Suddenly we take a sharp and unexpected detour into Hawkwind or Gong territory for Will We Ever Know, which manages to cram in a delightful (and self-referencing) chorus with more zooming space noises and quirky curlicues of whimsical space-operatic riffery than you could shake a flying teapot at.
It’s perhaps a stretch to use the well-worn description of ‘supergroup’ to describe this Welsh collective, but in a sense, there is merit in the term. While the original ‘supergroups’ were generally formed from high-profile members thrown together (ELP and Bad Company, notably, Asia in the ’80s and even more recently in the prog arena with the likes of Flying Colors and Transatlantic), the four guys who make up The Mighty Ra are all seasoned players who have done time (and in some cases are still doing time) in various other bands. Guitarist and vocalist Andy Edwards has appeared on record with bands as varied as Ezra, Magenta, Cyan and Last Flight To Pluto, while keyboard man Rob Wilsher is best known for being a founder, and still current, member of Multi Story. Drummer Rob Griffiths has also been with Ezra and several other bands (including the brilliantly named The Above Average Weight Band) in a career of over 25 years, while bassist Dave Rowe has over 30 years’ experience as a professional musician, playing around the world as sideman for a number of high profile musicians. So we’re talking about seasoned pros here, men who know their way around a stage and a studio, coming together as a completely new outfit. And you know what? Even if you use the term ‘prog rock supergroup’, these guys can live up to it and then some – because this is a superb, and in places astounding, debut album.
Opening things up is the almost ten minutes of the title track All Secrets Known, and there could be few better ways of setting out the band’s stall. Everything they do is presented here: opening with a keyboard-dominated passage, the mid-section of the piece reinstates the prominence of the guitar and vocals as a melodic and well-constructed core ‘song’ is delivered. As we move toward the conclusion, things grow in intensity as the pomp and grandeur is ramped up, the guitar spiralling in thrillingly effortless yet increasingly dramatic fashion. The song ends, leaving the listener to wipe their metaphorical brow, thinking ‘so that’s what we’re going to get for the next hour or so!’ And although that would be correct, it would only be partially so, as the Mighty Ra palette has a lot more colours to add yet. This is borne out immediately by the second track, Nothing Comes Too Easy, which lulls the listener into a false sense of security by seeming to be a far more mainstream yet pleasingly delivered song, complete with hummable chorus, before bursts of grandiose prog delights begin entering the arena repeatedly, just to remind us that while they can ‘do’ catchiness perfectly well, we shouldn’t get complacent. This is proven even more so by Freedom, an outlaw-style story-song which is introduced by an outrageous Ennio Morricone homage, complete with cracking whips and bizarre ‘wah-wah-wah’ vocals (the video to this should be sought out, as it is hilarious), before settling into a more straightforward rock track.
With the fourth piece, all bets are off as suddenly we take a sharp and unexpected detour into Hawkwind or Gong territory for Will We Ever Know, which manages to cram in a delightful (and self-referencing) chorus with more zooming space noises and quirky curlicues of whimsical space-operatic riffery than you could shake a flying teapot at. And it all works magnificently, in such a way that, towards the end, one finds one’s head making that peculiar unbidden motion which is normally only found when listening to Steve Hillage playing The Glorious Om Riff. Anyone who grasps that reference and is nodding sagely will find this one of their favourite songs of the year; this is an unassailable truth. It’s fantastic, and somehow utterly convincing, stuff, and a brilliantly negotiated tightrope traversed over the chasm of parody. It may, just possibly, be my pick of the album. But it is not without its competition, as we will see.
Seven Days hits slightly more of a modern neo-prog groove, with a big, uplifting chorus typical of the best of that particular genre, and a real kick in its boots as a stonkingly powerful bit of heaviness comes in to remind us that this is still rock and roll kids, so don’t you forget it. It’s another winner, as is the contrasting yet complementary Rising Tide, borne along refreshingly at first on a bed of acoustic guitar before becoming more and more anthemic over its six and a half minute duration. The following Rain is, at a mere four and a half minutes, the shortest and most direct song on the album. Which is perfect, as it sets the scene for the twelve minutes of Bigger Lie which is about to close the album in astonishing fashion.
Did I mention about being unsure about Will We Ever Know being the best track here? Well, that’s because here comes Bigger Lie to take a convincing swing at blowing everything else out of the water in its epic wake. Now, before we get into the song itself, let’s bring the Elephant into the Room. This track is reminiscent of Pink Floyd. It is very reminiscent of Pink Floyd. However, what it does, rather than come over as a homage, is to take the essence of the Floyd as they were at their imperious best, restore everything which was greatest about them, and send it out above Battersea Power Station to alarm the onlookers. This has the darkly cynical lyrical disdain of Roger Waters at his most inspired, it has grand slow-moving musical accompaniment making the sound of epic music that would be heard when stars gradually implode on themselves, and it has big, soaring, circular guitar which effortlessly evokes David Gilmour at his vital and inspired best. Put simply, in songwriting and constructional terms, this is the best longform Pink Floyd piece since Dogs. Or would be if it wasn’t a wholly new and triumphant creation by The Mighty Ra. Bands shouldn’t be able to bottle the lightning of inspirational Floyd like this at any stage in their career, let alone album number one. As the climax approaches, we are treated to a litany of ‘lies’, or ‘conspiracy theories’ depending on your viewpoint, that we are told by the powers that be to cover up the unpalatable truths. UFO sightings, the moon landings, JFK… everything is declaimed in turn with the response ‘We need a bigger lie’. And all the while the backing, and that guitar, grow ever more frantic and urgent. And then… it’s gone. And you’re left to ponder. Ponder about those lies. Ponder about whether that closer is actually the best track after all, dammit. And ponder on whether this album will show up in ‘Best Of The Year’ lists come the end of 2022.
That last question at least bears no doubt. This is right up there as one of the finest releases of the year, in any genre. And you can take that to the bank.