IQ- The Road Of Bones,
When this album arrived I didn't put it on the player straight away, but instead looked at the artwork and booklet, and kept thinking about Schrödinger 's cat. I so very much wanted this to be a great album, and until I put it on the player (and I still haven't read single review about this album as I needed to ensure that I wasn't being swayed one way or another) this was both a great album, and a poor one, both at the same time. I first saw IQ in concert some time in the Eighties when they supported Magnum at the Hammersmith Odeon and have seen them quite a few times since, the last being on the 'Dark Matter' tour. During that time I built up a strong relationship with Martin Orford, and saw him play solo a few times as well as with Gary Chandler and of course with Jadis as well, but after I moved to NZ he told me that he had left the band of which he was a co-founder. That shook me, and by the time IQ released 'Frequency' some five years after 'DM', Paul Cook had gone as well. I wasn't a fan of that album (and I totally understand that this could be due to emotions as opposed to quality of music), so what about this one? Great or poor?
Five years on from 'Frequency' and yet again there have been changes in line-up. Paul Cook has returned, but perhaps the biggest surprise is that JJ is no longer on bass, but instead has been replaced by the man he himself replaced in the first place! Tim Esau is back, with his first album with IQ since 1989's 'Are You Sitting Comfortably?' I have always been a real fan of his playing and methods of attack, as he can easily move from fretless bass to many different styles: just check out 'Screaming' from 'Nomzamo' to see what I mean. Then on keyboards we have none other than Neil Durant. Neil may well be an unknown to many of you, but we have been friends for well over twenty years as he sent me the very first Sphere demo back in 1992 (and Neil knows I still have it, potential blackmail is a wonderful thing). A second demo followed in 1994, and they belatedly followed it up with a CD release on Cyclops in 2002, and it always amazed me that Sphere didn't become far more well known as they were/are all great musicians. I even managed to see them gig once in the Nineties, but here at long last Neil is able to put his talents to use on a larger stage.
So, of the five members, four of them played on the first two totally classic IQ albums, so what would the band sound like in 2014, with one brand new member and two who had left (for very different timeframes) only to return? Absolutely brilliant is the way I would describe it.
When opener 'From The Outside In' really gets going it reminded me of the very first time I heard 'Ever', when the band was again returning after a period of unrest: that time with a returning singer and a new bassist, four years after their previous release. Neil has always been a very fine keyboard player indeed, and here he has tempered the jazz influences he normally displays to fit in, and has also incorporated a lot of keyboard sounds that fans of the band will recognise from days gone past. He isn't Widge, and doesn't want to be, but he has made the seat his own by bringing in enough of the old to combine with the new that it doesn't alienate the fans of the old band yet starts to move in a slightly different direction. This is a dark album in many ways, and this comes through in the artwork as well as the album itself. In many ways this feels like a logical follow-on from 'Dark Matter' or 'Subterranea' as opposed to 'Frequency', and that has to be a good thing in my book.
This is an album that I have fallen in love with as everything is right from the musicianship to the songs, from the production to the artwork. This is solid IQ, with everyone firmly gelling and producing more of the incredible music we have learned to expect from them, from rockers through to ballads, simplicity and complexity combining in a way that many have attempted to copy, but few have ever managed to achieve the heights. I have the double disc set, 11 songs at just over 100 minutes long, and it absolutely flies by as one classic leads into another. It would be wonderful to be able to see these guys play live, but I guess that isn't going to happen for me as I live so far away, so I'll just have to keep playing this. Again. And Again.
And as for that cat I mentioned at the beginning. He is purring and stretching, ready to jump out of the box and take on the world. IQ are back where they belong, at the very top.