In the not so distant past, I had the opportunity (and, perhaps, the gall) to label Andy Tillison the “G.K. Chesterton of progressive rock.” As I listen to the latest release by Tillison’s band, The Tangent, I can only nod in approval at my earlier assessment. He has always been a master of story, but, on Auto Reconnaissance, he reveals himself as a master of story telling. Light your pipe, sip from your pint, and pull yourself up next to the fire. Tillison has several tales to tell, and he does so in the best way, as a friend rather than a teacher.
Auto Reconnaissance begins with the discovery of radio—not just its function, but it’s essence—on “Life on Hold.” It’s a short piece, by The Tangent standards, but it offers the perfect introduction to an album that demonstrates the wonder of life.
The second track, the second longest on the album, “Jinxed in Jersey,” tells the story—quite convoluted at times—of Tillison’s journey to the Statue of Liberty. Naturally, the story can be understood at many different levels, the literal but also the symbolic. If, on track one, the boy Tillison discovered the workings of radio, on track two, the adult Tillison discovers the realities and complexities of America. The renaissance—or was that reconnaissance?—continues.
The third song, “Under Your Spell,” has a Tears for Fears feel, akin to “Working Hour” on Songs from the Big Chair. Melancholic in theme, the song is tasteful to the extreme.
“The Tower of Babel,” track four, is the shortest on the album, but it’s intense and unrelenting with its disco-esque beat. A clever look at the techno-babble of the modern world, as the song’s title indicates, Tillison wonders just how we manage to speak to one another with so many types of technologies (where is that simple radio of track one!?!?) and so much noise in our modern whirligig of a very human (and very flawed) world. “The system is human, too!”
At nearly one-half of an hour long, “Lie Back and Think of England,”—a jazzy, pastoral meditation—provides the brilliant backbone to the album. Where are those hills and those dales? On this track, especially, Tillison proves his title as the Chesterton of the prog world. The song’s structure harkens back to the first two albums of The Tangent, and it is a gorgeous harkening, filled with passionate solos and musical lingerings and wild segues.
The final track of the album, “The Midas Touch,” provides the proper conclusion to such a complex album, offering a jazz-fusion odyssey.
The previous two The Tangent albums were deeply (and, at times, distractingly) political, but this album is appreciatively cultural. Indeed, it is Tillison and the band at its absolute best. Heartfelt, clever, tasteful (yes, I know I’ve used this word already in this review) and, most of all, intelligent, Auto Reconnaissance is a true work of art, taken as a whole and even analyzed in parts. Tillison proves that he remains England’s red-headed mischievous genius.