It never fails – I post a “Best of 20_ _” list, and then up pops a masterpiece that I missed. That is the case with 2019 and Pendragon’s wonderful album, Love Over Fear. Ah well, better late than never, right?
Pendragon is a British prog band whose illustrious history stretches all the way back to 1978, when punk was all the rage, and prog was definitely not in vogue. Yet, despite wild swings in musical fashion, Pendragon has remained true to their vision, and they are all the more respected for it.
Nick Barrett (guitars, vocal, keyboards) is the one constant through the decades, and he writes all the songs on Love Over Fear. He is assisted by long-time bandmates Clive Nolan (keyboards) and Peter Gee (bass), as well as Jan Vincent Velazco (drums and percussion). A review copy of the album was in my DropBox, and I decided to give it a listen.
After five straight repeat listens, I ordered a hard copy. You won’t find them on Spotify, so if you want to hear this exceptionally fine album, support the band and order a copy for yourself at pendragon.mu.
What sets Love Over Fear apart from the embarrassment of riches that 2019 blessed prog fans with? First, the music. The first track, Everything, bursts forth from your speakers with all the exuberance of a Riding The Scree. Starfish and the Moon is a pensive piano-based ballad featuring a timeless melody and an airy guitar solo. Truth And Lies is a slow building, majestic song whose overdubbed acoustic guitars lulls the listener into a sense of languor until a wicked electric guitar solo takes over. 360 Degrees is the poppiest of the lot, with a hook (played on violin by Zoe Devenish) that lodges itself in your brain and won’t leave. If it had been released in 1982 (the year of C’mon Eileen), it would be a massive international hit single. Eternal Light is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard. It sends the listener up to the heights of heaven. Who Really Are We? is a viciously rocking track with a Kashmir-worthy guitar riff that crushes everything in its path. Heck, I could go on in a similar vein for every song on Love Over Fear. Every single track is exceptionally fine – I had a hard time getting through the album, because I kept hitting repeat.
Second, the words. After I had the actual CD in my hands, and I was able to peruse Barrett’s lyrics, I was blown away with his courage and vision. Love Over Fear is a cri de coeur against the current “cancel culture” that is having a reign of terror on social media, and a plea to learn from the wisdom previous generations accumulated through hard experience and suffering. Take these lines from Everything:
The spectrum is a lie
Love is the new hate
Hate is the new love
We’ve all been roundly deceived
And swallowed all the bait
Or how about these from Truth and Lies:
Farewell my trusted friends
These books they burn transcend
The hunger we have for the knowledge
For wisdom and the wise
Deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole
Deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole
The lie told often enough as sooth becomes the truth
And these from the centerpiece, Eternal Light:
Turn off that TV set and read a book instead
Read about the world and the universe
Don’t fill your snowflake head
With how beautiful I am
And, finally, from Who Really Are We?, a warning of the soft totalitarianism taking over the West:
The books of Solzhenitsyn
The wisdom of kings
Censored plays and words
And all that can bring
It seeks to divide us
While pretending to unite us
And neither they repented of their murders
And I see their gulag faces
Frozen to the floor
Love’s become the new hate’s become the new love
And therein lies the biggest deception of all
You can’t fight it
It’s the law
Nick Barrett is a 21st century prophet – proclaiming uncomfortable truths about our current culture. He is begging us to return to those thinkers who built civilization, and turn away from those who seek to tear it down. It doesn’t hurt that his jeremiad is wrapped in such appealing musical accompaniment. Love Over Fear isn’t one of the best albums of 2019; it is one of the best of the last decade. May love triumph over fear.