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Tangent, The: Songs From The Hard Shoulder

The Tangent and their leader, Andy Tillison, are an anomaly. Progressive rock is usually a grand affair, larger than life and wilfully pompous, even when it’s often pretending not to be. Songs From The Hard Shoulder, just like the many Tangent albums that have preceded it couldn’t be further from that ethos. Yes, this band write and record complex musical set-plays and on this album they’ve pointedly concentrated on the long-form style of song this genre is known for, but both in the delivery of the music, and especially the lyrics, The Tangent may be the most laid back band you’re likely to encounter. Often the words and stories feel much more like Mr Tillison is sitting down next to you for a chat, merely having a chinwag about world affairs, the futility of life, or the helpless feeling you have when you pass a homeless person in the street and can’t make a tangible difference to their circumstances.

The music that surrounds these rather wonderful streams of conscience is hardly shy and retiring, with talents such as Luke Machin and Jonas Reingold, Steve Roberts and Theo Travis allowed the room and time to move through jazz, funk and avant-garde sections as they help Tillison create this band’s idiosyncratic progressive rock that touches on multiple moving aspects, while always being immediately recognisable as The Tangent. The opening piece, “The Changes” - all seventeen minutes and five seconds of it - is one of ‘those’ songs that we’ve become very used to. Yes, it’s a comment and reaction to covid, lockdown and the subsequent slow reversal to ‘normal’ life. And yet, here Tillison brings us into his day to day and how the band evolved to adapt with the situation as though you were perched on a stool next to him at the bar. And just like that, when I thought I was all covided out, here I am transfixed. “The GPS Vultures” - all seventeen minutes and one second of it - while equally nuanced turns a stronger focus on the musical interplay, with the ebb and flow of the five-some involved impressive in the extreme as progressive workouts fire off in a myriad of directions while remaining firmly focused. Machin’s guitar work here is incredible, but with everything from full force fret-fury to near Spanish guitar dexterity expertly melded into a coherent whole, the effect is utterly engaging.

From there, “The Lady Tied To The Lamp Post” - all twenty minutes and fifty-two seconds of it - which is the true story of Tillison encountering a homeless lady tied to a lamp post so she wouldn’t fall over, changes tack once more. To the story-teller’s credit, his candour at letting us know that he first off saw the lyrical opportunities in this scene before offering the lady all the help he could muster in the shape of a lonesome cigarette, is to his great credit. This is no tale of a pretentious hero saving the day, instead an ode to helplessness on all sides, and situations getting worse as society loses sight of itself. And as ever, The Tangent have the perfect musical setting for these stories, a lovely funking meander a glinting weapon that in other hands would be a blunt blade.

Closing the album proper comes “Wasted Soul” - all four minutes forty seconds of it - yes it’s the shorty on this journey - hits home with a nervous energy that’s all brass stabs and false crescendos that almost sound like a progressive rock news bulletin calling you to heel. Tillison is at his most singingist here, his usual talking in tune style shelved to prove he really can croon before the bonus track, “In The Dead Of Night” - all sixteen minutes and eleven seconds of it - vies for the title of best in show by evolving from a cover of a UK (the band) classic into a Tangential moment in its own right.

The Tangent, while shining a light on the less dissected parts of every day life, are a hugely uplifting and thought provoking experience, and Songs From the Hard Shoulder is yet another triumph from a band who really have been in the richest veins of form in recent times.


Track Listing
1. The Changes

2. GPS Vultures

3. The Lady Tied to the Lamp Post

4. Wasted Soul 

Bonus Track
5. In the Dead of Night

Added: July 2nd 2022
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Score:
Related Link: The Tangent online
Hits: 279
Language: english

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