Having started out in 2002 as a one-off solo project from Andy Tillison during an extended break from Parallel Or 90 Degrees, The Tangent has since grown into a multi-headed beast than nothing can stop. Not even the minor heart attack that Tillison suffered two years ago, just after the release of their eighth studio effort, A Spark In The Aether.
If said album marked a return to prog rock dynamics after the orchestral flourishes of 2013’s Le Sacre Du Travail, then The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery is very much cast from similar stuff. It is, however, more inflamed than we might expect. This might or might not be down to Tillison’s recent brush with mortality, but there’s no denying the rage and disaffection at the kernel of these highly topical songs. The multi-instrumentalist uses Roger Waters as an example of someone whose proggist tendencies pack a fierce socio-political punch. “Waters set a challenge to others in the genre,” he states. “A challenge which has not been frequently accepted.”
With that in mind, you certainly can’t accuse Tillison of neglect of duty. The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery… is an often savage critique of Britain in 2017, his ire directed towards those in positions of responsibility, from the establishment to the tabloid press and the more divisive elements of TV news. At the album’s centre is Slow Rust, over 22 minutes of eloquent, far-reaching prog that addresses the British Empire and how nationalist attitudes still prevail in some quarters.
Tillison’s vocals entwine with those of new recruit Marie-Eve de Gaultier on a sublime epic that flows gently one moment and roars the next. There are stinging references to the wars we make and the wars we happily finance, alongside the right-wing media’s coverage of the refugee crisis. Tillison compares the tone of reportage surrounding those on the boats (‘like incidental characters in a weekend hospital show’) to the frivolous goings-on chez Brangelina.
The sense of revulsion is magnified further in the epic A Few Steps Down The Wrong Road, with its nods to Brexit and the false narrative of ordinary people being allowed mastery of their own political destiny.
All this might suggest a prolonged outpouring of wrath, yet The Tangent invest these songs with a measured grace that befits musicians of the stature of sax player/flautist Theo Travis, guitarist Luke Machin and bassist Jonas Reingold. Doctor Livingston (I Presume) is a busy instrumental that plays to all their strengths, a fusionist’s dream of prog, jazz and quasifunk, proving The Tangent can still deliver on a grand scale.