Classical music and prog go together like Wakeman and capes. Perhaps that’s the problem though: the symphonic runs too deep in prog’s DNA. It’s a cliché. Maybe that’s why The Tangent’s new classically-infused offering feels like a risk.
Sure, it’s not like Tillison and company have hired a 60-piece orchestra, but Le Sacre Du Travail sups deep from the cup filled by The Moody Blues and BJH in days of yore. Yet the risk was worth taking. This is a deeply impressive, five-movement meditation on the daily grind, and never have the frustrations and rhythms of work sounded so attractive.
Yet while this story of ‘a day in the life’ employs all we’ve come to love from the Tangents – jazz, guitar wig-outs, lush keys, blues and bombast – Tillison has discovered a new expansiveness. If this is The Tangent reaching back to the dawn of prog (and The Moodies’ Days Of Future Passed in particular), they’re reshaping it for the 21st century. If the Moodies were inspired by the romantic era of classical music, Tillison draws more from modernist spikiness. Think Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring with added synth and guitar virtuosity. This is reflected in the insane percussive jolts of the overture, which captures the moment of waking brilliantly.
The centrepieces of Le Sacre Du Travail are the second and third movements, comprising over 30 minutes of sinuous, constantly evolving music. The second, Morning Journey And Arrival, is an astonishing combination of balls-out rock, bluesy sass and modernist bangs and whistles. The third, Afternoon Malaise, leaps sideways, opening with two minutes of Delius-influenced beauty, before blasting into solar jazz akin to Colosseum. But, as ever with Tillison, this isn’t smarts for smarts’ sake. The refrain, ‘They can’t take it with them’, is pure infectious pop.
Jakko Jakszyk’s chops are outstanding here and Big Big Train’s David Longdon’s world-weary guest vocals are a treat. Evening TV – the other extended section – opens with a gigantic Lamb-era Genesis keys workout, and its lyrics reference everything from gridlock, to Rush tattoos, to the UK DJ Steve Wright.
As a whole, Le Sacre Du Travail is surely Tillison’s magnum opus. As ever there are stellar players (including a returning Jonas Reingold), but it is the vision which impresses. It is an album of rare cohesiveness, which takes the everyday trials of life and infuses them with the air of the sacred. Unlike the daily commute, it’s a journey you will actually want to take again and again.