(All Album Reviews by JJ)
Not As Good As The Book is The Tangent's fourth album and features yet more line-up changes, with vocalist/guitarist Jakko Jakszyk (of Level 42, 21st Century Schizoid Band and a solo career of his own) drafted in to boost the line-up and a vocal contribution from Julie King on one track. The overall sound of the band- Canterbury-tinged symphonic prog- remains present yet the album still manages to avoid sounding formulaic. The result is another solid album for the band.
There's an overarching concept of middle-age disillusionment, though the album never quite heads off into 'grumpy old man' territory. The first half of the album dubbed "A Crisis In Mid Life" spells out that theme with some new musical territory for the band. Indeed, the deluxe edition of the album has a story written by Tillison to accompany the music.
The title track of this first half is a surprisingly catchy, almost 80s synth pop flavoured ditty with loud synth slabs and a memorable chorus with Andy Tillison and Jakszyk singing in unison. "Bat Out Of Basildon" is rockier than anything the band has previously recorded, with a heavy sax/guitar riff and a lyric mourning the passing of motorbike-themed songs. The title track even has a hint of flamenco!
There are, as ever, a few subtle hints at past prog glories. The usual Canterbury-style fare is present on the instrumental "Celebrity Puree" which has some fine jazzy musicianship. You'll even think former member David Jackson has joined the band again on Theo Travis' sax solo within "The Ethernet", whilst "Lost In London 25 Years Later" has a Caravan-esque zip due to its jaunty flute motif and wry lyrics. Meanwhile, the caustic, acoustic "A Sale Of Two Souls" has a hint of Peter Hammill's Over days.
The 2nd disc is an altogether different beast; perhaps 'beast' is the operative word as it's given over to two 20-odd minute epics. The melodies are rather less upfront than they were on the first disc, yet they are there if one is prepared to dig for them. "Four Egos One War" originated from Tillison's previous band Parallel Or 90 Degrees, and is exhumed here as the issues Tillison sang about then are still very pressing. It ranges from Tangerine Dream-esque ethereal soundscapes (for the retro-synth fiends, check out those Rubycon-era sound patches) with vocals from the aforementioned Julie King, to more forthright up tempo fare. It doesn't quite cohere as well as previous epics like "In Earnest", in my mind, yet sparks fitfully.
"The Full Gamut" is a very personal track, dealing with the split between Tillison and his ex-partner (and former Tangent member) Sam Baine. The idea of charting a breakdown of a relationship within a 25-minute epic is an interesting one, and it's not one that I've encountered on too many other prog albums. It feels more coherent than "Four Egos One War", and the bittersweet reprise of the opening stargazing theme at the end of the piece can't fail to touch the hardest of hearts.
In an interview with Prog Archives, Tillison admitted with refreshing candour that he generally preferred the previous album A Place In The Queue to this album, and a radical overhaul of the line-up followed shortly after with members of the band Beardfish being inducted. However, I would say the album is another triumph for the band. I generally preferred the more accessible first disc, but both discs repay repeated listens.