One of my favorite song-based prog rock bands in recent years has been England’s Pure Reason Revolution, who in 2020 came off of a decade-long hiatus. And they will soon be releasing their second album after their return in the form of ‘Above Cirrus.’ Like all albums in this era, it was written and recorded around pandemic problems, and the themes reflect this reality as well. The album also sees the full time return of guitarist Greg Jong for the first time since 2005, the result is a punchier and heavier album than its predecessor and an album that fans are sure to enjoy.
As mentioned there are themes throughout this album that while not reflecting on the pandemic, do relate to life during it, and how it affects relationships. The lyrics were predominantly written by the lead vocalist/ guitarist keyboardist Jon Courtney and there is a large focus on the dichotomy of romantic relationships, mostly how we can go from being tender and loving and selfless to becoming savage, and selfish in our words, actions and desires, and how we must adapt, and overcome such things in a world that grows ever more difficult by the day. The consequences of which is probably the darkest album they have done yet lyrically, and the music frequently reflects that.
The album kicks off with “Our Prism” and it wastes no time getting right into heavy guitar riffs, and driving drumming provided by Geoff Dugmore. The lyrics of love and rage set up the common theme of the album, and Jon’s vocals rage over the tempest in an agonized, almost primal fashion. The clear and beautiful vocals of Chloe Alper (bass/keys/vocals) are ever present as well providing a calm, and balance to the turmoil, and the chaos that surrounds them, it proves to be an effective, albeit a quite short opening track.
This is followed by “New Kind of Evil” which begins in a much more mellow, and melodic fashion. The guitar tone is highly reminiscent of classic Billy Corgan (and Jon’s vocals are as well). PRR has always had a strong and very melodic electronic side to their progressive sound, and this track is a prime example, the chorus has their classic vocal harmonies, and a beautiful blending of Jon and Chloe’s voices. At the same time, the guitar is never far away, it remains subdued for the most part, but retains brooding darkness in the background in contrast to the more positive, and love-oriented lyrics. At 8:32 it is the second longest track on the album, and it makes good use of the full time.
‘Above Cirrus’ is a fairly short album, only 7 tracks, with a runtime of 45 minutes, so each song is important, and a loss for skipping on talking about. “Phantoms’ and “Cruel Deliverance” are flip sides of the PRR coin, while both contain a lot of electronic elements, “Phantoms” veers closer to the metal side of things, while “Cruel Deliverance” leans much more in the Pink Floyd influences that the band has always had. All of this leads to “Scream Sideways” which is the longest track, and one of my favorites. Musically it harkens back to their debut album ’The Dark Third’ as it is an example of when their guitar-heavy prog side fully integrates with the more electronic pop side. They are not a band trying to run the listener over with their technicality, solid songwriting has always been the most important thing, but this is one of the more technical, and mentally engaging pieces from a musical standpoint. Strong vocal melodies and blending aren’t missing either, and this combined with more introspective lyrics focusing on finding mutual healing with one’s partner make this a real standout song.
After the very catchy, melody-driven “Dead Butterfly” we come to the closing track “Lucid’ which closes the album on a much heavier, and darker note. The song begins quietly, with Jon singing over a simple piano line, before picking up speed, and purpose. Musically it stays light for the first minute or so, while lyrically it goes dark quite quickly with the verse ‘Crucify my love/ Blurred & twisted/ Who am I to love?” Before long the light nature of the music changes and the heaviness begins to build and explode, while it does the lyrics take an unexpected turn left, and delve into biblical imagery and apocalyptic visions of impending doom. The melody remains strong though, and the album ends with a spark of hope and light in the gloom ‘Be the lover be the vein be the light in catacombs.’ It perfectly wraps up an at times uneasy exploration of love and personal relationships by reminding us that at the end of the day despite it all, we have to be the light in a dark world for our spouse, partner, or even friend, in an increasingly hostile environment, for some that’s all they have to hold onto.
I was more than a little surprised to learn that Pure Reason Revolution was releasing a new album less than two years after their unexpected comeback. But they have done so, and ‘Above Cirrus’ is one of the most engaging, and well written albums of their career, and indeed prog rock in general in recent years. Long time fans will find a lot to love here, and with its harder hitting sound, and moderate running time, it is a perfect album to introduce to people who have never listened to them. Highly recommended.