SPRING PROG REVIEW
Set in a Covent Garden street café in the early evening shadows of autumn 2016, I conducted what was to become a four-part feature interview with IT. That session captured the essence and parameters on what was to become their first studio album for seven years, after the critically acclaimed ‘Departure.’ At this early stage, as the narrative for the new album was forming, one could tell the creative juices were reacting to the austerity era, the challenges to the NHS and the broken trust in leaders. In the weeks that followed I gave the UK radio premiere to the new single ‘Revolution’ – which put a clear flag in the ground on what was to follow. The result next week is an album about ‘the now.’ The band IT is back – and with something to say.
From putting this album on for the first time, you have an unmistakable sense of a band looking at world events and fed up with the endless dreary newspaper front pages – driven to pick up their instruments and react. What comes over on this album feels like a natural outpouring of feelings, emotions, frustrations and sentiments – a mood. There is nothing contrived or manufactured or ‘clever:’ IT just IS.
‘Power’ – has a sense of menace, even chaos – echoed later with ‘Gamble The Dream.’ Urgency of pace, hounding rhythm and lyrics that say it directly – words and sentiments that catalogue frustration at recent world events and that sense broken trust and bewilderment many feel towards those that make the big decisions.
On a few tracks, there’s an unmistakable nod to Floyd, but this is not an album that fits neatly into the ‘progressive’ genre silo. In fact the best tracks are those that move furthest away from the prog mould. There are no goblins or dwarves on this album – and only one song that has the length that stretches anywhere near ‘suite’ territory. This album has pace, energy and grit. It’s not prog – it’s widescreen: It’s not experimental – it’s driven: It’s not referencing past styles – it’s future looking.
Parking the prog label, with ‘The Working Man’ the feeling is more of a panoramic, widescreen soundscape – and when the power guitar solo kicks in – with keyboards and wailing b/v’s – it goes beyond widescreen to more a 3D wall of sound.
This is a different kind of protest album. Some are just “annoyed” – but this engages and, in a way, empowers. ‘Power’ and ‘Born Into Debt’ have a rugged truth about them, menace and direct lyrics – but in ‘The Working Man’ and ‘Last Chance’ the power choruses and guitar solos give you a feeling of a call to action. Save the NHS, stand together and make the world a better place. This kind of makes the music useful rather than just a statement of fact or a reflective piece of art.
‘Gamble The Dream’ and ‘Voices’ perhaps do most to capture the feeling of the album. Gamble is fast-paced, tense and angular. If ever you wanted to go into a room and scream in reaction to what’s going on in the world, this would be the perfect musical backdrop! The lyrics though have an edge to them that speak for millions of people angry with what they see going on in the world. ‘Voices’ kicks into life with words from George Galloway – a song that has a directness and raw power that I’ve not heard in a protest song in current times. It’s brave, direct and totally unapologetic and is the creative high point of the album.
There’s plenty of drama on this album – but it’s but not over-produced, captured or manufactured. The expressive artwork by Melissa Connors also works really well to reinforce the musical mood.
The guitar work is seriously good, with some fabulous solos. ‘Path Of Least Resistance’ allows for some of this – and it’s not prog guitar, the guitar work gives the album a heavy edge, too wild and raw in places to be called prog in my view.
‘Revolution’ was a track I premiered on my Friday rock show back in November 2016. My only criticism of the new album is, to me, this song should open rather than close the album. It’s one of the best songs the band has done and it captures well the essence of the whole album in just five minutes.
As a contemporary protest album, this IT album draws some parallels to Marillion’s sensational F.E.A.R album last autumn – an outstanding protest album with songs beautiful and elaborate in their construction. This IT album doesn’t have these layers but it is more direct. To me, it’s actually far closer to Fugazi, released during an 80s of Thatcher and The Berlin Wall.
Why a standout album? There are rock albums that make you want to dance around the kitchen table while your supper slowly burns in the oven. Feel good rock’n’roll and escapism matter and energise. But every now and then one needs to sit back and listen, really listen, to an album that talks about the world we’re in and the issues influencing our lives and our choices. With hindsight, some of the greatest rock has been written during times of protest; they can be times when rock as a genre shows it’s relevance, power and true heart. And my feeling is there may be a lot more of it on the way.
This IT offering doesn’t sound like another album I’ve heard in the last year. For some rock fans, it may not be easy listening or everyday listening but it has something to say and is unnervingly about ‘the now’. Whether you agree with the sentiments – and irrespective of whether you like prog – this is an album about the world we live in in 2017. This is like an audio reaction to the home news section of a newspaper. Agree with it or not, like it or not, you should at least experience it. After all, we ARE all in this together.
IT: ‘We’re All In This Together’ was released on 1 March 2017.
My four-part interview series on the story of the band and the creative development behind this new album is online for listen again on this site.