May 9, 2024

The original title of this album was to be Tangent For One because, although the album is being released under the band’s name, this is actually an Andy Tillison solo album in that, not only did he write all the songs, he also played all the instruments, which meant having to learn how to play bass guitar, as well as producing and mixing it. But fear not, the absence of the usual suspects like Luke Machin and Jonas Reingold hasn’t detracted whatsoever from what is overall a damn fine album indeed. It’s still a full-on Tangent album, with all the things fans of the band have come to expect, which includes twenty minute plus pieces, superb musicianship and a world view from the subtle social and political analysis of Mr Tillison.

Whatever else might be said about The Tangent, they can never be said to be predictable. Tillison’s long argued that prog should be a ‘forward movement of musical momentum’, rather than just the constant regurgitating of the classic sounds of the ’70s, which means their albums often take sideways lurches into jazz, pop, dance, rock, etc, and this can sometimes make their releases a challenging experience, but the effort to stay the distance is usually well repaid.

The album opens with The North Sky, from which arises the album title. In a world where there are disputes about everything, nobody can argue about the north star, as Polaris has been a fixed navigational point since Galileo (‘I follow the north star, when everything around me seems to be going south’). After a very proggy opening, given the absence of Luke Machin, there’s some remarkably good guitar work from Andy Tillison, plus some touches redolent of Gentle Giant midway through. A ‘Like’ In The Darkness is a slower piece, veering on VdGG in places and is, says Tillison, ‘a hissy fit set to music,’ a piece about artists getting lots of ‘likes’ on social media while, simultaneously, they struggle to stay afloat in a world where Spotify denies revenue to artists. The jazzy tinged The Fine Line tells us there’s a fine line between normal life and an apocalypse … if the war holds off for another week, he can finish those figures and the boss won’t freak.

The current political system is the subject of the epic track The Anachronism, which Tillison rails about, and it begins from the perspective of a Gen Z person listing why the world as it is makes him anxious. The song takes a very cynical look at politics and the political system … have you ever wondered what went wrong, and is it really freedom with that ballot slip you’ve been filling in for so long? From its almost heavy metal opening, and sung mainly to an insistent rock beat, this is an angry song, reflected in lyrics about ‘rabbits choosing the foxes’, and set to some very powerful music. The Single is the short track, only six minutes, and is quite commercial, in the sense that a shorter version of it could even get played on Radio 2. The album concludes with the seventeen minute instrumental, Tea At Betty’s Simulation, which fluctuates between Weather Report and Dream Theater, winding down with an almost pastoral outro and, for this reviewer, possibly the only track which could be said to be a little overlong.

Considering Andy Tillison played all the instruments on this album, the standard of musicianship is exceptionally high throughout, and Tillison can be justly proud of what he’s done. If Van der Graaf are the ‘dark underbelly’ of prog, then The Tangent are the ‘dark horses’, always there and, in the final analysis, not to be discounted.