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It Bites: The Tall Ships / Map Of The Past (2021 reissues)

Seemingly consigned to the past when they couldn’t kickstart things after their guitarist and singer Francis Dunnery parted ways with his bandmates in 1990, It Bites spluttered back into life after a failed regrouping of Dunnery, Dick Nolan (bass), John Beck (keyboards) and Bob Dalton (drums) was shelved in favour of a new configuration of the band. Having worked together with Pete Trewavas of Marillion in Kino, Beck and Dalton brought that band’s singer/guitarist John Mitchell (Arena, Frost*, Lonely Robot) with them as they rejoined with Nolan for a fresh mouthful of It Bites. Their comeback album, The Tall Ships, arrived in 2008 and while musically it was a massive departure from the three records the band had recorded with Dunnery, it proved to be a huge success both in terms of its contents and its reception.

Graced by the husky tones of Mitchell behind the mic and his hugely versatile guitar approach, as you wandered from the fiery “Oh My God” to the more understated but hugely melodic title track, the whole experience felt remarkably cohesive and considered. Less ‘out there’ than the band’s first couple of albums but less ‘rock’ than their final effort with Dunnery, The Tall Ships sailed a coarse somewhere in between, and really did delight at almost every turn. Sparky and forceful, “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” added a more overtly prog touch but it’s left to the album closing “This Is England”, where a little vintage prog homage rears its head, to truly stake that claim. Add in the insanely catchy “Great Disaster”, 80s pop-prog inspired “Lights” and the beautiful piano led “Safe Keeping” and not only was The Tall Ships a stunning comeback, but it was also a bold new statement from a completely reinvented band.

Four years would pass, Nolan would be replaced by Lee Pomeroy, and then the (so far) final album would appear from the band. Map Of The Past being the first concept album from It Bites, although maybe it would have been fairer to call it a ‘themed’ album rather than a full blown concept. The idea at its core was viewing the past through old photographs, with a constant feel of time slipping back and forth through some clever little musical motifs and structures. Arguably it’s also the more confident album from the two Mitchell fronted outings, even if I just prefer The Tall Ships. That said, the most memorable track across either is the guitar driven “Flag” where the hooks are razor sharp, although the clearly Genesis inspired “Send No Flowers” also digs deep into the memory. “Clocks” is a more tender moment, whereas the biting riff at the centre of “Cartoon Graveyard” and the heart tugging “The Last Escape” proved that the strength and diversity across this album was deeply impressive.

Reissued and remastered for the first time since their release, both albums come separately in CD, vinyl and digital formats, with this being the first time that The Tall Ships will have been available on a 12” slab. All physical formats come with extensive liner notes from John Mitchell regarding the creation of both albums, while the CD releases have two bonus tracks apiece. TTS offers “These Words”, which feels like an old and new It Bites hybrid in a way that not much on the album itself ever did, while also somehow sounding a little too similar to “Great Disaster”, and “When I Fall”, which fits more readily with the album’s style, even if it is a little repetitive. For Map it’s “Lighthouse”, a three minute pop meander that proves the pick of the four bonuses and “Come On”, which is maybe the most angular selection of the bunch.

Since Map Of The Past, It Bites have continued on sporadically with a few live shows here and there but with Mitchell’s solo/Lonely Robot career taking off, the feeling was that their (tall) ship had sailed. However, with Kino, featuring Mitchell and Beck releasing a new album in 2018 and the pair hinting that they were writing together again, it took Bob Dalton to announce that It Bites were over for the duo to come out and refute those claims, although they did say that what they were working on together would maybe now come out under a different name. Whatever the future, the all too short map of the past that this iteration of It Bites laid out was an absolute delight and reliving now it proves now less intriguing.

Track Listing

The Tall Ships
Oh My God
Memory Of Water
The Tall Ships
The Wind That Shakes The Barley
Great Disasters
For Safekeeping
This Is England
These Words (Bonus Track)
When I Fall (Bonus Track)

Map Of The Past
Man In The Photograph
Map Of The Past
The Big Machine
Cartoon Graveyard
Send No Flowers
Meadow And The Stream
The Last Escape
Exit Song
Lighthouse (Bonus Track)
Come On (Bonus Track)

Added: May 4th 2021
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Inside Out Music
Hits: 957
Language: english

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