The Tangent – Songs From The Hard Shoulder: Album Review

The Tangent show no signs of weakening as they reach their twentieth year and twelfth album

Release Date: 10th June 2022

Label: Inside Out Music

Format: digital / CD / LP

The Tangent and Andy Tillison. A band and a flag bearer who is never going to be anything less than interesting. With Luke Machin, Theo Travis, Jonas Reingold and Steve Roberts lining up once more alongside Mr T, we find the intrepid quintet surfing an avalanche of ideas that have ‘progressive’ at the core, but swing wildly and regularly between styles.

It’s our most organized and structured album to date within each composition, but each composition has an entirely different purpose. It’s almost like three different albums in one,” says Tillison of three challengingly lengthy compositions plus the no less thought provoking Wasted Soul that’s condensed into four minutes.

The Tillison vocal and lyrical style that works so well is at play from the off on The Changes that finds him narrating a Tangent related story, a la Jinxed In Jersey from Auto Reconnaissanc; one that draws on the familiar scenario from the past couple of years. Yes, there’s an overarching melancholy amidst the jazzy, funky, soulful mid section that find the band working up an increasingly rabid storm as they get into a groove. It still provides an ultimate optimism, despite quoting some melancholic McCartney and Bill Nelson lines. Yazz’s The Only Way Is Up is the one that lifts, along with the rallying cry of “Let’s make something happen here! Let’s not just go back to normal!” Add the additional uplifting musical pull of the last four minutes of classic melodic prog, Camel/Hackett style – a musical reminiscenece, just like looking through that old box of photos and despite being labelled by some as a curmudgeonly type, we get the ‘Andy Tillison looks on the bright side of life’ shock horror.

Whatever The GPS Vultures refers to, it might be a case of using a GPS to navigate an instrumental piece that fuses its way through areas of jazz, prog, Canterbury and general weirdness where discordance and Latino/Mariachi vibes briefly hover into view. Gold star for the snaking ethnicity of the synth part that like all before (and after) doesn’t outstay its welcome. Add what seems like the soundtrack excerpts from various US/UK TV cop/drama series of the Seventies and the seventeen minutes flies by. Flutes, wind, bass, synths and guitar all step into the glare of the spotlight at various points, stabbing and flowing an unpredictable route.

Heralded by a gentle piano part, The Lady Tied To The Lamp Post provides another semi-autobiographical tale. Another touch of pathos in a thought provoking (again) story of homelessness. Is Andy Tillison himself the red haired hippy in the lyric as we find the narrator questioning himself yet guiding his thoughts in a musical direction –

he wonders how they make it so easy For him to just leave her behind on the streets But somewhere on his way home he’s thinking ‘music’ and ‘lyrics’

He draws the analogy of the ease with which our broken down cars are quickly and efficiently attended while human life is left with much less of a care. It’s not an unusual scenario, but always hits hard, particularly in the evocative image of the homeless figure finding some semblance of dignity in simply holding her head up while she’s tied to the post to stop her toppling over. She also represents the album’s title in its reference to observing the world from a static point – stuck in the breakdown line while life flashes past us. “For many, the loneliness of lockdown was an alienating experience,” says Andy, “like we were losing touch with the flow of traffic… something that is shared with the homeless character on the cover sat by the roadside as we pass her by.”

Not quite spitting a Roger Waters style venom, the narrative comes accompanied by a contrastingly easy smoothness initially, yet steps up with some typically progressive tropes and he chance for Luke Machin to let loose on some funky jabs and punches. And for what seems like an encore, or at least the chance to end on a high, the bright swing of Wasted Soul sees Andy leading the troupes into Disciples Of Soul grooves as if to reinforce the “if we keep on moving we’ll be alright” philosophy. Not what you;d expect on a Prog(gy) album but it’s a welcome and optimistic curveball that’s a more than apt closure for an album that covers all bases.

Here’s the lyric video for The Lady Tied To The Lamp Post:

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