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It Bites: Map Of The Past

It Bites have never been a band to stick to a formula. Yes, put on The Big Lad In The Windmill, Once Around The World, or Eat Me In St Louis and you'll know it is the same outfit performing on these three early releases from the original Francis Dunnery led incarnation of the band. However if you were to suggest that any of those three records sound distinctly alike, well you'd be more than slightly wide of the target. A break of sixteen years between Eat Me... and the band's comeback, although there is actually nineteen years between that album and '08's The Tall Ships, saw things change considerably with original members John Beck, Bob Dalton and Dick Nolan being joined by guitarist and singer John Mitchell, who had and continues to work with everybody from Arena and Frost* to John Wetton and A. The resultant album was a triumphant return, mixing beautiful melodies and catchy choruses to Proggier sensibilities, creating an album that while fiercely blazing a new trail for It Bites, did still nod respectfully at the band's past.

So after four years of pretty relentless touring, keyboard player Beck, drummer Dalton and frontman/guitarist Mitchell are back again, although this time it is Lee Pomeroy on bass (he actually joined the band right after TTS was released) for their second post-comeback album - Map Of The Past. Considering the lyrical complexity of the band's previous output, it actually comes as a little surprise to realise that Map Of The Past is the first concept effort from It Bites. The inspiration behind the songs came from looking through old photographs and the nostalgia it causes, before then going on to explore the possibility of travelling back through one's own life to alter all of the things that didn't go quite according to plan. It is an interesting and involving concept, although I'd be lying if I suggested that it is an easy one to follow....

Musically however, things are exactly where you'd expect them to be, with Map Of The Past breaking new ground for It Bites, while still somehow sounding reassuringly true to their past, both recent and not so.

Starting very slowly indeed, "Man In The Photograph" finds us dialling through an old fashioned radio, finding sounds, music and voices from decades past, before an extremely melancholy accordion drone breaks through. The heart rendering tones are joined by Beck's keys and Mitchell's voice, for what almost sounds more like the end of an album, rather than its beginning. However proving that this is a band renowned for spinning the mood of their music on its head, "Wallflower" bursts into view with a gritty grind of guitars, transfixing you to the spot as they do so. Strings create a melodious backing, as Dalton lays down a thunderous beat from which Mitchell strikes out a warbling, whammy-barred riff that Beck builds layers of keys and Hammond over. It is uncompromising, but dripping with melody and when the bridge slides into view with an ever so restrained vibe, the effect makes the instantly memorable chorus all the more impactful. Mixing Gabriel era Genesis (a theme across much of this album), with the catchy song-based feel of Tall Ships, the title track keeps the tempo brisk and the keyboard melodies to the forefront, while Mitchell again illustrates what an under rated vocalist he truly is. Like many of modern Prog's best, he isn't actually a technically gifted singer, but the amount of character and emotion he brings to these songs is quite captivating.

"Clocks" brings things right down, with the steady beat sitting well with the song's theme and again the vibe is reminiscent of early Genesis and latter day It Bites, with oddly a twist of Ray Wilson era Genesis squeezed in as well. As the song progresses (pardon the pun....), the music takes on the whirling wheeze of a fairground ride, swirling and bobbing, making the pumping bass work from Pomeroy and crisp snare snap that heralds the introduction of "Flags" simply jump out of the speakers. If bands of this ilk still had "hits", this song would be the chart crosser over from Map Of The Past, with its bouncy beat and super sing along chorus burrowing into your consciousness at the very first time of asking -I've been singing it for days!

Sounding like it was lifted straight from The Tall Ships, "The Big Machine" is bold and brassy, getting its message across in a melodically uncompromising manner, before "Cartoon Graveyard" comes on like a punchy, modern take on Prog, especially in the way in which the more sparsely arranged sections are phrased. It really is a quite wonderful song, which segues into the bombast of church organs, which then somehow burst into a full on classical interlude that feels like the end of a black & white blockbuster. Oddly we are then whisked back into melancholia, via the unsettling "Send No Flowers" where we find Mitchell doing his best Gabriel impression.

Keyboards again come rushing to the front for "Meadow And The Stream", where It Bites are possibly as close to all out, traditional Prog as you are ever likely to hear. The beautiful "The Last Escape" simplifies things again in a way that would have sat very well on The Tall Ships, being an uncomplicated statement that builds in a Floydian way to one of the most attention grabbing songs on a spell-binding album. Then as it all began, radio sounds crackle into life, this time accompanied by dreamy acoustic guitar and news clippets under the guise of "Exit Song", which brings the story concept and album to an under stated close.

Many people have speculated whether Map Of The Past would find It Bites heading back into their own musical history in much the way that this album's concept does. With others suggesting that things would remain far more firmly rooted in the Mitchell era present. In truth both and neither are correct. This is It Bites as they always were, ever evolving, never the same, yet reassuringly recognisable and utterly fantastic.

Track Listing
1. Man In The Photograph
2. Wallflower
3. Map Of The Past
4. Clocks
5. Flag
6. The Big Machine
7. Cartoon Graveyard
8. Send No Flowers
9. Meadow And The Steam
10. The Last Escape
11. Exit Song

Added: April 28th 2012
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link:
Hits: 6618
Language: english

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