|IQ: Ever (1993)|
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If there was ever a form of music which never gets it's due it would have to be Neo-progressive. Bands like IQ, Pendragon, Marillion, and Twelfth Night, which decided to revisit the classic sounds of their British forefathers from the '70's; have sometimes been targeted with unwarranted criticism. Certain prog fans love to bash this type of music as being too derivative ,while going gaa-gaa over any band which flirts with a Mellotron, at times in much more flagrant displays of plagiarism. In this review I would like to give credit to one of these bands. IQ have carved out a niche for themselves in progressive rock, call it neo or whatever you want. This band has never overtly copied anybody's style or approach, but rather has fused sounds which were current in the early '80's with a touch of the dramatic, as was showcased in the '70's. Over the years , they have become one of the larger progressive acts which have been embraced, if sometimes reluctantly, by prog fans around the globe. Ever, released in 1993, may be the band's crowning glory.
We begin with "The Darkest Hour"; an up-tempo number with a slightly funky bass line. Singer/lyricist Peter Nicholls' clear voice and ambiguous lyrics permeate throughout; although there are some decent instrumental breaks to showcase the digital synths of Martin Orford, and the unique guitar phrasings of Mike Holmes .There is nothing overtly flashy about this track, but it is punctuated by various tempo and mood swings. The 2-part "Fading Senses" follows. The track opens with some tasteful acoustic guitar and more personal, introverted lyrics. The second part, instrumental, slowly builds up from a hypnotic, droning bass line interspersed with some rhythm guitar and spacey keyboards. The tracks fades out , to be overrun by track 3 "Out Of Nowhere". As straight forward a prog song as can be written and not be considered pop. This one would have to be considered as IQ's flirtation with AOR. Not the most memorable track on the disc but it does demonstrate the band's diversity and willingness to step outside it's own safe confines.
Track 4 , on the other hand, showcases IQ at the top of their game. "Further Away" has always been my favorite IQ track of all time. A true progressive masterpiece in the classic sense of the phrase. A delicate keyboard line creates the background to Peter's vocals. The track slowly gathers momentum before exploding with a pounding bass line . Peter's vocals kick it up a notch and John Jowitt's Rickenbacker dominate the middle portion. Martin Orford then steps in with some superlative keyboard playing; reminiscent of the giants of yesteryear. The track slows to a crawl where we are treated to some Banks/Hackett guitar/keyboard interplay accompanying Peter's voice, leading into a dramatic guitar solo courtesy of Mike Holmes. The track builds a final head of steam with some dramatic vocals before fading out with a complex outro dominated by some excellent drum fills by Paul Cook. This track is followed by another IQ favorite ," Leap Of Faith". A slower paced track, accentuated with some great acoustic guitar and more ambiguous vocals . The closing instrumental section of this song may be some of IQ's finest playing. They manage to build the track to a fevered pitch before pushing it over the edge courtesy of some excellent keyboard/guitar/ bass interchanges, and a fantastic solo by Mike Holmes on guitar. Paul Cook shines once again behind his drum kit, as he matches the three other members note for note. The track segues into the album closer "Came Down" . A track which showcases Peter Nicholls' clear voice and flare for the dramatic. The song, and album, come to a close with the wailing guitar of Mike Holmes' closing solo/outro.
IQ cannot be accused of being followers. They are pioneers in their field and have consistently offered up their own style of music which can rarely be described as overtly derivative of any of their peers. This is the album which pushed IQ's popularity meter to the top. The momentum created by this disc enabled the band to return to the studio and return a few years later with yet another jewel to add to their crown; 1997's superb 2-CD concept Subterrenea.