Where else but an album by The Tangent, would you find a cross between ELP, Steely Dan, The Isley Brothers, Aphex Twin, National Health and Rose Royce? That’s Auto Reconnaissance, Andy Tillison’s most recent set of self-observations.
Release Date: 21st August 2020
Label: InsideOut Music
Format: CD / DL / 2LP vinyl
Andy Tillison would probably hate it but The Tangent are at a stage now where they could easily bag the ‘prog rock supergroup’ tag. He’s got Luke Machin doing tremendous work (again) and seems to have really found the perfect place for his guitar talents. Jonas Reingold is back in the fold after stints with Steve Hackett and The Flower Kings – very Flower King-y (or Flower-y King?) this album is too. Theo Travis on sax and flute is pretty legendary and can list Steven Wilson, Soft Machine, Gong and Robert Fripp on his CV. He almost joined King Crimson too… And drummer Steve Roberts also has his Crimson and solid Prog Rock connections.
They’re a quartet who help him bring his unswerving commitment to Progressive Rock to life. Having said that, Auto Reconnaissance has a strong flavour of funk, soul and jazz amongst its hour of playing time; maybe more so than on any other Tangent album. At times, you could feel like you’re immersed in the soundtrack to a stroll in the hood with Starsky and Hutch, particularly on Jinxed In Jersey, more of which later.
Tillison ALWAYS has his finger on the pulse of world events and is the master of biting topical commentary and observation so there’s no surprise as Life On Hold kicks off with an unthreatening march to lead off the album. “The absorption of facts led to the closing of doors” accompanies tons of jazzy stabs (reminiscent of the “see the Stewart are dressed up” part of Genesis’ Eleventh Earl Of Mar) and runs from the organ/keys. At the core is the idiosyncratic vocal style that flits between a handy croon and olde Yorkshire.
With such a commitment to the progressive rock philosophy, naturally, there are two biggies. The tone poem on Jinxed In Jersey where Andy Tillison takes us on an expedition through the Big Apple that begins with “I asked the concierge to help me, to find the best way to walk to the Statue Of Liberty.” And he’s off on a journey full of attention-grabbing lines and an absorbing narrative.
The Yorkshire kid in Jersey ventures through the settings you don’t see on TV and digs up the phrase ‘Shank’s Pony’ – not something you hear every day. The soundtrack swings crazily between cool mood music to heavier passages and dancing flute.
He feels he’s walking through a Bruce Springsteen song, encountering with a cop who works out he’s in a band before spending time with some guys near a building that looks like the front cover of Physical Graffiti. He also visits a library and reads a Brexit article in the New York Times. Fascinating stuff and an insight into a Tillison holiday whilst providing the inspiration for a song.
Lie Back & Think Of England has my favourite bit of the album towards the end of its almost half hour where the ‘there’ll always be an England’ passion of the lines like “the hills and the dales sticking out of the sea” raise the spirit before a second wind carries us over the line. Guitar solo time naturally. It’s an epic piece where lush orchestration matches a passionate ode to our homeland. Sweeping grandeur and fizzing organ inspire and bring a swell to the heart and tear to the eye.
With these two done and dusted, we need something less intense and there are some cool jazzy flavours that dominate the shorter tracks. Under Your Spell, in particular, may be a response to Nina Simone’s I Put A Spell On You and could well be the only time you’re likely to hear the seductive “If I make it, I’ll make it with you” line on a prog rock record.
The bonus track Proxima is an interesting diversion; The Tangent in experimental and improvisational mode a la Vangelis and certainly a different feel to the rest of Auto Reconnaissance.
However, it goes to hammer home the point that The Tangent are an outfit who can always be relied upon for their eclecticity, which could be a made up word yet seems totally apt to use in considering Auto Reconnaissance. As English and eccentric as Woolworths and like another famous English institution, never knowingly undersold.
Listen to The Tower Of Babel here: