The subtitle for The Tangent’s latest album – it’s eighth – is “The Music That Died Alone Volume 2,” referencing the title of the band’s debut. Of course, the music it’s talking about – progressive rock – has never died, even if it did (to paraphrase Frank Zappa) “smell funny” for a while. But it’s thriving today, if not commercially than artistically. That’s due, in no small part, to The Tangent.
As the name suggests, The Tangent grew out of what was supposed to be solo project by keyboardist Andy Tillison. It grew into a real band for a few albums and has since morphed into a kind of revolving cast of players carrying on the band’s proggy project. Tillison is the central character (duties having expanded at times to include lead vocals and guitar), driving The Tangent on with his desire to bring fresh slabs of classic prog to the 21st Century.
Tillison’s never been coy about this. The first album uses a Hatfield and the North song (incorrectly titled, but whatever) in the middle of an epic. A Place in the Queue has a liner notes directing unsuspecting young readers toward Tales from Topographic Oceans (the prog equivalent to luring children into your van with candy). Hell, he even wrote a novella to go along with Not As Good As the Book which involves a far flung future and, naturally, Yes. Tillison is prog down to his bones.
On A Spark In the Aether, he lets it all out. Not only musically, but lyrically as well. Witness the epic “Codpieces and Capes,” which takes on the general slagging that prog has taken from the music press, concluding that those who fobbed it off as pretension were “so wrong” (but, in a bit of humor, “they were probably right about the rug.”). That being said, the album covers lots of ground, from the rocking title track, to jazzy ambience, and even some funky bits here and there.
The centerpiece of this album, however, is “The Celluloid Road,” which is a view of modern American through the lens of someone who’s never actually set foot here (although that doesn’t accurately describe Tillison). In other words, it’s less about how we actually are than how we project ourselves to be to the rest of the world via film and TV. It’s always interesting to hear how the rest of the world views us. In this case, it’s how the rest of the world views the way we view ourselves. It’s both amusing and a little disheartening. Said funky bits show up here in the “San Francisco” section (which mostly deals with it being destroyed in various movies – and this was written before San Andreas!).
This isn’t a Tangent masterpiece, but I’m enjoying it a lot more than Le Sacre du Trevail, which I found to be really dire and depressing. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of fun. So come on in and prog your brains out. Don’t forget to bring your cape!