Thinking Plague - Hoping Against Hope album review

Veteran avant-rockers have high hopes.

Thinking Plague - Hoping Against Hope album artwork

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At a time when hope is becoming something of a precious commodity, there’s reassurance to be gleaned from the knowledge that Thinking Plague have been going against the prevailing dictates of fads and fashion since 1982.

Helmed by guitarist and principal composer Mike Johnson, an evolving line-up has produced eight provocative albums. Essentially unpicking the astringent threads and loose ends of Henry Cow’s back catalogue, Johnson and his ensemble make a sound that stretches that sometimes austere fabric into new shapes. Referencing some of the generic tropes associated with RIO testiness, Johnson’s writing has an orchestral scope that remains intimate in its execution. This is precise, energetic music, prone to speedy divisions wherein competing tensions in harmony and rhythm create dramatic encounters. The frail sonorities of woodwinds, shimmering keyboards, rattling percussion and searing twin-lead guitar lines pivot from creeping unease to galloping paranoia with a stark efficiency. Elaine di Falco’s deadpan vocals are layered as much for timbral effect as any of the cautionary messages within. As arch margin-dwellers their perseverance deserves not just respect but support.

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.