“We Are Connected.”
That’s the kick-off track from Antenna, the new album by Brit proggers The Gift. But it’s also something of a status update; the band members are strongly connected to one another on this, the second album featuring this lineup. Over that time, The Gift has done several live shows, gotten to know one another even better, and gained the confidence to take some risks—musically speaking, of course.
Which is not a typical Prog album. The first song makes that abundantly clear. “We Are Connected” starts with thumping guitars/bass/drums that could come from an early Foreigner album, followed by Gabriele Baldocci’s swirling keyboards bringing in an enticing depth and breadth. This is a guitar song—with David Lloyd and Leroy James ably handling the axes. And they just highlight Mike Morton’s vocals, which show a strength and confidence only hinted at in the band’s previous three albums.
And that’s not to mention the powerful rhythm section of bassist Stef Dickers and Neil Hayman. They thump!
The lyrics to “We Are Connected” set the stage for what’s to come. Antenna is not a concept album, but it does deal with human connections—good, bad, and nonexistent.
Morton’s composition “The Changeling” is more along the lines of a Prog song–at least in its length of nearly 10 minutes and that it’s broken into three separate sections. But after a keyboard-powered beginning, it changes into guitar that reminds one of Aerosmith’s Joe Perry on “Same Old Song and Dance.”
“Back to Eden” is up next, and it’s veers into another direction from the first two. This is The Gift’s big hit single, a slice of pop with acoustic guitar and keyboards providing a foundation for Morton’s vocals, delightfully and concisely presented in just under four-and-a-half minutes. And the imagery? Mike Morton, the preacher’s kid, is always fascinated by the spiritual, the everlasting. He talks about the resurrected, about paradise, about eternity—about getting back to Eden. No, he’s not preachy; Morton doesn’t thump the Bible (or any other book, so far as one can tell). But there are questions, lots of questions, and Mike Morton is a seeker. Even if the answers never really come, the search is worth the effort to get back to Eden.
Morton’s harmonica kicks off “Long Time Dead,” a bit of Spaghetti Western-sounding music about people who just don’t know how to enjoy life—yet their bodies are living, functioning. Lloyd’s guitar solo soars over the acoustic guitar and piano foundation. And Baldocci is given a chance to show his very formidable chops when given his own jazzy break.
The keyboardist gets to show another side to his formidable talents on “Snowfall.” It’s more of a classical approach to a ballad of sadness, of struggle, of possible loss. But pain, among other things, shows that we are alive, experienced. “
“We will sing our songs of love and pain
Even on the darkest nights.
Make it plain
We’re not afraid of winter’s call
So let the snow fall”
“Far Stranger” has Proggy touches to it, twisting rhythms and melodies that are anything but mechanical. Which is interesting, because the lyrics talk about not-quite-human beings, with allusions to Blade Runner and Pinocchio. I’m not sure how well it all works. It moves quickly into “Hand in Hand,” a Lloyd acoustic guitar tune that doesn’t add much to the mix. It’s pretty, and it lasts under 3-minutes, but it does little to showcase the musical talents of a fine guitarist or the “connecting” lyrics.
Not so with “Wild Roses.” The Dickers and Hayman rhythm section kick in with I can only refer to as a Native American line (or at least one popular in the movies). It’s throbbing and pulsing and gets the toes tapping. Morton’s vocals contrast that in plaintive evocation of a love lost, a man who didn’t do what he had to to keep her around. The lovers’ connection was strong and beyond physical—he can still feel it—but she’s gone forever. “Wild Roses” is a great example of The Gift on their new heading.
“When You Are Old” relies on the words of William Butler Yeats, expressed with a somewhat spacey/Floydian keyboard courtesy of Baldocci (and Morton vocals). This is another one that doesn’t really click, doesn’t grab the listener by the ears and demand listen after listen. Okay, it’s somewhat interesting…but not terribly compelling.
And then comes “Closer”—as in people in proximity, not the finale of the album (I think). It’s nearly 10-minutes, which means it’s in true Prog territory, and it has three separate sections: Where All Roads Divide; Out of Reach; Closer. There’s something of an epic feel to the whole thing, even as each part has its own character (and time changes). The protagonist sees that he and his love are drifting apart and he’s going to fight to keep them “closer.” Lloyd (who wrote the piece) is given ample opportunity to do a searing guitar solo, one that exemplifies longing without despair. There is hope and faith in this song. This is The Gift reaching back to the past while offering promises for the future. All is connected.
Bottom line? This gift is worthy of purchase and unwrapping. It’s new and shiny and exciting, a package under the veritable tree that should please (certainly more than the knitted shirt Aunt Jane sends you each year). Not everything works, but most of Antenna is quite good, a confident statement by a band that is looking ahead, not behind. I really like this album. And I can’t wait to see what The Gift has in store for the future.
Released By: Bad Elephant Music
Release Date: June 28th, 2019
Genre: Progressive Rock
- Mike Morton / Vocals.
- David Lloyd / Guitars.
- Leroy James / Guitars.
- Gabriele Baldocci / Keyboards.
- Neil Hayman / Drums
- Stef Dickers / Bass
- We Are Connected
- Back to Eden
- Long Time Dead
- Far Stranger
- Hand In Hand
- Wild Roses
- When You Are Old
The Gift’s fourth album is a change in direction to more song-oriented rock—without losing its heritage of Prog. Antenna successfully cuts across musical genres to provide a varied and interesting selection of songs about humans connecting—or not