George Orwell's Down and out in Paris and London is a challenging account of the plight of those in poverty in two great centres of grandeur and pomp, as such it reads with a bristling sense of cold, uncomfortable reality. The Tangent's latest offering, which borrows its moniker from the former, is utterly misnamed. Musically at least, it is closer in feel to a warm blanket and a cup of tea than a forceful social comment on suffering.
Many people like tea however; music doesn't need to be challenging in order to be relevant, and for an album to create a warm and comforting sound is no crime at all. This album does just that, despite lyrical content about, amongst other things, prescription-drug induced numbness and - you guessed it – the split personality of Paris. There is the odd plodding moment, but on the whole the music rolls expansively like the rolling hills of the England that is now (after a few line-up changes), the homeland of all its members. If anything thing this iteration of the Andy Tillison led band sounds even more like it belongs in an idealised prog-heyday of early 70's England than any of their previous offerings.
The sweeping opener, "Where are they now?" best embodies this feeling, as it revisits characters from earlier creations in a sequence of gently delivered vignettes that is both engagingly heartfelt and easy on the ear. Later on, "The Company Car" briefly evokes a sense of the neurosis of Van Der Graaf Generator, before returning to less jarring tones, and the band just about retain their own identity during the second volume of the Canterbury sequence, despite doing their best very Caravan impression.
Ultimately, that may be the biggest problem with the album. Harking back to music you love is no sin, and is a common theme among many great musicians. But five albums into their career and there is a danger that The Tangent may yet throw their identity away and descend into a sort of nostalgic self-parody. Down and out in Paris and London remains a thoroughly nice and very enjoyable album which stands up to repeated listens well, but it's a little too derivative to be truly great.
1. Where Are They Now?
2. Paroxetine – 20mg
3. Perdu Dans Paris
4. The Company Car
5. Ethanol Hat Nail (Canterbury Sequence Vol. 2)