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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: October 14th 2022
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: The Tangent online
Hits: 944
Language: english

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Tangent, The: Songs From The Hard Shoulder
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2022-10-14 16:19:50
My Score:

The Tangent has always been one of those modern prog bands that seem to avoid a lot of the pratfalls of many bands these days who either 1) try to emulate the '70s or B) attempt to be so modern that they really don't sound like prog at all. With a slew of fine albums that show off their unique style, sound, and vision, Andy Tillison and Co. have recently cranked out another gem for InsideOut Music, titled Songs From the Hard Shoulder, that again, displays all that is so magical about this band. While you can certainly hear some Gentle Giant-styled complexity on tracks like 'The GPS Vultures', and Canterbury-influenced quirky jazz bits on opener 'The Changes', it's The Tangent's lack of bombast, unwillingness to dive into heavy metal guitar riffs or over the top vocalizations, steering clear of generic pop hooks or industrial clutterings, which makes this band always so refreshing. With this latest, three of the 4 tracks exceed 17-minutes, so there's ample room for solo spots for guitar, various keyboards, sax, and flute from this all-star line-up. And it's all so, well, laid-back at times that you get swept away by all the intriguing musical journeys and passages. It's adventurous yet easily listening at the same time, with Andy's vocals really well done despite the majority of the songs being mostly instrumental.

If you haven't yet heard this band, you need to.

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