I literally just finished my review of “Calling All Stations” by Genesis and was looking through a folder on my desktop called “Relisten” and saw an album I forgot I recently downloaded: “Tales from a Lush Attic” by I.Q.
Yes, it’s progressive rock. How could you tell?
As a matter of fact, it’s the 1983 or so neo-prog semi-debut by a band named after the term “Intelligence Quotient.” That’s how you know they’re serious and very good: they’re literally the concept of intelligence.
Hey, you ever notice how “neo” usually prefaces things that either outright suck, blow or are even somewhat totally terrifying?
Neo-conservative. Neo-Nazi. Neo-prog. See what I mean?
I mean come on…Marillion…Dream Theater…Ayeron…Anglagard…I’ve heard so much of that “neo-prog” crap that I could just about fucking puke blood on a bag of recently orphaned kittens.
Only two out of say 1,000 of those neo-prog bands ever did anything for me. Anglagard sounds so much like an exact mixture of every major prog band that I find them fascinating. They’re hardly even “neo-prog.” More like “regressive prog” but that contradiction is just strange enough to excite me.
Neo-prog is by it’s very nature completely and utterly derivative. That’s kind of the fun of it: to spot which bands they’re stealing from, what ideas they’re stealing, how they’ve masked the ideas, whether they’re capable of writing original melodies and how dramatically over serious they take themselves.
Anglagard is still my best band for band in this category because they don’t sound like anybody: they sound like EVERYBODY. One moment, it’s a pastoral fantasy ripped right from early Genesis, the next it’s stern, semi-comic, snare drum marches straight out of “Thick as a Brick” and suddenly they’re Gentle Giant with convoluted guitar and keyboard interaction.
Perhaps best of all, almost never sing and they almost never take themselves too seriously. They seem to play their music out of a sincere love of progressive rock which is a heartfelt enough to avoid trashing their intentions.
I.Q. is a bit different. It’s not too hard to see who they are modeling themselves after: Peter Nichols is a stunning Peter Gabriel mimic. Actually, I take that back: Nichols is mostly very good at performing the “stern” Gabriel vibe. Everything he sings is dark hued, smoky declamations or important sounding shouts. Nichols never touches on the delicacy of “The Carpet Crawlers” or the hilarity of “Return of the Giant Hogweed.”
Nah, it’s all just “Look at me! Look at me! I’m saying something very important about the world!” when they are, in fact, saying the same old “important thing about the world” that everybody else has already said a thousand times.
Bollocks. Can’t fault his singing in a technical sense (as he is a technically good singer) but the effect is rather dull.
Musically, the band is Genesis if they had resisted the urge to progress into their art-electro-pop stage after Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett left and had continued to write progressive music. In this universe, Gabriel and Hackett never left but integrated 80’s sensibilities, production techniques and playing styles into a 70’s progressive rock format.
So, the playful sense of humor is mostly gone as is the wonderful diversity of approaches that Genesis touched on in the past. So is their pop sensibility which infected even their most convoluted prog “masterpiece.”
That’s not entirely true. I.Q. doesn’t eschew pop sensibilities completely or focus on dissonance. After all, it’s not like I.Q. is playing John Zorn. Each song has a logical build, with several recurring melodies and rather straight forward song structures. Yes, the band gets busy on the arrangements but that’s mostly to hide the fact that they’re more-or-less playing pretty simple songs.
This is the common bane with neo-prog (simple music but busy arrangements to sound more “complex”) but I.Q. pulls it off better than others simply due to the quality of their music. These guys will never knock any of the prog greats off their thrones but everything is well written, occasionally catchy and at the very least highly melodic in a forgetable way.
That isn’t an insult: the album is pleasant while its on and some melodies may even stick in your head. But nothing is hard hitting, unforgettable or truly memorable. It’s all simply “pleasant” and “fun” without being too annoying.
20 minute opener “The Last Human Gateway” (see what I mean about the seriousness of neo-prog?) tells you all you need to know about the album and the band: simple, but engaging build up from organ led chants, complex, busy drumming, wild guitar soloing, Nichols preaching it up like archangel Peter Gabriel and the bass player laying down complex, busy, constantly shifting melodic bass lines.
As a result, “The Last Human Gateway” is a lot of fun for the prog fan that wants some background music but is sick of hearing “Close to the Edge” or even “Land of the Grey and Pink” for the 100th time. Everything they play has been done by better bands but they tweak just enough of the ideas to stay as original as possible within the limited confines of the neo-prog rule book.
Hell, they write their own melodies. Isn’t that neat? And they name a classical piano interlude “My Baby Treats Me Right Cuz I’m a Hard Loving Man” so they can’t be all that bad.
Sure beats the stuffing outta Dream Theater.
The big reason these guys get a pass from me when other, more famous and highly selling bands make me puke is that they never seem to be taking everything too seriously. Sure, the song titles are a little pretentious and Nichols seems much too serious for his own good, but there’s a sense of fun in what they’re doing, a playfulness in their approach and playing (they were, after all, barely teenagers when this came out) that makes it much more infectious than Dream Theater’s latest operatic musically myopic masturbatepiece.
But don’t lose your mind trying to collect this band’s work. I’d say you could get this and maybe the later “The Wake” which is more “pop oriented” by including more tracks with shorter song lengths and you’ll get a good idea of what this band represents.
I know I didn’t review every single song on the album: for the most part, it all sounds exactly the same from one second to the next. Everything is constantly shifting, the arrangements stay the same and nobody ever plays anything truly memorable. The style is very uniform throughout the album in a way that makes it hard to discuss in depth.
Seriously, you’ve literally heard it all with “The Last Human Gateway.” Youtube it if you’re curious.
p.s. This reviews sounds like I hate the band. I don’t. I’m just being honest about their potential. They’re a lot of fun. But nothing mind blowing if you’ve heard the prog greats already.