Netherlands band Modest Midget is the project of one Lonny Ziblat, who amongst other things has a Masters in Classical Composition as well as having studied jazz guitar and orchestral conducting. 2010 saw the release of the first Modest Midget album, which was some three years in the making. The Great Prophecy Of The Small Man was essentially a solo project completed with the help of guest players. A group was assembled for live outings but it eventually disbanded due to conflicting calls on the time of the other members, and Lonny retreated to the studio. In 2011 his first solo album proper Songs From The Drawer was the result. With new members Willem Smid and Marten Bakker recruited, the recording of Crysis began in December 2012.
“Modest Midget” – a name not far removed from “Gentle Giant”. There is a similarity in the complexity of both bands’ music, but other than the odd harmonic nod here and there, that’s as far as it goes. The Midgets tick an obligatory prog rock box by making this a concept album on the “full circle” of the “cycle of life”, where “every ending is painful and sometimes dangerous, (presenting) us with a chance to grow and evolve”. This theme is reflected in the ever changing, indeed evolving music on offer, a music that manages to be everything but mired in prog rock cliché. No irony-free slabs of Tony Banks-styled synth sounds will be found in the Modest Midget universe, for sure.
Endowed with a fine sense of humour, the first half of the instrumental A Centurion’s Itchy Belly, the real first track after the short introductory piece The Grand Gate Opening knowingly dwells on a classic sympho-prog swell, a kind of Genesis-Supertramp collision. This reference is fleeting as the tune soon changes to a comic sand-dance on guitar, about as far removed from the prog behemoths as you could wish. The first song on the album is Rocky Valleys Of Dawn, a joyous affirmation of life as it should be lived, romping along at a fair old pace that would not sound out of place on a Cardiacs album.
Things take a turn towards Beatles-esque melancholy with Praise The Day, which forms a short interlude before we return to the full-on prog-punkerama replete with jokey comic capers that is Now That We’re Here. The way the band blend seemingly disparate sections together indicates a way with arrangements that confounds logic, but it works. Although musically entirely dissimilar this is a parallel with Gentle Giant’s arch “Pretentious For The Sake Of It” approach. Epic keyboard sweeps precede more cartoon larking about as the tune goes through many twists and turns, before leading into the laid back lounge-prog of Periscope Down, musically in complete contrast to its frantic lyrical theme bemoaning life’s tribulations – “Running around panic on as the road gets steep”.
With only three tunes over the five minute mark, the album keeps things brief and to the point, an economy of approach that makes a refreshing change in this sometimes over-elaborate corner of the music cupboard.
Roy Orbison’s (Oh) Pretty Woman is an unlikely choice of cover, but by now I have learned not to expect anything obvious from Modest Midget. As a young lad in short trousers I loved this song, and I used to run round the house shouting “Freddy Woman” at the top of my voice in (dis)harmony with the Big O whenever it came on the radio, thereby initiating a lifelong curse of mis-hearing lyrics. The version presented here cleverly reprises the intermittent comedy high speed musical backing that is shot through the album like writing in a stick of rock candy, and overlays it with a straight but speeded up vocal take. I’m not entirely sure what point the band are trying to make, as it seems somewhat out of place with the rest of the album, and quite how it fits the highbrow concept is a mystery to me, unless they are playing a joke. I wouldn’t put it past them!
The first of the three longer tracks at a tad over six minutes is Secret Lies, a dramatic slow burner that comes across like the Sensational Alex Harvey Band playing Cockney Rebel; epic stuff and another string to the musical bow of Modest Midget. Their name is now becoming something of an oxymoron, as they have no need of modesty, and they are huge in ambition, and manage to pull it off, too!
Gone Is is another draw on the sad-Beatles-song cigarette, the smoke curling regretfully but inevitably up, up and away. It also features the best guitar break on the record, courtesy of Lonny Ziblat, who for all intents and purposes is Modest Midget. As well as writing most of the music he mixed the album too. He has surrounded himself with a cast of more than capable supporting musicians who get on with the job in hand in an unfussy and thoroughly professional manner.
Crisis (Awake of the Sheep) is an epic construct, as a title track in all but name should be. A day of reckoning for the hoodwinked, set to a quasi-classical soundtrack, all menace and foreboding. I never saw that one coming, this band continues to be full of surprises.
The fulsome CD booklet deserves a mention, with tasteful photography and artwork by Netaly Reshef forming the background for the detailed instrumental breakdown of each track, along with all the lyrics. This is good to see, as it is becoming rare these days for such care to be taken with the rapidly fading music format that is the humble CD.
The album ends with the new single, Birth, a re-affirmation or re-birth following on from the darkness of the previous track. A perfect choice for a single, it is musically as well as lyrically “up”, as it climbs slowly to the top of hill, where it will “Leave the world behind, walk the gate again, and live!”
This is a great album of adventurous progressive pop music, but as far away from “prog” or “pop” as it is possible to be. I look forward to hearing more from this band in the hopefully not too distant future.
01. The Grand Gate Opening (1:53)
02. A Centurion’s Itchy Belly (4:34)
03. Rocky Valleys of Dawn (3:53)
04. Praise the Day (2:50)
05. Now That We’re Here (3:42)
06. Periscope Down (3:52)
07. (Oh) Pretty Woman (2:25)
08. Flight of the Cockroach (2:39)
09. Secret Lies (6:19)
10. Gone Is (3:49)
11. Crisis (Awake Of The Sheep) (7:10)
12. Birth (5:23)
Total Time 48:29
Lonny Ziblat – Vocals, Keyboards, Piano, Guitars, Percussion & Programming
Willem Smid – Drums
Maarten Bakker – Bass & Keyboards
Dimitar Bodurov – Accordion
Yael Shachar – Violin & Viola
Tristan Hupe – Keyboards
Jurriaan Berger – Keyboards & Programming
Eduardo Olloqui – Oboe
Emiel de Jong – Sax
Sanne Vos – Recorders
Anna Zeijlemaker – Flutes
Record Label: Multi-Polar Music
Year Of Release: 2014