in a certain portion of my frontal lobes dances with glee at “Ethanol Hat Nail,” the second part of Tillison’s Canterbury sequence. It’s nice to see that very British sound still alive and well in progressive music, and while I do rather wish it’d play a larger role in the Tangent’s music, I’ll take what I can get. “Paroxetine - 20mg,” from what I have read, is a song that deals with the rather acquisational side of music fans…in a world where just about every recorded bit of sound is at our fingertips either legally or somewhat less than, how much can we really value any of it? Is it still art, and something precious, or is it just ‘stuff’ to fill up shelves or more likely hard drives and iPods?

(for the record and the curious, Paroxetine is the clinical name for medication that is typically branded under the name Paxil, among others, and is prescribed for a bevy of emotional disorders, including obsessive-compulsive behavious. As such, the title is frighteningly appropriate, though it does lead to a few other questions…)

Theo Travis shines on “The Company Car,” with some harsh and dirty sax work echoing vocal work throughout. And I’d be remiss to not say anything about the 19-plus minute epic opening track “Where are They Now?” I’m sure that’s a question fans are asking of Jamie Salazar or Jakko Jakszyk or Jonas Reingold or Krister Jonsson, but as far as Tangent epics go, this one rates.

This is the first Tangent album to feature a wholly English lineup; Tillison and Manning are joined by Jonathan Barrett (bass) and Paul Burgess (drums), who has been a member officially of 10cc, Jethro Tull, Camel,and a number of other bands. Theo Travis maintains his association with the Tangent on sax and flute, while Jakko does make a few guest appearances throughout. I think that in some ways this is the most band-oriented release the Tangent has crafted to date…everything seems to lock in just a bit tighter, the music feels just a bit more organic, and the flow is just that little bit smoother. While the emotional highs aren’t as intense as those on NAGATB, the overall result is a release Tillison and his compatriots should be intensely proud of. Down and Out in Paris and London rewards repeated listens with a surprising amount of depth and nuance to enjoy.

"Where Are They Now?" – 19:10

"Paroxetine - 20mg" – 7:47

"Perdu Dans Paris" – 11:47

"The Company Car" – 6:23

"Ethanol Hat Nail (Canterbury Sequence Vol. 2)" – 12:55


Andy Tillison – keyboards, guitars and vocals

Guy Manning – acoustic instruments and vocals

Jonathan Barrett – bass guitar

Paul Burgess – drums

Theo Travis – saxophone and flute

Special guest:

Jakko Jakszyk – lead guitar


Anonymous said...

Just a few comments, since I am a little familiar with The Tangent: I have heard some of their earlier CDs, and I also like The Flower Kings, Kaipa, and more recently Karmakanic; then, I now hear there's a new group with Jonas and Roine called Agents of Mercy.
I was going to go see Agents / Karma in Detroit but couldn't afford it. Did anyone get to see that show? And, good/bad?
I really don't like Roine's voice that much, so I wish I could hear more of the Tangent from your writing highly of them.
Bill, if you don't mind one personal question: How do you get access to so much good music?
Anyway, hope I'm not posting too much ...
PS. Have you heard any new TransAtlantic or the Agents of Mercy? Good/bad?
PS. I see that the music talks to you, it is healing sometimes for me ...

Bill K. said...

I do like Roine's voice...it has a bit of Wetton in it, which I actually prefer to Hasse's voice (tho his is good as well...they work well in TFK).

In answer to your question...I buy a lot, but I also have contacts at several labels and PR firms. Above and beyond that there are a number of bands where I do have good communication. Basically, if I have reviewed a release, it is because I have purchased a copy or received a legal copy from the artist/label...no illicit downloads for me in this blog!

I have heard the new TA, and I'll post some thoughts at some point. It is not as high a priority as other releases.

Finally...music is more than an auditory experience for me. It is visual, tactile, and more.