Now we have a ‘proper’ concept album. Now We Have Light, Sanguine Hum’s third, is set on a future Earth, which is plunged into darkness after a catastrophic explosion.
A man named Don invents a valuable renewable energy source. This he does by combining the power of cats always landing the right way up with the power of toast always landing buttered side down. He creates an endlessly-spinning loop by… buttering cats. It’s an adaptation of a venerable jokey paradox, and irrefutably logical. But then, like all good post-apocalyptic outsiders, Don is pursued by a shadowy government. Being evil, they want to steal his magical McGuffin. They have flying scooters.
At least we think that’s what’s going on. Not everything is strictly linear in this imaginative world. Sanguine Hum thoughtfully provide a lengthy backstory booklet: they’ve taken this with covertly winking seriousness. There are knowing echoes of Rael’s journey-flight in The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (and let’s face it, nobody was ever entirely sure about the fine detail of that either), The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage. It’s so ambitious and impressive that you feel like issuing a decree that all prog albums should, by law, once again be built around a bizarre, baroque, bonkers, narrative framework.
Of course it would all – unlike the central cats – fall flat on its face if the music didn’t pass muster. With track titles ranging from Spanning The Eternal Abyss (in six parts) to Shit! (just one part for that one), the Oxfordshire band display versatility and virtuosity, irreverence and intelligence, and pull off a mesmerising magnum opus. Key members Joff Winks (Pye Hastings-style vocals and guitars) and Matt Baber (bounteous keyboards) began gestating the idea years ago, when performing as Antique Seeking Nuns, and Sanguine Hum’s second album Weight Of The World served as a prequel. Now they felt ready to tackle “the hardest record we’ve ever made”.
With bassist Brad Waissman (terrific on Cat Factory), Andrew Booker (of No-Man and Henry Fool) on drums and Jim Hart on vibraphone, they glide through epic, flowing Floyd-isms (lovely swoony passages) and blasts of looping electronica. They excel at both the subtle unfussy grandeur of the Wilson-Bowness axis and tricksy flourishes that call to mind Tears For Fears, Radiohead, Buggles or Gentle Giant.
There’s a warmth and cohesion to the whole which makes 80 minutes fly by, like a movie that welcomes you into its world and convinces you you’re living there for the duration. Can’t wait for the upcoming sequel, Now We Have Power…