1. Who is the band? What is their history? What motivates them?
“IQ were one of a small number of British bands formed during the early 1980s, including Marillion, Pendragon, Twelfth Night and Pallas, that continued with the progressive rock style forsaken by 1970s bands such as Genesis and Yes. The music press coined the phrase neo-progressive to describe these bands, often accusing them of simply copying the styles of other bands. This accusation has been strenuously denied by IQ, which are against the use of the term "neo progressive" and claim to have a wide-ranging and eclectic selection of musical influences.” (Wikipedia, 2009).
It has been five years since the release of Dark Matter, the band’s last album. Allot has happened in the interim. The band changed drummers and lost one of their founding members. Martin Orford, keyboards, left the band and the music industry in 2007. He was replaced by Mark Westworth. Paul Cook was replaced on drums by Andy Edwards. The band has been busy readjusting and doing some European touring.
The desire to reward their long time fans with an album of epic proportions is what motivated them to release this much anticipated album.
I must state here that I have been a fan since the early 90s, when I took a chance, without hearing a note, on the Wake, one of the seminal albums of Neo – prog. I have most all of their catalog and was one of the many fans looking forward to this release.
2. Why did they make this album? What was the passion or message that forced them to produce what they have? Or, simply what was their motivation for the themes they chose for this album?
Bands that go through troubling times, with the loss of a founder, and a vocalist who had a very serious battle with illness, either emerge much stronger, continue on as they had, or regress and eventually fade away.
IQ is somewhere between continuing on and regressing. Although parts of Frequency are brilliant and add new spectacular songs to their legacy, much of Frequency draws upon the success of their and other band’s past. Leaving me feeling this is a transitional album. Which would be ok for any normal band. But IQ was at the pinnacle of their success with Dark Matter.
My favorite album of theirs is still the Seventh House, but I found enough on Dark Matter to see momentum building. This album was to be the continuation of that progress towards the future. However, this album is safe and takes them back to their successes with Subterranea and even the Wake.
Instead of branching out from the “victim consumed by the world or some evil force beyond control”, they have returned to the same theme. The hooks and effects on the album do not build on what most would say is a fantastic opening and title track.
As one of the leaders in the genre much more is expected, especially after five years. Seven songs are not enough for the fan who has been waiting for new material.
Knowing the part – time nature of the band, it is even more unfortunate to imagine that it may be another three to five years before more material will be forthcoming. Some of the members are involved with other projects which may further distract from any future release.
3. What message are they delivering through their lyrics and music?
Unfortunately, the same thing they have been saying for a long time. That in some way we are powerless to control our destiny and there are always new villains out there to subjugate us in one form or another.
Frequency – The drums and that familiar keyboard sound from the Wake begins and you are ready for take – off on one of the best songs on the album. Better enjoy this one, because it is the only powerful standout on the album. Very impressive hooks from Mike Holmes. Peter Nicholls’ voice sounds fantastic despite the serious illness. Enough of the old sound mixed with the new hooks which draw the listener in. The keyboard, drum, guitar extravaganza that begins shortly after the vocal introduction is wonderful and classic IQ. This is the stuff we as fans all love. If the rest of the album would have remained at this level it may have replaced the Seventh House as my favorite.
Peter is top notch and sounding as powerful as I have ever heard him. I watched the You Tube version of this song and it was the thing that kept me interested in this album for so long.
The climactic “light and sound conceal me…” vocal ending is over too fast. As a fan, you are left wanting more. Wishing this level of excitement and power could be sustained and that this song could last forever.
“Before I was undiscovered, when I was invincible…and I don’t remember where I was supposed to be, I slide between the waves and ride the frequency..."alone.” Yeh, to be invincible again. That’s definitely what they were hoping for with this release. But you must do more than ride the frequency, for as Genesis so aptly put it… on And Then There Were Three…, there is always “…someone who can do it better.”
Life Support – This one starts out with a beautiful piano intro that so reminds me of some of the best parts of Seventh House. Pete’s voice takes off and you feel that maybe this will be the kind of song that seals the deal and makes this a classic. Great beginning. “A change began to gather all over the land..”, then they regress to the Wake, Tales, AYSC, and Ever riffs that take you backward instead of forward in time. The exhilaration of leaving the past behind is consumed with a classic riff that yes, sounds wonderful, but out of place after the wonderful new course they were beginning to set. A noisy synth effect detracts from the beauty and power of this classic riff and I was wishing I was back on Frequency again. No more lyrics…ideas run out and the riff just continues to fill space, until the song fades away.
Stronger Than Friction – An upbeat beginning to this one signals maybe we are gonna go ahead with the future after all. Backing vocals added provide hope that there will be some change and difference to this one.. But the same themes begin to appear, “tell me again, am I the same when I’m not there…one single moment that changed beyond repair...hard to remember how I lived outside…” “No one ever thought about it. No one had the will to wonder why…only you refused to die...” Victim trapped and isolated from the world. Powerless to change events. Same themes they have developed and repeated throughout the catalog. “Take your time…I can wait.” Launching into a Genesis Dance on a Volcano, (complete with whistle), keyboard and guitar interplay.
“Who’ll defy me now...what kind of mercy will you gain…under the shadow of the moon…” “And when you know what it’s about, you will stand upon a hollow hill, those empty eyes look in not out.” Yeh, yeh, been there, done that. Guitar and drums finish it out. No more lyrics for one of the premier vocalist of the genre.
One Fatal Mistake – There is a bridge between the last song and this. “Our desperation reined us in...” “I held on, but everything changed.” “Imagine all you could have been.” “The best of you was locked away for so long.” “Don’t say it’s too late..” What more can I add to that. What could have been?
Ryker Skies – Begins with a Genesis, Lamb Lies Down on Broadway guitar riff. Also could be compared to Subterranea, which was IMHO, IQ’s Lamb, only much more emotional. Vocalized descriptions similar to both classic albums. The protagonists finds he is locked away in Riker Skies, some sort of Gulag or Nazi Prison camp, only this is the future and the confinement and treatment is much worse…if that’s possible.
“I command your total attention in Riker Skies.” “It’s a no win situation, but I know you can’t resist.” “No chasing rainbows in Riker Skies.” The victim is trapped and there is no escape. So let’s play some synths and some Steve Hackett guitar with the choir behind. Very good, but it’s all been done before. Unfortunately this is the only other stand – out on the album because of its powerful hooks and tributes to Genesis.
The Province – That familiar Hackett acoustic beginning and the re-telling of how the story began. “Another place and time we’d have known.” I remember those lyrics from an earlier album. Sounds like Turn of a Friendly Card - Alan Parsons’s keys. “My imitation heart will defend me.” Not forever. “Not here, not now.” Then more Trick of the Tail mixed with the Wake keys, drums, and guitar. Then a powerful guitar riff and launching choir in the background to punch it up a notch on the longest epic on the album.
“Something worse than us is waiting in the wings…” Now trying to capture the power of the ending on Harvest for the finale, but instead of soaring like a supernova, it crashes short of the spectacular ending. The Los Endos finale is dulled by a keyboard instead of the drum and guitar. Trick of the Tail reverberates throughout this piece.
Closer - “What began as hope became the fate…” “Now the work is done...’’ “Ghosts of early days…” Sometimes lyrics communicate meaning beyond their original intent. “One in the same, parallels remain…I can see everything get closer ever day.”
Traditionally this band has saved some of its strongest tracks for the end of the album. This one sounds so much like a farewell song.
4. Does this music improve, change, or add to the genre? What does the listener receive from listening to the music?
Frequency the song will definitely be amongst some of the band’s best ever. The rest of the album will have to wait for review by more of their fans. It has been out, released through their website, and at some of their live gigs for almost a year. However, I have not heard much on the usual prog discussion boards as I have with their past releases. Their most avid fans love it, and they believe it might be their most complete work to date.
5. Does it have longevity? Is it something a fan will like to play again and again?
Only time will tell. I for one hope they will enter the studio soon to try to create something new and challenging, equaling the lofty heights they once tread. I think the nucleus of the band is still intact with Mike and Peter running things. But they definitely need to explore more “worlds” and different stories if they are going to grow beyond their faithful following.
Rating: 7 out of 10 Hearing something new after so long was bound to get high marks, but as the leader in a genre you must stretch the bounds of the genre and offer something new, challenging and different.
Reviewed by Prof on June 15th, 2009