“Human spirit is the ability to face the uncertainty of the future with curiosity and optimism. It is the belief that problems can be solved, differences resolved. It is a type of confidence. And it is fragile. It can be blackened by fear, and superstition….” – Bernard Beckett.
“It’s not so much the journey that’s important; as is the way that we treat those we encounter and those around us, along the way.” – Jeremy Aldana.
To me, the beauty of music is the way it can tell a story, heartwarming or heartbreaking, it doesn’t matter. The best albums take you on a musical and spiritual journey, one that will, hopefully, leave you in a better place than when you started.
The journey isn’t always easy, there will be highs and lows, moments of sheer ecstasy and moments of utter despair. It is becoming a rare ability to write and perform songs that can move you emotionally and make a difference to your life and I spend most of my days searching for that scarce and rarefied commodity.
Recently I was the lucky recipient of the latest album from the esteemed Scottish progressive band Comedy of Errors and it promised to be one of those rare beasts, a work of music that would be challenging yet profound and, ultimately, life affirming.
‘Spirit’ is the band’s most musically ambitious album so far, representing a major step forward in the band’s development, dealing with themes of grief, loss and ultimately, hope. The cornerstone of the album is a 45 minute unbroken piece taking the form of an emotional journey at once personal and universal, despairing and uplifting.
After a long absence from the scene, Comedy of Errors re-formed in 2010 and have been busy increasing their profile since then through gigging at venues in the UK and Europe and appearing on the bill at several UK prog festivals. They are excited and delighted to add the United States to the growing list following an invitation from the organizers to play at Rosfest 2016.
They have also released 3 albums during that time, their first album effectively being ‘Disobey’ (2011) followed by ‘Fanfare and Fantasy’ (2013) and their most recent album ‘Spirit’ released in October 2015.
Based near Glasgow, Scotland, Comedy of Errors are Joe Cairney (Vocals), John Fitzgerald (Bass), Bruce Levick (Drums), Jim Johnston (Keyboards), Sam McCulloch (Guitar) and Mark Spalding (Guitar).
Joe, Jim and Mark were in a former incarnation of the band some years ago where they gigged extensively and released various demos during that period. When they disbanded Jim kept on working on revising songs and writing new music before getting the band back together in 2010.
The main track, Spirit, has been divided into multiple tracks but, as the CD booklet says:
“…..these divisions and titles are arbitrary; the ‘song’ is in fact one long single unbroken piece of music best listened to in its entirety from beginning to end.”
For the sake of the review I am going to follow the band’s ‘arbitrary’ subdivisions….
You’re God and You let me down, My grief lies all within….
The opening to My Grief Lies All Within is almost revelatory, the keyboards waking you from a stupor before the rest of the band arrive with a cacophony of guitar heavy staccato notes. There then follows a more pensive section, thought provoking, before Joe’s immediately recognisable vocal takes up the tale. The track takes on a choral feel with the harmonies and organ like keyboards, the bass and drums delivering an even handed tempo. Emotive and stirring, Joe Cairney’s voice is the centrepiece around which everything is grounded. There seems a sadness deep at the core of this powerful song, a poignancy that pervades the melancholy guitar solo that runs out the track.
Playing with our hopes we bow to you, in helpless, hapless, hopeless despair….
There is a seamless segue into Infinite Wisdom which is a fast paced, almost frenetic two minutes of sceptical hell or no notion. An anger consumes the vocal and gives a slightly menacing feel to the whole track.
Spirit shines, Undiminished, Like a flower, Gentle, unbreakable….
This quite unique musical experience continues with Spirit Shines/Spirit, a slow burning build up leaving tendrils of warmth enveloping your very soul. There follows an uplifting, feel-good piece of music with a repeated vocal motif that just really ‘gets’ you emotionally and I feel the tears welling up, tears of joy and happiness, as if a great weight has been lifted from your shoulders. Joe’s vocal delivers empathy and succour in equal measure, his compassion and the delicate piano note lift you up and leave your very being re-born.
Uncertainty is the overwhelming mood that is imparted at the beginning of Can This Be Happening/Timeless, anxiety and concern leech from the song. The music is measured one minute and hectic and unsure the next. A maelstrom attacks your aural senses leaving you misdirected and momentary lost, all the moods and emotions imparted by the excellence of the musicians and conducted by Joe’s commanding, theatrical delivery.
We gather together in darkness, While endlessly waiting for answers…
The questions continue with In Darkness Let Me Dwell, we seek the answer to the eternal question of a greater being. A dominating bass line runs throughout this compelling track. Joe’s vocal is both questing and demanding. A profound, complex and intricate song and one that leaves more questions than answers….
Destroyer of Angels, On the wind of your breath, you deal out disaster, Destruction and death.
A reverie of angelic voices opens I Call And Cry To Thee, leaving you somewhat in rapture, a timely pause to allow your soul and senses to catch up with you. A solemnity surrounds everything, a contemplative yet austere tone that is carelessly tossed aside by the compelling, hard-edged riff that overtakes everything, like a musical tsunami. Joe Cairney’s challenging vocal then takes over, still demanding of the heavenly entity, leaving a melancholia surrounding proceedings.
Set your spirit free….
A calm reflectiveness descends as Set Your Spirit Free/Goodbye My Love Until We Meet Again begins. An ethereal, wistful instrumental that plucks at the heart strings with a feeling of letting go, a finality of slightly sorrowful bereavement.
Spirit shines, like a flower, Gentle, unbreakable.
A very moving introduction, fateful and momentous holds your attention as Ascension/Et Resurrexit/Auferstehen – Arise In Love Sublime, Arise – Spirit builds into something utterly sublime, The organ note from the keyboards transfixes you with its celestial grace and then Joe repeats the refrain from Spirit Shines, inspirational and incredibly moving. A spiritual and refined experience that fills your heart with love and compassion.
Rise again, oh rise again in everlasting love…..
Another perfect transition and Into The Light continues the uplifting atmosphere. The transition from despair, grief and loss to hope and joy is nearly complete. The vocals lead us with the realisation that we shouldn’t question the greater powers, where there is death, there will always be love and happiness, our is not to reason why. The joyous music is an outpouring of both grief and delight and lifts up your soul to greater heights.
The Time and distance disappear, beyond the rooftops twilight urban glow..
The final segment of this epic journey is Above The Hills and is as full of hope and longing as the earlier tracks were of anguish and despondency. Joe’s mercurial voice leads the whole band in a jubilant celebration of life and of death. A nostalgic note creeps into his voice, a hint of sadness but with a thoughtful edge. The culmination of an eventful journey though life, love, despair and happiness, that these superb musicians can impart this whole gamut of emotions through their music is testament to their songwriting skill and musicianship.
Part 2 ‘Epilogue
This Is How It Has To Be is a brilliant instrumental where the skills of the musicians come to the fore. The drums and bass provide the backbone on which the rest of the instruments can rely. A demonstrative guitar guides you through the rest of the track, ably abetted by the delightful keyboards. A reflective musical trip that really gets you thinking, the change into a Mike Oldfield style second half is clever and gives the song a second lease of life. A livelier, shanty style that really gets your foot tapping, quite ingenious.
The closing track on this particular copy is the Spirit (single) and it is a worthy addition to the album bringing back all sorts of emotions as you hear Joe singing that fantastic refrain once more, a quite sublime song with a superb guitar solo.
Do you believe music has soul? I do and, when it is as deeply involving and emotionally uplifting (and draining to be honest!) as this, it becomes life affirming in many ways. All the songs were written by Jim Johnston but I’m sure even he would agree that they are given life by the whole of Comedy of Errors. A contender for album of the year and one that should be gracing everybody’s music collection, just brilliant.
Released 20th October 2015