Given his regular stints on bass with Steven Wilson and Steve Hackett, his recent work on John Mitchell’s Lonely Robot project and his position as a permanent member of Belgian proggers Fish On Friday (in-between gigging with that noted prog survivor Kim Wilde), it’s something of a wonder that Nick Beggs has found any time for his own songwriting.
But it turns out he didn’t spend his downtime on tour following the traditional rock musician pursuits of carousing and cavorting – instead he wrote songs. Erstwhile touring cohorts Roger King (keyboards) and Marco Minnemann (drums, guitar) were roped in to help bring them to life, and this collection of 11 songs suggests it was time well spent.
Thematically, this is a mixture of the personal and political, and at first, the latter concerns seem to have the upper hand. The opening title track is full of menacing melodrama reminiscent of Rush’s more dystopian moments, as Beggs takes aim at shadowy forces whose covert control of our lives is only ever a crisis away from a more openly sinister dictatorship: ‘They hide behind a human shield,’ sings Beggs. ‘The enemy within, the parallel dark corridors of the machine that’s built to win.’
A diverse record from a supremely versatile talent.
Praying To A Mute God tackles religious fundamentalism and Feed The Troll puts us in the position of an internet provocateur, but providing a touch of light between those two shady topics is Night School For Idiots, a bittersweet, lovelorn ballad. The band seem at home with both the yin and yang of these moods, and although Your Dark Ideas gets positively panto as Beggs cackles over a nightmarish maelstrom of angular, staccato metal, fans who like their prog served up with a gothic tinge will surely lap it up.
The considerable musicianship brought to the table by these three mostly plays understated servant to the songwriting, and yet the mid-album pairing of Strange Relationship and Swimming Horses takes us on quite a ride, thanks to the former track’s beguiling keyboard noodles and shuffling rhythm, and the latter’s ebb and flow from floaty, chattering unease to sumptuous orchestral swell and urgent organ soliloquies.
To these ears, though, Beggs sounds best when he’s venting less abrasive emotions. His talent for a gorgeously melancholic melody makes Last Man On Earth a standout, and the regretful lullaby of Father Daughter (with impressive guest vocals from Beggs’ actual daughter Lula) closes the album with similarly stirring broad strokes. A suitably diverse record from a supremely versatile talent.