IQ - Subterranea,
With this release, IQ have set themselves up to be shot down in flames. They know it, and everyone can imagine what the press are going to say. Not content with releasing a concept CD they have made it a double, and to compound these sins they have produced a stage show around the album (that has already been performed and I could not get to see it, damn). Go on, I dare any of you to say, ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’. Oh, shit, I did it. Now that’s out of the way I ought to also mention the artwork, which is inspiring throughout, with loads of different images. Musically this is instantly recognisable as IQ, although with some important changes. The first of these is that with virtually no time constraints on either song or total album length, they have allowed themselves the opportunity to expand, and Martin has even purchased a totally new keyboard set up that has provided him with even more sounds at his disposal than he had before. Peter is singing with more conviction than on ‘Ever’ (the only other studio album recorded with this line-up), possibly because he is more into it again. Cookie will always be the perfect drummer, nothing new there, while JJ’s move into the Arena camp has given him more experience in working in different musical fields. Mike has also found room to move between styles of guitar, so an acoustic can be used in one area, a guitar synth in another, while it can all be turned up and cranked out somewhere else. They have also been playing close attention to the current prog scene. One of the major bands to explode out of the States recently is of course Spock’s Beard whose trademark is blistering runs of intertwined playing which can blast off at a tangent and IQ have brought some of these into their own music, showing that the old ‘uns can hack it just as well as the new breed. This is a long album, more than 100 minutes, and it can take a lot of playing to get the best out of it. Someone who did not like it when I spoke to him about it, dropped me a line the following week telling me just how good it was. I fell in love with it the first time I heard it and have enjoyed it more and more ever since. This is the best thing IQ have done, and I just do not know how they will follow this up, but if you want to get hold of the pinnacle of British prog then this is the album to get. It just does not get any better than this.