A review of The Tangent, Proxy (Sony, 2018).
I doubt if I’ll ever forget the first time I encountered The Tangent’s The Music That Died Aloneback in 2003. I came to them because of a notice that Roine Stolt was a part of it. At that point, I had not heard of Andy Tillison. From the moment I first encountered Tillison, though, I thought he was incapable of a misstep. If anything, I thought way too highly of him (that is, way too highly of any person. While I didn’t think he could walk on water, I had him rather close to being able to do so. Over the last fifteen years, I have explored every aspect of Tillison’s music—from The Tangent to his PO90 work to his various solo projects. I even had the privilege of spending several days with Andy and his beautiful and brilliant significant other, Sally.
But, back to The Music That Died Alone. That album, to this day, remains a masterpiece. The way that Tillison combined and fused the old and the new amazed me to no end, and it continues to do so. I can put that CD in the tray and enjoy it after God only knows how many listens. Each time I hear it, I hear something new and fresh. It would not be an exaggeration to state that it has been the soundtrack of my life over one and one half decades.
And, I have felt the same about several other The Tangent albums, but, in particular, Down and Out in Paris and London, Not as Good as the Book(I own two copies—one never opened, simply to protect the book that comes with it), and, most especially, Le Sacre du Travail. This last will always be an all-time favorite. If someone forced me to name my top albums of all time, it would certainly be in the top 10 and, very likely, the top 5. I know of no other rock artist—past or present—capable offering social criticism better than does Tillison. At his best, he is sublimely Chestertonian in his art.
This afternoon, my copy of Proxy, the most relent The Tangent album, arrived. Amen. I’d heard a promo copy, but this is the first time I’ve been able to listen to the album in all of its glory. And, it is rather glorious, especially musically.
The opening track, “Proxy,” tells a rather sordid tale of international diplomacy and manipulations in six parts.
The only way to describe track two, “The Melting Andalusian Skies,” is classy. The song sounds like something that could’ve been played in a nice nightclub, circa 1947. The war is over, and we, the listeners, want to find the good in what remains.
“A Case of Misplaced Optimism,” is really, really funky. This one might grow on me, but, at the moment, it somewhat eludes my understanding and my sympathy.
Another six-part song, “The Adulthood Lie,” is the highpoint of this album. Avoiding the political rants of the opening track to the album, “The Adulthood Lie” is Tillison at his socially critical best. Indeed, when it comes to writing lyrics about cultural problems and ideas, no one in the current world of music does better, as noted above.
The final proper track of the album is a re-write and re-release of the 2013 song, “Supper’s Off,” a criticism of those rock fans of the 1970s who became corporate bosses and lawyers. I’m curious to know why Tillison decided to remake this song. The version from 2013—much leaner than this one—was perfect as is. This 2018 version is certainly fine, but it lacks the raw energy of the original.
The final (bonus) track of the album is a excerpt from Tillison’s last solo album, recorded under the name of “Kalman Filter.” That album, Exo-Oceans, is excellent, but I’m not quite sure what it’s doing as a bonus here. A bit of marketing by an artist who hates marketing?
Tillison has become overly-political in his lyrics over the last two albums. On his last album, he claimed that those who believed in Brexit were Nazi-Hitler sympathizers. Not being British, I guess I don’t understand the issue well. In interviews, Tillison has described himself as an anarchist. I would presume that an anarchist would favor the breakup of large political entities such as the EU.
Maybe anarchism has a different meaning in England than it does here in the States?
Proxy, though, avoids the political rants of the previous album. Not surprisingly, as such, it’s much better. Let’s hope Tillison finds his way out of the political world and fully back into the world of art and social criticism.