REVIEW: THE TANGENT – “The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery”
England’s The Tangent are back with their first album since 2015 titled ‘The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery’ and it drops on July 21st. The band has been active in the modern progressive rock community since their first album in 2003 and are led by keyboardist/vocalist (and for the first time ever drummer) Andy Tillison who also serves as the band’s main spokesman and writer.
I’m going to preface this review by saying from the beginning that the album is nearly entirely political in nature. I absolutely despise politics and hate them in rock music. Right, left, whatever; even if I happen to agree with some of what you’re selling, I have absolutely no interest in your political agenda or cause. That, and political-based albums largely become irrelevant and dated before the notes in the studio cease their vibrations. There are some notable exceptions. Pink Floyd’s ‘Animals’ is certainly political, but by and large only in a broad sense that politics and human nature never changes. By contrast, their last album with Roger Waters, ‘The Final Cut,’ is terribly dated, with the exception of the title track (non political) which remains one of my favorite songs of all time. Similarly, Roger’s solo album ‘Amused to Death’ (the last two albums I mention due to The Tangent talking about them specifically in their press release) works very well when writing in a general sense, but loses all potency when specific details from 1992 are the focus of a song. The Tangent, however, takes these albums as a challenge meant to be followed. Clearly I don’t especially agree with them. On the plus side, they largely restrict their commentary to their own country rather than someone else’s, which is refreshing.
The album begins with the more generally timely “Two Rope Swings,” the shortest song on the album that clocks in at 6:31 (the songs on this album are otherwise long with two topping the 17 minute mark) and deals with similarities in culture and environmental issues, both of which will remain relevant 10 years ago, or 10 years from now. The musical style is also firmly established. It is very focused on the keyboards, generally mid ranged in aggression, with a few heavy moments to spice things up. In other words, it’s pretty generic prog rock produced by bands from the mid 90s till now.
Things open up a bit with the next three songs on the album: “Dr. Livingston (I Presume),” the 22 minute epic “Slow Rust,” and “The Sad Story of Lead and Astatine.” All of these songs show what I feel is the true strength of the band (and for that matter most prog in general) and that is extended instrumental sections. They have plenty of them, and the band can stretch and show their chops a bit more, and while not shining, at least light things up a bit. These sections rely heavily on Tillison’s key work, but guitarist Luke Machin has moments when he lets loose, and the music gets a grittier and heavier sound. These are the brief moments when the music gets interesting and begs for a closer listen.
By and large, though, the music sounds like numerous other bands of this era, and there’s nothing any long-time listener of prog hasn’t heard before. The playing is of course still very very good, and there are some nice intricate segments where the instruments move between each other a bit more. But all this is to be expected in a prog band. There are some great moments that I really enjoyed, but by and large my response musically was “meh” more than anything. “The Sad Story…” does have a nice jazzy interlude about halfway through it, where the band really plays flat out, and Tillison shows his skills as a drummer with an extended and highly enjoyable drum solo. For me this entire section is the highlight of the album.
Lyrically they date themselves even further, particularly in “Slow Rust” when Tillison sings “it’s 2016…” except of course it isn’t, and by the time the album is released a half of the current year has already past. I suppose if you’re interested in their political commentary on the state of Britain for things that happened 9 or 10 months ago it might be of interest, otherwise not so much. At this point we’ve nearly reached the hour mark of incessant political heavy handed complaining and commentary. And we still have another 17 minutes to go.
The final track is the 17 minute “A Few Steps Down the Wrong Road” and the band attempts to be clever with it. For all appearances it seems to be a song about modern nationalist pride, some people’s (negative) issues with immigrants, and of course Brexit. But then they pull “the old switcharoo!” and voices with German accents speak to “mein fuhrer” and “well what did you think I was talking about?” to close the album. It hits with all the subtlety of Hercules wielding a sledge hammer. It is clever, however, as virtually no one in the past 70 odd years from any side of any political issue have ever compared someone they disliked to Hitler. I’m sure such an original idea will catch on. Just imagine the implications of being able to compare everyone you dislike to Hitler at any time for any reason! About half the lyrics are delivered in spoken word in a dry, yet snarky, tone, which drags the song down more than enhancing it. Tillison does sing other sections with more force and with driving music, which works considerably better, and the song contains some of the more interesting music on the album.
Ultimately, how you view The Tangent’s ‘The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery’ will in large part depend on how much you enjoy politics in your music. If you think the point of rock music is to make commentary on all such things and you enjoy middle of the road standard prog rock, you might very well enjoy this album. If, however, wading through 75 minutes of political bitching to find the 20 or so minutes of actually interesting music seems a bit much to you, well, then I’d suggest skipping it and looking elsewhere for your progressive rock needs.