Bands need to evolve, change, move on, stay fresh (unless you’re the Rolling Stones), and I wondered what The Gift would deliver with their fourth album…
A promise is a promise, and Mike Morton promised that Album Four would be very different. There is more emphasis on harmonies, hooks, and accessibility. The band have always been an exciting watch live, so different from the symphonic rock and gentle pastoral sound oft found in their recorded material. Antenna shows that they have listened and received and are now using antenna to broadcast. We Are Connected is a promising opening, energy and drive in what is a more than acceptably crafted rock song. Radio friendly, no long journey to the meat of the song, an accusation often levelled at overblown dinosaurs of Prog, and, if you wish, words you can sing along with. Critics of the music should bury their perceptions and listen to this and other new bands who are dismissed by misplaced prejudice.
Clocking in at around 65 minutes, there is a good balance between the long and short, Changeling being the first of the longs here. Again, it is unexpected, not fitting into a neat pigeonhole it holds your attention from the off. Repeating programmed rhythms before the words appear, that cycle carrying on through the first part of the song and delivered in a most un-Gift like manner. The twin leads bounce off each other with bass and drums giving a solid foundation as Changeling moves into another phase. That essence of symphonic still exists and the clarity of the recording highlights those passages where the keyboards of Gabrielle Baldocci add a voice-like quality to his instrument. Changeling is now, but there are sounds from the last five decades interwoven. Oh, and you can dance to it!
Back to Eden sits within the sounds you may have heard previously from the band, but there are more than a few twists, and for the aficionados, Neil Hayman has provided plenty of cowbell. Guitars duel, and this pop prog rock song is just the right length. Though I suspect there may be the odd call from hat wearing audience members for even more cowbell!
Long Time Dead I have already heard live, it matters not, this is still a great song, almost Oasis-like in its lyrical bite, but don’t hold that against it. After hours of being subjected to shop bland music, it is so refreshing to hear something played with heart and passion. It’s a lovely little bluesy track. The brief piano bridge about two thirds through is more than enough to gain this band an invite to Later… Jools, buck your ideas up! It would be nice, but unlikely, as the rumours grow of “you pay, we’ll play” in the Crayola payola that appears to limit the music we hear.
Out of season for a June album launch, Snowfall wrings virtual handkerchiefs with metaphoric tears, just Mike and Gabry, it is nicely constructed. It would have been easy to add layers of strings, but the song is better for its simplicity.
Far Strangers slowly builds up the pace again, but there will be a heavenly curved ball in track 7. One of the sticks The Gift have been poked with has been that of Genesis copyists, this should bury a few of those critics. Respectful nods are found here and there, but there is no sign of The Gift ninja’s stealing away the other band’s writing profiles in the night. This may appear as a contradiction with the next two pieces, but I think originality holds its ground.
Seven! Hand in Hand is pure Anthony Phillips, not in the sense of copy, but just a simple guitar piece that I find beautiful, no fussing, no embellishments, no cowbells. It is divine. And the gap, you’ll see, just makes me smile.
I still miss Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy, but Wild Roses goes some way to soothing that heartache. Strange little intro before launching into the full song, David Lloyd and Leroy James battle stage front, whilst a delicious bass line is delivered with aplomb by Stef Dicker. I can already see this becoming a firm live favourite, not a copy, if anything a well delivered homage to a great Rock band, with perhaps a small nod to Big Country as well. It’s over too soon, but then again it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and there is more dancing (not too Dad).
When You Are Old is another emotional tune, in part reminding me of The Old Wise Men by 10cc and Trust by The Cure. Deceptively simple but slowly settles on flesh before it osmotically slips beneath the skin.
Closer is the end piece to an hour well spent, and it is both upbeat and hopeful. As an album for fans, fear not, The Gift remain with their underlying prog chops intact, the material should, if justice is served, attract new supporters and followers. My association is close, I consider the band as friends, but they are aware, come review, I will tell it as it is. I love this album, best of four, with a feel for their live performance and vocals sung with a heartfelt passion, Mike’s thespian soul on display in the emotional tracks. David and Leroy play nicely together, nay brilliantly. Drums, beats, rhythms, pulse and cowbell from Neil are fantastic, a place in next year’s top ten of prog drummers I think would be fair. Gabry’s keys raise the stakes yet again (look out for Gabriele Baldocci’s album, Sheer Piano Attack, featuring Peter Jones (Tiger Moth Tales, Red Bazar, Camel, Barock Project), where he arranges a few Queen songs, some surprises too).
As said, bands need to evolve to stay fresh. The Gift have produced a blinder, for me, still with that emotive edge in the quieter passages, but when they rock… Their Prog DNA remains intact, but this album has teeth and other surprises. I loved the last album, Why the Sea is Salt, but as a ‘go to’ album I find Antenna so much better, a great album.
Only goes to show that The Gift is a surprise worth receiving.
[The Gift launch the album on 23rd June at The Bedford in Balham with support from the wonderful cellist Jo Quail. Tickets are available HERE.
Also, we have interviews with Mike Morton and David Lloyd from the Gift HERE.]
01. We Are Connected (4:33)
02. Changeling (9:53)
i. A Saviours Shoes
ii. The Shadow Behind
iii. Finest Hour
03. Back To Eden (4:29)
04. Long Time Dead (7:06)
05. Snowfall (5:49)
06. Far Stranger (5:25)
07. Hand In Hand (2:58)
08. Wild Roses (6:27)
09. When You Are Old (5:27)
10. Closer (9:42)
i. Where All Roads Divide
ii. Out of Reach
Total Time – 61:49
Mike Morton – Vocals
David Lloyd – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Backing Vocals
Leroy James – Electric Guitars, Harmonica, Backing Vocals
Stef Dicker – Bass, Acoustic Guitar
Neil Hayman – Drums, Percussion
Gabriele Baldocci – Piano, Keyboards
Record Label: Bad Elephant Music
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 28th June 2019