It’s always a highlight of the year when a new album is announced by seminal British proggers The Tangent. ‘Songs From The Hard Shoulder’ sees the venerable and much loved outfit, led by esteemed musician, and fellow Yorkshireman, Andy Tillison, releasing their 12th studio album and sees the band focusing almost entirely on their long format songs or “epics” with only one song being less than 16 minutes long.
I have been a long time fan of The Tangent and Andy’s topical, witty and often acerbic lyrics which are weaved into their unique, funky, flowing musical style and this latest release sees Andy on absolute top form, both as an exceedingly clever lyricist and an amazing musician. Andy is joined, once again, by a distinguished cast of fellow musicians with Jonas Reingold (bass), Luke Machin (guitar/vocals), Steve Roberts (drums) and Theo Travis (sax & flute) reprising their roles from the previous two The Tangent albums.
The Changes uses a mini story about The Tangekanic band in Germany trying to find a hotel after a gig they didn’t get paid for – after a week of rehearsal and a journey of about 900 miles as a focus. It’s almost a metaphor for all the lockdowns that the world had to suffer and all the isolation and uncertainty that everyone was feeling. The thing about this fantastic song is that it uses that background as a positive metaphor. Trust me, this upbeat and quite wondrous song will leave you smiling as it uses a huge dose of The Tangent’s positive mental attitude to deliver seventeen minutes of buoyant optimism that’s all wrapped up with Andy’s astute lyrics and a band on top form. The music is an utter delight and fits the theme and mood perfectly, there’s a wistful and contemplative note to the middle section of the song as Andy tells the story of the German gig perfectly. This epic track ebbs and flows superlatively and the closing section is one of the best bits of music that The Tangent have ever delivered, if it doesn’t leave you in a really good mood and with a huge grin on your face then I swear you can’t have a soul. It’s quite possibly the best long track that Andy has ever written, I love it!
Highly influenced by Swedish artists from the 70s like Bo Hansson, Flasket Brinner – and also by Andy’s go-to influences in Canterbury Style fusion like National Health, Supersister and Egg, Prog/Fusion romp GPS Vultures is another in the series of outstanding The Tangent instrumentals personified by tracks like Doctor Livingstone, Andalusian Skies and Music Inspired by Music Inspired by The Snow Goose. A long (again, seventeen minutes plus) instrumental piece has to be really good and pretty ingenious to hold the listener’s attention throughout the track and it comes as no surprise to find that this particular track is clever and inventive enough to keep you entertained from start to finish. It’s almost like a musical story, each individual section telling its own tale to perfection as it snakes its way through Canterbury style fusion to an almost Crimson and VDGG influenced improvisation, all with the band’s thoroughly modern interpretation. What’s evident from these first two tracks is how the musicians seamlessly work together and how Luke Machin is utterly on fire on the album, his style is simply perfect for this music.
The Lady Ties To A Lamp Post is a very sobering piece that returns to the theme of homelessness that Andy explored from a very short personal experience of that on the ‘Down & Out’ album. The “Lady” in question was a person that he encountered in Leeds on my way home from a Christmas party in 2012. Dressed in rescued council worker hi viz orange waterproofs repaired with Gaffa she was tying herself to the lamp post so that she could sleep upright without falling over. The temperature was in the low minus figures and the wind was biting like a Doberman. Andy had the briefest of conversations with her and only had cigarettes to give her. Andy treats the subject in a very sympathetic manner and, once again, the lyrics and fantastic music impress. I don’t know how they manage to do it but every note in this twenty minute song has its place, there is nothing superfluous and Andy’s vocal delivery, along with the intricate musicianship, is just right for this sobering tale. The skill of Theo Travis is well known and his sax playing adds a real sophisticated jazz influence throughout and Steve Roberts’ precision drum skills should be lauded in equal measure. This absorbing and impassioned epic shows Andy’s songwriting skills at their consummate best and is yet more proof that he is one of the best at this long form style of music, his keyboard skills, as evident here, aren’t too bad either!
The one short track on the album is the utterly sublime, soul infused and totally funky Wasted Soul and shows that, while The Tangent do the long form epic to perfection, the band can still rock with the best when it comes to catchy shorter songs too. Harmonised vocals, hammond organs galore and a brass section to die for, this song is like a total beacon of light and will have you rocking in the aisles (metaphorically speaking of course!), it’s uplifting and just, well, bloody good! Jonas’ bass playing is top notch throughout the album but, on this stellar track, he just shines.
Early editions of the album and the Vinyl Edition will include the bonus track In The Dead Of Night which is, of course, a cover version of the classic song by UK and the band give it a little dose of The Tangent magic to deliver a track that sounds as if it could have been written by them in the first place. A particular highlight is Luke’s ever impressive guitar playing and here he just seems to have been given free rein to deliver a lengthy solo that has you nodding furiously in appreciation.
I had a discussion with Andy about the new album and the one quote I will take from it is this; “There was a lot of hope in my heart when writing it (the album) and I think it forced its way through”.
‘Songs From The Hard Shoulder’ is just a wonderful piece of work, The Tangent at their brilliant best. People need some cheer in the world and music has the power to lift people, after just one listen to this amazing album I was smiling again. Andy and the band could just have released their most important record yet…
Released 10th June, 2022.
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