The Tangent (For One) – To Follow Polaris (Album Review)

Review of the new album from The Tangent (For One) – ‘To Follow Polaris’

by Prog Nick

Andy Tillison has been very busy of late. While his band-mates in The Tangent have themselves been busy all over the globe playing with acts such as Steve Hackett, Soft Machine, Karnataka, David Cross, Francis Dunnery’s It Bites, Cyan and others, Tillison has made it his business to go ahead and create a new Tangent album regardless of their unavailability. The flame-haired multi-instrumentalist has made it clear that ’To Follow Polaris’ is intended in no way to replace the unique talents of Jonas Reingold, Luke Machin, Theo Travis and Steve Roberts, but is rather a once-off experiment designed to keep The Tangent juices flowing through one man, while schedules clear.

Talk about challenging. The daunting task facing Tillison was to step into the shoes of some of the finest musicians in the world and deliver not only his usual challenging compositions, but performances up to the standards expected by Tangent fans – all on his own. In Tillison’s own words: “I’ve always wanted to do this, use what I have learned from Luke, Jonas, Steve, Theo and many other alumni and take it to final production. Now was the time!” This fact alone makes ‘To Follow Polaris’ a notable achievement. Nonetheless, it is the music on the Tangent’s thirteenth studio album that does the talking more than Tillison’s quasi-solo status.

The album is, first of all, progressive to its core. It is highly varied, presenting Tillison’s interpretations of many styles, from rock to jazz, pop to blues, punk to Prog, at all times infused with Tillison’s extremely cutting lyrics. The album is at some points frenzied, at other times melancholic, sometimes controlled and sometimes loose and jammy. But it is at all times Progressive and – well – busy, in the best possible way.

What is most astounding is the ease with which Tillison tackles not only his usual keyboard and vocal duties, but all the other performances as well. And yes, this still somehow sounds unwaveringly like a Tangent album – and a very good one at that.

‘The North Sky’ opens the album with power and melody, and it immediately becomes apparent that Tillison has no intention of interfering with the band’s established sound. The track is a positive observation on life lived under the open skies, and the music is pointed, melodic and direct with an unusual bounce. Tillison’s identifiable vocal style is matched by his instrumental skill and the album is off to a great start.

‘A Like In The Darkness’ is more calculated in its composition and has an introspective and alternative feel, reminiscent of, say, a Berlin Burlesque club in the 1930’s. Tillison describes the perspective of an unheralded musical artist at a time when piracy and social media have aberrated the viability of the music industry.

‘The Fine Line’ is en elegant and sophisticated melding of funk and 1970’s Prog-pop. At times it has a recognizable Steely Dan vibe (in their jazzier days) and it is very accomplished.

But the Prog truly returns with ‘The Anachronism’ – an epic of over 20 minutes that really allows Tillison to spread his Progressive wings. The song is a typically acidic attack on incompetent and corrupt governments, and the music keeps pace through brilliant melodic variation, seamless time-signature changes and articulate production. Recording this epic must have been challenging indeed, but Tillison succeeds and the result is highly impressive. The other boys in the band have some learning to do if this one is to be performed live.

‘The Single’ kicks off in a manner that is highly reminiscent of Rabin-era Yes, using a catchy a capella vocal harmony hook. A re-recording of an old pop track recently resurrected by Tillison, this catchy tune is one of the high points of the album. Direct and focused, the song is six minutes of vocal joy that would in any other age have been a hit single.

The standard album release ends with a radio edit of ‘The North Sky’ which a slightly more upbeat and intense mix of the opening track. But there is more for purchasers of the limited edition versions of the album in bonus track ‘Tea At Bettys Simulation’. This bonus track is 17 minutes of highly experimental jazzy meandering that leads into a metallic break and some Zappa-like stylings that are frantic indeed. This one is a challenging listen, and not everyone will resist the temptation to skip, but Tangent aficionados will most certainly get it. Tillison is a surprisingly competent drummer and brass player, as this track shows.

‘To Follow Polaris’ is a genuine and authentic Tangent album, despite its singular line-up. Highly inventive and oftentimes mad-cap, it will certainly not disappoint the band’s highly demanding fan-base. Never shy to use colorful and choice language in his lyrics, Tillison keeps the witty and ironic themes coming in droves, and his accompanying vocal and instrumental versatility is of the highest level, as the album reveals. ‘To Follow Polaris’ comprises a milestone accomplishment in this fine musician’s never-boring career. Andy Tillison has been a busy boy indeed, and he gets every iota of credit for this adventurous but faithful release.

Released on May 10th, 2024 on InsideOutMusic

1. The North Sky 11:36
2. A ‘Like’ In The Darkness 08:19
3. The Fine Line 08:04
4. The Anachronism 21:01
5. The Single (From A Re-Opened Time Capsule) 05:51
6. The North Sky (Radio Edit) 03:42
7. Tea At Bettys (Bonus Track) 17:32

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