The Tangent – Songs From The Hard Shoulder (Album Review)

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The progressive rock collective known as The Tangent has returned with a new album that sees the band consolidating its lineup, transmitting for the first time a welcome sensation to the listener of being in front of an established band rather than another installment of an Andy Tillison project. Despite having had fantastic exponents of prog rock on previous albums, Tillison has put together a true band to deal with what the British musician claimed during the promotional period of the band´s previous and celebrated album “Auto Reconnaissance”.

On that occasion, Andy asserted that progressive rock is a living entity with a brilliant past, a fantastic present, and, especially, a bright future. With “Songs From The Hard Shoulder”The Tangent proves Tillison’s saying by delivering a brilliant album that conceptually dissects what it is to be a person in modern times that somehow managed to make it through the last couple of terrible years and that has overcome what life got in store for us throughout the years.

Regarding the musical approach, the band has opted to use large-format songs that exceed 16 minutes each, joined by just one piece whose duration is in a more traditional vein with less than 5 minutes. Through the album, the listener will experience the unique blending of musical approaches that The Tanget has mastered through the years. It ranges from jazz sections to symphonic elements and almost everything in between, with only one constant: the promise of multiple surprises and unexpected turns that keeps the album enthralling, demanding but entirely satisfactory. 

The opening track “The Changes”delves into the isolation which Covid put us through. Although the theme could have been presented somberly, The Tangent prefers to portray it from a positive angle, presenting self-referential elements that show us situations with which we can feel related. During those days, desperation indeed took over more than one listener, and being able to hear this song in those moments could well have made a difference. However, life will again present us with adverse situations that we will have to face, and The Tangent has given us a fantastic and uplifting song to face it.

Although Tillison demonstrates once again his mastery in creating compelling themes and genuine lyrics, which are often accompanied by his characteristic humor, in “The Changes” he speaks to us with astonishing fluidity and eloquence through his keyboards. He is in charge of leading the various changes that the song undergoes, accentuating its dynamism after guiding the listener through a sonic journey that goes from the dramatic to the ethereal until the track riches one of the best musical passages within the discography of The Tangent. The final section of “The Changes” sees Tillison and Luke joining forces to deliver an inspiring closing through staggering solos, while the tight rhythm section provides the base for them to unfold their chops. With the emotion that the band manages to transmit after the last passage, the wishes expressed by Andy in the song about looking for something better for us and not going back to our old version seem to be even more possible.

Andy has mentioned that he considers progressive rock to be a living entity. If this is the case, that entity could be conditioned to mere instincts or predisposed behaviors. However, it could also be the case that its existence could be so complex and rich in details that its growth and evolution become unpredictable and limitless. With “The GPS Vultures”, The Tangent proves that prog-rock belongs to the latter group.  

The following 17 minutes are a masterclass in blurring existing barriers and preconceptions about what should be done with music and what genres are. Prog rock is movement, growth, and full of thrilling and surprising twists. We find all these elements in this instrumental piece in which each member can exhibit mastery when blending with their respective instrument.

Various influences can be heard throughout “The GPS Vultures”. Still, the truth is that the ability to intermingle the different approaches and cohesively blend the diverse sections requires a highly compositional value that The Tangent delivers with astonishing ease and surprising frequency.

The emblematic woman who adorns the album cover is the unfortunate protagonist of “The Lady Tied to the Lamp Post”. Like millions of human beings worldwide, this woman has been alienated and excluded by her acquaintances and by life itself. Thank God she still has the common sense to be tied into a lamp post so that she won’t bother the millions of passers-by who come across her way daily.

“Songs From The Hard Shoulder” Album Artwork

The track succeeds in presenting her story vividly since the listener can recreate the scenes described in great detail due to its cinematic approach. Of course, the music offers a dark atmosphere and the heaviest sections of the record can be found in this piece, where somber passages reflect the struggles that countless people experience.

Tillison introduces daily life subjects into The Tangent´s music, making it appealable to the listener whenever social or important matters are portrayed. However, he does not come as preachy since he is the first to recognize his flaws. For example, the “Lady Tied to the Lamp Post” presents another character that represents Andy. Despite encountering the lady, he continues his way, absorbed by his ideas. Such situation can ring many bells across the listeners. Still, Andy recognizes it, reflects on it, and transmits it in a way that can potentially benefit more anonymous people than just sparing some change or giving a cigarette away.

In an interview I had the chance to have with Andy, he said he was writing musical questions hoping they would reach people with the correct answers. He is here again doing it, managing to raise questions in the listener´s mind by bringing upfront into the spotlight these people. Who are they? How did they get there? What can we do next time we encounter them? Those types of questions came into my mind. So Andy was right. He is delivering essential questions. Hopefully, we, as listeners, can begin to come with some of the answers.

The band sets aside the grandiloquence and technical complexity of the other tracks to give way to “Wasted Soul”, an energetic and hopeful song with a more straightforward orientation that wraps the record. Such track visualizes with unmatchable joy the end of the current pandemic, which is not over despite how we are behaving now. The simpler direction of this piece does not imply a negative aspect. Instead, it demonstrates the versatility of The Tangent to navigate between different currents belonging to diverse oceans and get out of those waters without flinching. Musicality will always border on brilliance, whether through an epic or a catchy song if The Tangent is in charge. 

As a bonus track, we encounter a cover version of the classic UK‘s song “In the Dead of Night”. However, as the piece develops, the argument that this song does not belong as a mere bonus track begins to pile. This is The Tangent, so be advised that surprises are to follow. The piece is subjected to a prog-rock treatment resulting in a brilliant rendition that, while respecting the original for its initial minutes, sets off on a musical journey filled with subtle nuances, haunting atmospheres, and a parade of musical skills.

Overall, “Songs From The Hard Shoulder” is a magnificent album full of remarkable passages in which the band members make it clear that they are at the top of their game. The rhythm section composed by Jonas and Steve Roberts continually brings it home and paves the way for Luke and Andy to unleash fantastic solos spiced up by the ethereal touch that Theo Travis integrates into the mix. 

The ability to intertwine passages, blur the differences between genres and mix contrasting atmospheres with cohesiveness is part of The Tangent‘s triumphant DNA. With their latest release, they prove what has been said before, progressive rock has a spectacular present and a future that looks brighter as long as Andy and company are still around.  

As mentioned before, having these songs during the pandemic could have significantly impacted how we initially dealt with it. The encouragement, its uplifting theme, and the expectance of better days that the album encloses were dearly missed at that time. Either way, what works for one misfortune might work for another, so, unfortunately, it’s only a matter of time before we face adversity again, but hey, blessed are we who will always have The Tangent to deal with them. 

Released by: Inside Out Music / Sony
Released Date: June 10th, 2022.
Genre: Progressive Rock

Musicians:

  • Andy Tillison / Vocals, lyrics, keyboards, composer
  • Jonas Reingold / Bass
  • Theo Travis / Sax & flute
  • Luke Machin / Guitars
  • Steve Roberts / Drums

“Songs From the Hard Shoulder” track-listing:

1.The Changes
2.The GPS Vultures
3.The Lady Tied To The Lamp Post
4.Wasted Soul
5.In The Dead Of Night (Bonus – UK cover)

9.5 Excellent

The Tangent returns with a triumphant and enthralling album mainly made up of fantastic full-length epics that will enchant countless prog-rock enthusiasts worldwide. "Songs From the Hard Shoulder" brings together several of the best musical passages that The Tangent has ever created and demonstrates the band's reckless ease in challenging every limit or preconceived idea that has been wrongly poured into music

  • Songwriting 9.5
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 9.5
  • Production 9.5
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