Tag Archives: Andy Tillison

Heartfelt and Intelligent: Auto Reconnaissance by The Tangent

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.

PROXY by The Tangent

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 LondonNot 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.