2018 saw the band celebrate their fortieth anniversary, looking back over a career which has seen them release amazing albums, toured all over the world (although not New Zealand, yet!). But they were not finished yet, and with “new boy” drummer Jan-Vincent Velazco (in fairness he joined in 2015, but given Nick and Peter have been there since 1978 and Clive since 1986 it is a tag he is always going to have) they headed into the studio to record the band’s eleventh studio album. These days Nick lives in Cornwall, a far more pastoral and relaxed existence, and this has come through to the music as well. When I first saw the stunning artwork by Liz Saddington, I felt I had gone back somewhat in time, as although it is a very different style indeed to Simon Williams, it felt similar in so many ways. I opened the digipak (I have the single CD release, but it is available in multiple versions), and the card was embossed and cried “quality” to me. As I looked through the booklet containing the lyrics and some wonderful photos by Rachel Wilce I started to feel quite concerned, as in many ways here was an album which was asking to be taken very seriously indeed. But could it live up to the quality of all which had gone before? I mean, they have been at the game for a very long time indeed, and I and countless others have sung the many anthems at gigs, could this live up to the promise??
I put on “Everything”, and my jaw dropped open. Clive and Jan-Vincent commence the song as if they are onstage waiting for the rest of the band with strident chords and snare drum kicking it along. A small drum fill invites Peter to join in the fun, and the three of them keep it powering through, and it is as if we have been taken back in time. Then all of a sudden Nick is there. Gilmour/Latimer style guitar soars and it is as if a black and white image has suddenly burst into full colour and light with the band now concentrating on supporting the main act. Throughout the album the music twists and turns, looking back in on themselves (I am sure I heard a tinge of “Queen of Hearts” at one point), acoustic guitars are there when needed, mandolin at others, while Peter switches his instrument and style as the need arises.
Clive has become far more confident in his own singing over the years and provides strong support to the person he first met when they were five years old, adding that additional vocal element. “Starfish and the Moon” has to be one of the most remarkable songs Pendragon have ever produced, being mostly Nick and Clive, with vocals and piano giving way to guitar and keyboards. It is full of emotion, life, and passion and some of Nick’s most wonderful lyrics. The more I played this album the more I realised something quite incredible had happened, in that Pendragon had released something which is possibly their finest ever work. It has been hard to get this away from my player and looking at various forums there is no doubt that many Pendragon fans feel exactly the same way. As I write this, ‘Love Over Fear’ is sat at #2 on the ProgArchives charts as the best album of 2020, but given the incredibly high number of ratings given so far, I would not be surprised to see this end the year as #1.
As for me? This emotional, pastoral, delicate, soaring, majestic, polished, powerful, dramatic release from Pendragon has become my favourite release of theirs, ever. Given how much I hold close to some of their other releases that is quite some statement, but it does not get any better than this and if I could rate this 11/10 I would do so. I am so looking forward to the next one….