Grand Tour’s Clocks That Tick (But Never Talk) follows up their outstanding post-apocalyptic 2015 release Heavy On The Beach with an album inspired by Hew Montgomery’s career in Mental Health services, combined with his interest in conspiracy theories, particularly the sinister 1950s and ’60s CIA mind control program, MK Ultra, and the mysterious, repetitive ‘Numbers Stations’ on radios. The former Abel Ganz keyboardist has moved well away from the more pastoral and folk-influenced direction of his former band in recent years, preferring to delve into heavier, darker musical waters and lyrical themes with Comedy of Errors vocalist Joe Cairney. The result is compelling in its powerful lyrical imagery and sounds, encased in striking cover art by Duncan Storr.
Grand Tour’s line-up is also made up with Cairney’s Comedy of Errors bandmates, Bruce Levick on drums and Mark Spalding on guitars, along with Chris Radford on bass. Therefore, it is not unsurprising that this album does have some elements and sounds you would associate with Comedy of Errors, particularly Cairney’s distinctive and engaging higher register vocals. However, aside from Cairney’s unmistakable vocal style, this album follows its own musical path, particularly on songs like the frankly weird Don’t Cry Now. The eerie intro is drenched in peculiar treated vocals and organ, presumably portraying the confusing state of mind for some people with mental health issues and the pressure they feel under:
“The only ones who should know about the voices in your head,
Are the ones you trust to let inside your mind.”
This peculiar but striking song then takes a left turn with some slightly disturbing keyboards before a section of rolling rock takes us back to the main paranoid refrain. Spalding occasionally throws in a restrained guitar lick but this is not about lengthy solos – the instruments combine to great effect to evoke an off-kilter feeling in a finely crafted and unconventional song.
Hew Montgomery wrote the great majority of the music and it is clear that this is a labour of love close to his heart, and inevitably keyboards feature significantly in the music. Nevertheless, he has also given the other instrumentalists ample opportunity to express themselves, particularly on the dramatic Shadow Walking, which features some great drum work from Levick as the song builds and builds in power, commencing with an insistent synth rhythm before Levick comes in with military precision and Spalding adds some electric guitar chimes. The tempo and volume grows before Montgomery adds an almost Celtic feel underpinning the keys. Cairney’s assured vocals continue to describe the dark experiences and feelings of the main protagonist who is either suffering from paranoia or the victim of sinister mind control… or maybe both?
“Now I’m sure that there could be, someone else controlling me…
… Walking in the shadows, when the day is done, Voices in my head to keep me company.”
The Panic is an engaging instrumental with a percussive intro which transforms into pulsating synth rhythm as Montgomery lays down a dance trance sound with a piece showcasing his keyboard skills. The sounds grow in waves evoking an increasing sense of panic in an imaginative piece. Back in the Zone is a very different beast, swaggering in with a confident rocking feel and a fine vocal performance from Cairney. The piece takes off in the middle with an excellent musical duel between Montgomery’s rippling keyboards and Spalding’s steepling guitar breaks. It’s a stirring piece of music with a captivating melody and memorable lyrics.
After such a strong set of songs, there is a sense of the album tailing off a little from my perspective on Game Over. The synth-type horn intro feels a little dated to my ears and at nearly 10 minutes long it does not fully hold my interest, but in all fairness, these reservations may just be due to the bar being set very high by the preceding songs.
Two contrasting but very fine songs bookend the album with the whole concept and feel of the album being introduced on the atmospheric Clocks that Tick (But Never Talk). An extended effects-laden intro gives way to pulsing synths and Cairney’s strong vocals. This is a multi-layered song acting as an overture for the whole album. The scene is evocatively set with powerful lyrical images combined with a mixture of punchy anthemic passages and more subtle sections, underpinned skilfully by Radford’s bass lines. This is an excellent album opener which instantly transports the listener into the core of the story with a strongly defined and suitably unsettling atmosphere of someone who is unsure of his own sanity. At the other end of this story is the elegiac coda song Slumber Sweetly, originally written by Montgomery’s old Abel Ganz bandmate Hugh Carter, which Montgomery has re-arranged. A shimmering keyboard intro has splashes of guitar breaking over it like light shining on water, introducing a languid rhythm conjuring up pictures of peacefulness for the main protagonist. Whether it is a release from anguish and fear or the ultimate release of death is open to interpretation. This song has the emotion and feel that is just perfect for Cairney’s sweet vocals, laying gently on the band’s intuitive interplay with some beautiful lines from Spalding on guitar. The whole song feels like the setting sun and concludes with a guitar chiming gently over fading keyboards.
Following their outstanding debut album was always going to be a challenge for Grand Tour – that’s the problem when you set your own bar so high! However, Grand Tour have succeeded in producing another fine album of melodic progressive rock filled with a range of interesting musical ideas and intriguing lyrical ideas played with great skill, subtlety and power… and what more do you want from an album?!
01. Clocks That Tick (But Never Talk) (11:41)
02. Don’t Cry Now (7:27)
03. Back In The Zone (11:50)
04. The Panic (8:56)
05. Shadow Walking (10:14)
06. Game Over (9:49)
07. Slumber Sweetly (7:57)
Total Time – 67:54
Hew Montgomery – Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Joe Cairney – Lead & Backing Vocals
Mark Spalding – Guitars
Bruce Levick – Drums
Chris Radford – Bass
[Music by Hew Montgomery (except Slumber Sweetly, by Hugh Carter, arranged by Hew Montgomery),
Lyrics by Hew Montgomery & Joe Cairney]
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 25th March 2019