August 29, 2021

This is another fine prog album from Cosmograf and like most of its predecessors leaves one wondering why the band remains something of a hidden gem.

A casual glance at the album title will have most readers scratching their heads, perhaps wondering whether this might be a culinary album about the joys of French food with the title being some variation on the famous Ratatouille dish. Fans of Cosmograf of course would realise that such an undertaking by this band is highly unlikely. Robin Armstrong, the multi-instrumentalist brainchild behind the Cosmograf project, deals exclusively with lofty concepts about the meaning of life – which it must be said fits well his brand of classic prog. So, if a rattrapante isn’t a French dish, what is it? Well, its derivation is from a French word meaning to catch up or recapture, and it is used in the domain of mechanical watches where a rattrapante chronograph is one of those clever watches that can simultaneously time two parallel events. Armstrong saw this as a perfect metaphor for our own interaction with time and how some seek to beat it by being the first or fastest and how some can appear to outlive time itself through their achievements. Heavy-duty stuff but very much in the deep-thinking mode as the previous seven Cosmograf albums. And if you’re wondering about the similarity between the words cosmograf and chronograph then the band name derives from Armstrong’s passion for mechanical watches, and hence his familiarity with the term rattrapante. Is there anything Armstrong can’t turn his hand to, I wonder!

Armstrong looking as serious as his music

In 1985 introduces the album in very typical Cosmograf style, echoing the ‘70s style of Pink Floyd in its gentle build up and moody guitar picking. But then unexpectedly at the two-minute mark we get the sounds of a concert audience and someone shouting ‘are you ready?’ and the song proper begins with chugging guitar chords and a surprisingly normal rock section by Cosmograf standards. The song builds up with some swirling keyboards and a soaring vocal line slightly reminiscent of Kashmir. The crowd noises return in the middle and end sections and they appear to be a tip of the hat to Live Aid which is one of the many events from 1985 referenced in the song. Lyrically it seems to be a bit of a nostalgia trip by Armstrong himself since as well as reeling off all the major events in 1985, he talks about starting his own band as a 15-year-old. Do the maths and you’ll realise Armstrong has just hit the 50 mark so a little nostalgia can be forgiven.

If that opening track seems a little more mainstream and upbeat than much of Cosmograf’s usual material, the title track will come as a bit if a shock as it boogies along in a very accessible way, a bit like one of those early Gabriel-period Genesis songs (Get ‘Em Out By Friday, for example). It makes you realise how slow-paced Cosmograf’s material usually is. I think it would have made a fine short piece to offset the more prog-oriented material on the album but Armstrong stretches it out to ten minutes which is perhaps milking this particular cow a lit too much. There is a single edit of the song but even that comes in at seven and a half minutes. The slow but slightly unsettling ballad I Stick To You tells the tale of an immortal protagonist seeing his lovers grow old and die. There’s a guest appearance from Chrissy Mostyn of The Blackheart Orchestra, although her excellent contribution is only in the chorus and some vocalizing sections. It must be said that Armstrong has a good voice but not a great one. I was left thinking how this song could be transformed vocally by another British multi-instrumentalist, Peter Jones, who I believe could squeeze a lot more emotion out of these lyrics.

The final two track on the album are in more familiar Cosmograf territory. Memories Lie is an edgy number but brightened by a fine guitar refrain. Lyrically is about how we dwell on the past and remember it as something better than perhaps it really was. The album closes with Time Will Flow, which at almost 13 minutes is the longest track (jointly with In 1985, to be precise). As with In 1985, we get a gentle opening, but this time more Anathema inspired than Pink Floyd thanks to the use of electronica. There’s then a long poetic spoken section (nicely delivered by Tommy McNally in a Scottish drawl) before Armstrong’s vocals return in the second part which itself comes full loop and concludes with electronica.

Overall, this is another fine prog album from Cosmograf and like most of its predecessors leaves one wondering why the band remains something of a hidden gem. That perplexity comes out in Armstrong’s own lyrics as he sings ‘When I was 50 and had lived some life, I wrote this song and hoped it would take me far’ (from In 1985). Maybe with his heightened media visibility from being a touring musician with Big Big Train during 2019-2020, and Cosmograf’s planned headlining of the Summers End Festival in October, Armstrong’s time is finally coming.