Scottish progressive stalwarts Comedy of Errors followed up 2015’s ‘Spirit’ with new release ‘House Of The Mind’. I was a big fan of ‘Spirit’ so was really looking forward to this latest chapter in their musical history.
I love it when a band just seems to get better and better, maturing with every new record they produce and not treading water, resting on their laurels and past glories. Comedy of Errors follow this mantra perfectly, every time they release a new album it has progressed (see what I did there?) from the previous records and added something more to their varied portfolio.
The new album opens with Tachyon, a song that majors more on the electronic side of music and has a superb beat and melody. The vocals are subtle and subdued and work perfectly with the energy and insistence of the synthesiser and rhythm section with the drums being particularly impressive. it gives a whole nostalgic 80’s feel to the track and is a great opening to the record.
The second, and title, track is the first of two longer tracks on the release. House Of The Mind has everything you’d expect from an epic track, an inventive and evocative introduction sets the scene for a well constructed piece of music that takes the listener on an involving musical journey. The song draws you in with its understated keyboards and measured drums and bass and you find yourself waiting on every note. Again the vocals just add to the atmosphere without having to be the focus of attention. Comedy of Errors have perfected their sound to such a position where you know it is them from the first note, influences are clear but the band make their own statement with great songs like this.
A Moment’s Peace is exactly as it sounds, a song that transports you to a place of calm serenity with an elegant acoustic guitar being the superb focus of what is an utterly ethereal piece of music. Wistful and understated in equal measure, it is an instrumental that you can tell has been lovingly created. There’s a nostalgic, thoughtful atmosphere that pervades every note, it truly is a delightful track.
There’s a troubadour, medieval feel to One Fine Day, a song that, perhaps, does land itself right in the middle of Neo-prog territory and it’s all the better for it. Running at just under three minutes it’s not a long track at all but certainly makes its presence felt with a great piece of guitar work and some grand sounding vocals.
The last new track on the album is the rather extravagant sounding Song Of Wandering Jacomus and is the second ‘epic’ on the album. It’s a fantastic song and one where the band’s exemplary songwriting skills really come to the fore. Epic by name, epic by nature, it gives the music fan everything they need from a track of this nature. The extended introduction is really quite profound and sets the scene perfectly before there’s a lull in proceedings and the tension is ramped up. There’s a fantasy feel to the song, a whimsical, playful lightheartedness that gives it a real feel-good aura. The vocals are refined and the music is sublime and yet, at times, has real substance, especially on the extended guitar break that just leaves you smiling. It’s a track you will return to again and again.
The last track is a re-arranged and recorded version of Ever Be The Prize, the first ever Comedy of Errors recording as a demo in 1985 and it really makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck as you are transported back to that decade where Neo-prog was born and first flourished. Keyboard heavy with some powerful guitars and a great drum sound, it has dated very well and the new arrangement has given it anew lease of life. It is actually good to able to compare the early song with the latest to see how the band have matured and developed over the years.
‘House Of The Mind’ sees Comedy of Errors on top form once again. A talented set of songwriters and highly accomplished musicians, they infuse every song with verve and flair to give us another superb album that will be on many Best of 2017 lists. I can’t wait to see them live at A Prog Before Christmas in December.
“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.