Being a reviewer of progressive rock music it's my job to inform you about new releases in the genre. Sometimes it's very difficult to describe the sound of an album or to express my feelings and opinions about the music I listened to. Even stunning releases that come close to masterpieces are sometimes difficult to explain in words. This happened to me while listening to The Big Red Spark, the latest recording of the British band Tinyfish.
Tinyfish impressed me with their DVD One Night On Fire (2009), although their EP Curious Things (2009) didn't move me a bit. I can't express my opinion about their debut album Tinyfish (2006) since I never heard it. However, their latest album The Big Red Spark had a great impact on me. It seems that everything falls in place on this album and I can hardly believe that the same musicians recorded Curious Things a year before. In the DVD-review I wrote: 'it's hard to compare Tinyfish with other bands in the genre. They certainly have a style of their own. Rush may be a reference, but that's by far not enough to describe the band's sound.' I could have written the same words for this release, so I simply could have told you to buy this awesome album, but that's not my style, so here we go again!
It took Tinyfish three years to finish The Big Red Spark created by Simon Godfrey (lead vocals, guitars, drums), Rob Ramsey (narration), Jim Sanders (lead guitar) and Paul Worwood (bass). They got some help from Simon's brother Jem Godfrey (Frost*), who played Mellotron on Weak Machine. Mike Varty (Credo, Landmarq) co-produced the album and played keyboards on Ride. Finally Simon's father Peter Godfrey and Iain Houston lent their voices for several narrative parts on the album. This time Tinyfish wanted to create a more professional album, so it had to contain a theme or a concept.
Three wishes? I gave everyone a single wish. Nietzsche said: 'What has become perfect, all that is ripe - wants to die.' The wish that feeds itself, the wish you cannot stop. I wish I had been spared this wish. But this is not my story. It's the story of the machine that Nietzsche had dreamed of, the story of The Big Red Spark.
These words are the beginning of the album. Right from the start they create a fairy tale-like atmosphere. By letting somebody introduce the story in a mysterious way you know directly what you can expect. Main composer Simon Godfrey says the following about the intro: “It's bloody difficult to begin an album with spoken words. In designing the theme behind the concept of The Big Red Spark, I started thinking about those classic seventies rock operas like Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds and The Who's Tommy. The spoken word intro was performed by my father who luckily enough spent most of his adult life as a radio broadcaster. Happily, he stuck to the script and he didn't ramble on about cricket and who's still alive from the cast in Dad's Army.”
During the opening scene of the suite we see an old professor with his finger touching the ON-button of a huge machine called The Big Red Spark, just ready to switch it on. The rest of the album can be regarded as a flashback to events leading up to the moment whereby the album starts. Wordsmith Rob Ramsey tells the following about the start of the album: “The idea was that building The Big Red Spark must have been the professor's life work, so I played him at the beginning and Peter Godfrey played him at the end when things were complete.”
The next fifty minutes tell the remainder of this concept story. The idea behind the concept came from a strange dream Simon had. He had been watching a programme on YouTube about parallel universes and he dreamt about a doomsday device that could effectively topple the first domino and end its existence in whatever universe. He told his dream to Rob Ramsey and it captured his imagination so much that he started writing little character vignettes from the point of view of people that would be inventing such a machine. From that idle conversation, the seed of the concept behind the album had been sown.
Of course the music is the most important of all. Without it a review would have been out of place. The groove of the music is just incredible; it's hard to remain seated since the drum rhythms, the guitar riffs and the bass beats create something special. Yet the participation of several classical trained musicians on violin, viola and cello lifts the music to a higher level. Sometimes it even moves towards real classical music on tracks like A Million Differences, Building The Machine and I'm Not Crashing. Those classical influences suit the music perfectly. Somehow the album reminded me of Pink Floyd's The Wall, especially the additional noises and soundscapes just to emphasize the story and give it the right atmosphere. A good example is Refugee wherein you can hear Iain Houston speak with a strange accent to make his part more realistic. Tinyfish has also been influenced by the music of Spock's Beard with Neal Morse that can be heard on tracks as Weak Machine and The Final Art. On Wide Awake At Midnight, the longest piece of the album, you can hear some elements taken from the music of the Electric Light Orchestra. A special mention goes to the superb guitar parts by Jim Sanders on this piece. He probably recorded them in Gothenburg (Sweden) where he currently lives. I also have to make a remark about the strong harmony vocals throughout the album that sometimes reminded me of The Beach Boys.
I have to mention the artwork in the booklet as well. The pictures of the band members are all very cleverly shot. On a single photograph you see images of the same musician four or five times doing something differently. It's sometimes difficult to read the text because the words are printed in mirror images just the way Mangrove did on Beyond Reality (see review). Tinyfish also included a 45-minute DVD containing an interview about the band's history and the delays that explain why the album took three years to release. All the guest musicians are mentioned and also producer Mike Varty throws in a few words. Furthermore four audio tracks have been included, all of the same high level as the material on The Big Red Spark.
Hopefully this rather long review will explain a bit what the album is about as far as the story and the music are concerned. I tried my best to give an explanation the best possible way, but as I already mentioned at the start of this review it wasn't an easy job. Anyway I love the album very much; I can only compliment all the people involved; they all did a great job!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
Where to buy?
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