REVIEW: The Tangent – Songs From the Hard Shoulder

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To say that the British prog eccentrics, THE TANGENT, took me by surprise with their 2020 album Auto Reconnaissance would be an understatement. While I haven’t been a stranger to progressive rock since who knows when, these Brits had managed to fly under my radar up until that moment. Thus, I had not prepared to be so blown away by the sheer magnitude of the band’s ”The heck with the scripted prog formula” approach. Now, these prog ruffians are back with their twelfth studio offering, titled “Songs From the Hard Shoulder” – and it impressed me just as much. The album was released on June 10th, 2022, via InsideOut Music and it’s, once again, a cornucopia of mind-boggling musical diversity; the band’s primus motor, composer-singer-keyboardist Andy Tillison, leaves no stone unturned when crafting prog schlagers. On this new selection, the maestro commands his troops in every possible direction, layering the band’s signature symphonic prog sound with a good pinch of Canterbury fusion, Motown, and even the odd BEATLES-esque flavor. After a few spins, I feel tempted to say that the new outing is the band’s best effort so far. Oh, yes – it is by far their most spectacular everything-bagel to date. All but one of the album tracks clock in at more than 16 minutes, which may be a tad too much for the weak of heart, but for a true prog connoisseur, it simply denotes a genuine prog feast, especially, when every minute counts.

The album kicks off with “Changes,” an epic that develops from the somewhat yacht-rock-like and mellow STEELY DAN vibes of its first few minutes into a Canterbury-vibed funk-jazz workout over the course of 17 minutes. With the lyrical theme being isolation and alienation, not even the brief reciting of THE BEATLES classic “Eleanor Rigby” sounds out of place, let alone all the inspired, jazzed-up, and diabolically funky keyboard and guitar chops that dominate the myriad fusion passages. At times, I cannot avoid subtle Frank Zappa flashbacks even, although Tillison‘s modus operandi is more about virtuosic smoothness and very English dry wit rather than overindulgent prog mayhem and tongue-in-cheek potty humor. Apart from the knack for conjuring up sublime prog grooves stretching way over the 3-minute radio hit format, these two masterminds have one more thing in common: both Zappa and Tillison deliver their vocals in a somewhat laconic, overly sarcastic, and nonchalant half-spoken manner rather than by singing their heart out. It further pronounces the narrative feel of the lyrics, which in this band’s case deal with a bit more tangible everyday issues than dreams about being an Inuit named Nanook high on yellow snow crystals.

Next up, “GPS Vultures” is an instrumental prog assault, reprising themes from the song ”GPS Culture” from the band’s 2006 outing “A Place in the Queue.” It is yet another 17-minute epic that resonates by turns with the electric fusion sound of the 1970s and the vintage prog of the same era – and the unisono motif is nicely reminiscent of JAGA JAZZIST even. If the band can get away with triggering flashbacks of the early-1970s prog monoliths, “Bitches Brew”-era Miles Davis, as well as the haunting jazz ballet, “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady,” by Charles Mingus, within the time span of a single song, albeit a pretty damn long one, I would simply say, ”Shut up and take my money!”

The centerpiece of the album is the 21-minute epic, “The Lady Tied to the Lamp Post.” Lyrically, the song is Tillison‘s haunting account of meeting a homeless woman in Leeds. Musically, the composition is yet another kaleidoscope of proggy wonders, taking the listener on a rollercoaster ride from smooth, somewhat R&B-tinged realms to soaring jazz-funk heights. On this track, in particular, the band’s drummer, Steve Roberts, lays down grooves that could shame many a jazz-funk outfit. It’s one thing to sound funky with the basic four-to-the-floor beat and another thing completely to get funked up in the quintuple meter. The saxophone, flute, and guitar solos sound exceptionally sublime on this epic, as well. You might think that one 21-minute prog marathon a day is enough but with this beast, it is hard to resist the urge to put the song on repeat. Somewhere around the 17-minute mark, I couldn’t help noticing that the guitar riff, along with the tone, was nicely reminiscent of the trademark death-metal-come-vintage-prog onslaughts of the Swedish prog-juggernaut, OPETH. Need I say more? This album kicks some serious ass!

That said, the album brings things to a close with the Motown-styled, nothing short of feel-good-grooving and uplifting song, “Wasted Soul.” It creates a stark contrast after the prog overkill of the previous epic. Then again, it is nice to acknowledge that I am perhaps not the only one who could enjoy listening to THE SUPREMES right after a hefty vintage-prog marathon.

The album also comes with a bonus potpourri of a track, titled “In the Dead of Night / Tangential Aura / Reprise.” It is yet another 16-minute epic channeling the ghosts from the golden era of prog, by turns traversing the atmospheric terrain of bands such as PINK FLOYD and OZRIC TENTACLES and cutting through the thicker riff-vegetation reminiscent of, say, the “Close to the Edge”-era YES. If progressive rock is your cup of tea, especially the sort that is laced with a good pinch of Canterbury flavor, you know what to do; I’ll be damned if this album will not perform spectacularly well in the album of the year rankings by the end of 2022. Yes, as far as prog is concerned, this album IS that good!

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. The Changes
  2. The GPS Vultures
  3. The Lady Tied to the Lamp Post
  4. Wasted Soul
  5. In the Dead of Night / Tangential Aura / Reprise

Lineup

Andy Tillison – vocals, keyboards

Jonas Reingold – bass

Luke Machin – guitars, vocals

Steve Roberts – drums

Theo Travis – sax, flute

Label

InsideOut Music

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