Apart from its musical museum curating, another problem with Prog are its lyrics, which for the most part delight in telling us in oft repeated ways how shit everything is...really? I had no idea..., mixed with a generous helping of "woe is me". There are exceptions to this rule of course, which would seem to apply to prog metal more than anything else. Modern prog lyrics also shy away from anything directly political, preferring to remain in the field of personal politics, or occasionally making vague ironic generalisations along the lines of "We don't need no educashun". Not that Floyd were a Prog band anyway, but that's another discussion.
For a long time now, one of the bands that seem to me to epitomise this ginnel for backward looking navel gazers is The Tangent, a group mysteriously revered by men (and a few ladies) of a certain age. To them, their leader Andy Tillison can do no wrong, and the comment "Tillison is God" has cropped up in many a forum and YouTube thread over the years.
I've had a few run-ins with Tangent fans and indeed Mr Tillison in the past, but as often occurs, the man at the centre of this turns out to be a decent chap, for Andy is a bloke whose worldview is from the heart, and his taste in music is almost as good as mine! When I heard recently that he had unleashed yet another twenty-minute epic on the world, although obviously it was good to see him fully active again after his health problems, I inwardly groaned...o gawd, not another one, I thought.
And there it is, A Few Steps Down The Wrong Road in all its glory.
Mr T's lyrics have often ventured into social commentary in the past, sometimes more successfully than others, but I don't want to drag up that album again. However with this new one he goes for the jugular in the manner of the old punk rocker he really is with an outpouring of justified righteous anger that burns down post-Brexit Britain like an unstoppable flow of molten lava. Yes, some of his arguments are over-simplified, but this is Yorkie plain speaking, telling it straight like Boycott minus the grating irritation factor. What Andy venomously spits out, looking uncannily like an unhinged Arthur Brown in the video all needs saying, and it is 100% spot on. I have not heard a prog rock song this angry since...ever? There was a moment just before Gustav Holst's Thaxted is wrung out of Luke Machin's guitar, when Andy's rising tide of anger and frustration at his fellow Brits' calamitous decision on 23rd June hits an emotive crescendo that made me well up, and sent a shiver down my spine. I never in a million years suspected that anything by The Tangent would be remotely capable of getting that reaction from the cynical old bugger that is yours truly. Knock me dahn wiv a fevver, Clevor Trevor!
The music is almost secondary, painting a fine canvas, with the reed blowing of Theo Travis being a particular highlight. In typical overblown Tangent fashion this epic probably would have worked better as two songs as there is a natural split not long after the Thaxted section. Frankly though, that criticism is irrelevant, as Andy Tillison has written a lyric that will send ripples out across the Progpond for many a week to come. There has already been some averse reaction from conservative-minded fans saying he should leave the overt politics alone, and that they have no place in Prog, or that it makes them feel "uncomfortable", poor lambs. Bollocks say I, all good art, let alone music, takes risks in dark times to expose the heavy manners it was created under, otherwise an anodyne bland Hell awaits.
All good art also requires an open mind to enable its creation, and frankly I have never understood how anyone who purports to be a lover of art, in this case music, can have a closed and conservative (big and/or little "c" optional) mindset, thus leading to the kind of criticism mentioned. You may not agree with the politics (boo to you!) but surely you can only admire the heart-on-sleeve honesty? This song is a courageous move by Andy Tillison, and I salute his bravery, flying in the face of the cosseted outlook of a lot of his own fans. More power to him, I say!