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Lifesigns - Cardington album review

The UK proggers’ second proves the sky’s the limit

Lifesigns’ vocalist/keyboardist John Young might not be a household name, but his musical CV (including time with John Wetton, Jon Anderson writing sessions, tours with Asia and a stint with The Strawbs) is indicative of the standard expected as a member of this collective. So while it may have taken four years to follow up on their well-received debut, when this group of career musicians turned their minds back to this passion project, it happened quickly. Fan-funded via Pledge Music, the group hit their target in 48 hours, and that sense of momentum is palpable throughout Cardington.

It’s a story of colossal scope, capturing the ambition of the age.

The great irony of neo-prog is that much of it sounds tired – light on both the new and the progressive. Lifesigns neatly sidestep this issue by channelling elements of AOR and soft rock into an album inspired variously by reflections on culture, creativity and, of course, the rise and fall of British dirigible manufacturing.

The latter manifests itself on title track Cardington, a potted history of the UK aviation facility, which finds an Icarus-like metaphor in the British government’s attempts to construct the world’s most advanced airship, the R101 – a project that ultimately resulted in tragedy and the deaths of 48 people after it crashed on its maiden voyage. It’s a story of colossal scope, ably translated into an 11-minute journey that captures the excitement and ambition of the age, the vast spaciousness of the heavens and, in its darker moments, the tragic hubris of this Titanic-esque tale.

Some of the heavier lyrical touches risk undermining this grandiose scheme – ‘the onset of dirigibles’ should have failed the scan test, for example – but it succeeds where its inspiration failed, delivering on the vision, from the appropriately breezy elegance in Dave Bainbridge and Menno Gootjes’s ascending electric leads to the airy harmony vocals of the song’s closing stages.

It’s an album stuffed with talent. Bainbridge in particular crops up a lot on this record’s finest moments, so it’s welcome news that he’s set to tour with the band. Elsewhere, ex-Cardiacs/Wildhearts man Jon Poole, drafted in to replace bassist Nick Beggs, brings a most welcome spiky texture to these indulgent proceedings. His spaghetti lines on anti-X Factor rant Touch build in grunt throughout offering a counterfoil to Young’s quick-fingered keys solo and forming one of the record’s most powerful moments.

The evidence that this prog-based passion play may yet become the day job for Young and co is therefore mounting. Cardington could prove the tipping point.