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Strangefish: The Spotlight Effect

What is this Strangefish that’s scuttled up to us after some twelve years out in the cold? Putting themselves front and centre under The Spotlight Effect, the UK progsters return with their first new album since 2006’s Fortune Telling and having added bassist Carl Howard and co-vocalist Jo Whittaker to their original quartet of Steve Taylor (vocals), Paul O’Neill (keys), Dave Whittaker (drums) and the enigmatically (but not that enigmatically) named Bob, on guitar.

Twelve years away from the scene is a long time in anyone’s book and it would be fair to suggest that one of the key changes to the world that’s occurred in the meantime is what appears to be on the mind of Strangefish. Basing the album round the themes of the modern state’s acceptance, if not reliance on social media, false fame and the unwitting surveillance we all live under because of it, it’s fitting that “Death Of Common Sense” is our first window onto this world; a folk-prog tale of control, inequality and the skewed view of the press and the law. So far, so hard hitting, and especially with Taylor clearly impassioned by the topics. “Progress In Reverse” continues the backward journey into regression and the manner in which we seem to be sleepwalking into these situations without the merest notion that we are. Suddenly weapons new and old are on show for this band, the shiny new twin vocals an immediate asset, where Taylor and Whittaker (the one of the Jo variety) meld, but not too closely, to form an intentionally double edged blade. All the while the more anticipated cut and thrust of O’Neill’s keys and Bob’s guitar drive the advantage home, as a sound that gleefully pulls from 70s, 80s and 00s prog wins the day.

If there’s a better song title than “Iconacon” and its Marillion meets Steve Vai (and I mean his David Lee Roth era!) guitar howls, revealed in 2018, then I haven’t encountered it yet. An angry eight minute rampage over fleeting, false fame and the celebrity over talent culture that breeds household names that are known for, well, what exactly? Although it’s impossible to argue against those sentiments, that “Summer Slips Away” decides to change attack heightens its impact and that of what has come before. A much more lamenting style adopted as we slip largely back into acoustic territory, although this time with male and female vocals sparking off each other (sometimes in synch, sometimes heading in different directions altogether) the effect is much more beguiling than it is angry, even if the message is no more cheerful than before.

Arguably it’s the three part “Delicate” that we’ve been building towards all this time, a perfect balance struck between instrumental sections that lightly remind of Genesis, running quite beautifully alongside a vocal accompaniment which nods surreptitiously at The Beautiful South! However as we wend our way through this lengthy piece (eighteen minutes, give or take a few seconds) something more neo-prog surges into view, keyboards of many colours spreading their coat over an ever changing rhythmical landscape; causing ripples of excitement as they do. Not satisfied with the breadth of ground covered in this one fell swoop, the album’s title track gnaws with a deeper, dirtier riffage than before, but with the superb bass work from Howard underpinning all in sight, space is still allowed for the keyboards to sprinkle their magic melody dust over the top.

From there, we’re heading for home, the ambient keyboard splashes of “Reverse Switch” pulling earlier musical themes back into play, before “Up To You” takes us back in time by being an unexpectedly catchy, neo-prog outburst. Unusually for a closing piece, it’s inarguably the album’s most instant and memorable moment; the cleverness of placing it last in this ever evolving journey being that you’ll be singing this Arena like anthem for hours after you’ve stopped spinning The Spotlight Effect. That is, of course, presuming that you don’t just hit play and begin the journey all over again, for what is revealed by Strangefish on their comeback effort is sure to keep you coming back for more.

Track Listing
1. Death Of Common Sense

2. Progress In Reverse

3. Iconacon

4. Summer Slips Away

5. Delicate

6. Spotlight Effect

7. Reverse Switch

8. Up To You

Added: July 7th 2018
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Strangefish online
Hits: 2375
Language: english

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