Hot on the heels of the wonderful ‘Time Machine’, Scottish prog mainstays Comedy Of Errors return with ‘Threnody For A Dead Queen’. I was intrigued as to whether the band had most of these songs already in the bag as it’s less than a year since the release of the aforementioned ‘Time Machine’.
I asked main songwriter and keyboard guru Jim Johnstone and this was his reply;
“Usually the songs appear at least a year after being written( often more). I have a reservoir of themes, motifs and scraps built up over many years as well as more recent new material. Sometimes in the moment the planets align and the idea comes. I use everything most relevant and appropriate and reject others and feverishly develop these ideas.
In this album musical ideas appear and recur in different forms across the album as is appropriate to the concept as a whole. The band members all contribute to the arrangement and individuality of the parts in the creation of something hopefully unique.”
The album immediately grabs you with it’s superb artwork and Jim explained more about that too:
“Up to the previous album I worked with Steve Moffit who did the graphics for the ideas I had for the cover. After Steve passed away, Hew Montgomery took over half way through the last album and for all of this album. Both were extremely patient in translating the ideas for the cover and all the subsequent tweaks ! The cover is important as far as meaning and relevance to the songs/concept. It is never something arbitrary.”
The album is made up of three extended tracks, ‘epics’ if you like and then some shorter linking pieces and opens with the first two of the longer pieces. The wonderfully evocative Summer Lies Beyond opens with an ethereal, languid instrumental session of shimmering music before Jim’s harpsichord like keyboard blends in with some hushed vocals. Comedy Of Errors have always had a unique sound and you this album is nothing different, although this song seems to be more wistful and nostalgic in feel. It builds in a genuinely fascinating fashion as Mark Spalding’s gorgeous guitar and Joe Cairney’s distinctive vocal join the proceedings. A classic Comedy Of Errors epic is always a musical journey of reflection and this track is no different. There is a more laid back feel running throughout which makes for a very reflective listening experience as this beautiful track meanders through your psyche like a stream descending from the mountains and through the wooded vales.
The Seventh Seal is another lengthy musical odyssey but this is more in keeping with the fast paced, up beat music that many Comedy of Errors fans will be accustomed to. Bruce Levick’s dynamic drums, John (the Funk) Fitzgerald’s vibrant bass bass and Jim’s spiralling keyboards combine with the elegant guitar to give an effusive, energetic vibe to the music and , again, a track that could only come from Comedy Of Error’s extensive canon. Joe’s vocal is very precise and descriptive and adds the required authoritarian tone to this rather excellent piece of music. You can’t pigeonhole this unique band but if you imagine Scottish neo-prog combined with a bit of folk and an almost medieval edge then you’d be on the right track, I think! And another shout out to Mark Spalding whose guitar playing on this track is just incredible!
I also asked Jim about the concept/ story behind the album and this is what he said;
“The reasons behind the story are very personal. In the detail they will remain so. However generally speaking there were certainly other influences which were significant. The 14th century anonymous poem ‘Pearl’ ( although not quoted on the album), and fifties film ‘The Seventh Seal’ were major influences for the ideas I wanted to convey.
As the concept for the whole album grew it seemed that ‘Death’ would be the underlying factor. Not just the pain and grief of it but how we can triumph over it, not just in life, but beyond.”
So, there you go, very mysterious and intriguing and also, very good indeed, this album is begin to look like it could be one of the band’s very best.
We then come to a section of three of the very short (well, when you’re talking prog they are!) pieces that are almost like an interlude. We Are Such As Dreams Are Made Of is a contemplative and thoughtful instrumental that is soothing for the soul and rather upbeat and optimistic in its outlook. Jane (Came Out Of The Blue) is like a Mike Oldfield track (think Moonlight Shadow) delivered with the band’s typical Caledonian burr. A graceful track that has warmth and spirit deep in its soul. Another exquisite instrumental, Through The Veil has a more melancholy feel, a delicate sparseness and gossamer like fragility that bleeds emotion and empathy.
Title track Threnody For A Dead Queen is another long piece where the band show, once again, they are masters of the intricacies of progressive rock. Anyone can write a twelve minute prog track but not everyone can write a song of that length that can hold your attention throughout as it plays through its varying stages, ebbing and flowing from the delicate and entwined through to the emotive and passionate. This absorbing track blends elements of the Canterbury scene with 70’s Genesis and early Krautrock to give a mind-expanding soundscape that is hypnotic, mesmerising and very soothing. As we near the end of this cosmic song Mark’s stirring guitar heralds the entrance of Joe’s powerful and uplifting vocal to take us to a rather ardent and poignant close underpinned by a rather impressive guitar solo.
The album finishes with another two shorter pieces, And Our Little Life Is Rounded With A Sleep has a somber and pensive feeling throughout, a yearning and feeling of loss deep at its core and Funeral Dance closes out the album on a more upbeat note with its 80’s neo-prog underpinnings and heraldic feel to the keyboards, like a Scottish jig updated for the modern age and a rather good one at that!
‘Threnody For A Dead Queen’ is Comedy Of Errors at their very, very best, the music builds, almost as if alive, it has moods and emotions and captivates from the very first note. This band just get better and better with each wonderful album they create and, without exception, this release is up there with the very best of the year so far. Hell, in my opinion, it is Comedy Of Errors’ best yet, their Magnum Opus if you like and you should just go out and buy it!
Released 2nd June, 2023.
Order the CD direct from the band here:
Order the mp3 from bandcamp here: