IQ, a band both loved and reviled by the prog community: loved for their part in relaunching the progressive rock movement in the early 1980s and arguably bringing some epic tunes with them; reviled for sounding like a pastiche of earlier groups and never really pushing the envelope. I, myself, have gone backwards and forwards with my feelings towards the group. In the days when I was still discovering the history of progressive rock, I was astonished when I discovered 1983’s Tales from the Lush Attic; without the context of 1980s new wave to sway me, it sounded like a truly vital album with fantastic musicianship. I then tried their then-most recent album, 2009’s Frequency and was even more surprised to discover the quality of the music was just the same as their debut; it’s quite rare to find a band who still sound just as good 30 years later as they did at the start of their career.
Gradually, I began to put the pieces together to discover this quality had not been consistent throughout their career. Instead, this level had been reached by the band clawing their way back over the space of two decades. There were some pitfalls, like the monumentally boring 1997 double album Subterranea and 2004’s 24-minute Harvest of Souls, which aped Genesis’s Supper’s Ready so acutely that it put a hole in the band’s credibility. But the follow-up, Frequency, proved the band could stand on their own two feet and still provide quality progressive rock with that signature IQ sound, even after the loss of their founding keyboardist Martin Orford. The best track from that album, The Province, might resemble one of their earlier classics, The Seventh House, a bit much, but it’s still a solid track.
Long-time readers of my scribblings may remember how I gave a rare perfect score to the 30th-anniversary remix of Tales from the Lush Attic back in 2013. The band even gave me a personal shout out on their social media! Little could I have known then how I would see the band at the tail end of the year in one of the most disappointing concerts I had ever attended. I went into the show believing I was a fan of the band and left realising that I only enjoy a choice selection of their work. I was put off the band completely and decided I wouldn’t be listening to the new album.
In fact, for four years I didn’t listen to very much IQ at all, but times change and one day I found myself listening to them all over again as if nothing had changed. I had always been curious about The Road of Bones’ super high Progarchives score and finally decided to give it a whirl. While there were still some flaws, I instantly became obsessed with the album’s longest track, Without Walls, a song that still features heavily in my rotation today. All of this meant I was back on board for album number twelve, Resistance.
And boy have I been let down again. Listening through this hulking double album, I struggled to find anything that could lure me back for a second listen. Double albums always invite the question of whether they could have sounded better as a more concise single album with fewer weak tracks, and Resistance is no exception. Upon a binge-listen to this two-hour exercise in mediocrity, it’s clear that something is missing from the classic IQ formula that made their previous albums sparkle, and I reckon I know what it is: melody.
When you think about IQ, where does your mind go? Maybe you’ll think about Mike Holmes’s mellifluous guitar solos, Peter Nicholls’s unique soft vocals or Martin Orford’s iconic melodies and chords on the keyboard. Maybe you dislike the band and your mind will go to how you wish you could be listening to Genesis instead, fair enough. But I tend to remember them best for hooking me into their songs with strong, hummable melodies like those heard on The Last Human Gateway, The Darkest Hour, Sacred Sound and Stronger than Friction. What the band lacked in pushing the envelope, they made up for with good songwriting.
Unfortunately, the melodic qualities of this album are nothing compared to the glories of the past. A Missile kicks off the album with IQ trying to put on their best impression of a ‘heavy’ group, with some messy organ stabs over trashy drums. With no grand structure, impressive instrumental or guitar solo, this is easily one of their weakest album openers. Rise continues the trend with more open hi-hat, chugging guitar and lack of discernible melody. Great for moshing, but is this really what we associate IQ with? Stay Down once again toys with a formula tried on The Road of Bones’ title track, a slow dynamic build-up followed by a heavier section. Unfortunately, on both tracks, this section is underwhelming and Stay Down, in particular, begins to sound like the track that came before it.
Alampandria comes as a surprise; a decent musical idea which actually fits this new ‘heavy’ IQ. At only four minutes, however, with an atmospheric intro that lasts half of the track, this idea is all too brief and feels as if it could have been better implemented in one of the band’s longer pieces. Shallow Bay is an improvement, a stream of fluid drums and bass effortlessly carrying the listener between various atmospheric chords as IQ finally ditch the ‘heavy’ act. Half an hour into the album, we finally get to hear a soaring Holmes solo, reminding us of the old days. If Anything acts as the Corners of this album; you remember, the track with the awful programmed drums from The Wake you’d always skip at the first possible instance. If I wasn’t happy with the ‘heavy’ act, I’m even less of a fan of this lounge music side of the band. While the drums sound programmed at first, Paul Cook does kick in for real shortly after providing a very decent jazzy backdrop to this otherwise dull track. I seriously don’t get the out-of-place organ solo at the end though; highly non-sequitur.
With For Another Lifetime, we make a start on the three extended tracks of the album, this one the shortest at only 15 minutes. This track seems to tick the boxes for ‘epic track’ – contrast between heavy and soft, fluid movement between sections, guitar solo at the end – and yet fails to stand out from any of the band’s other epics. The main issue is the lack of any strong melody to pull you into the track and remember any part of what you just heard. It’s as if the band have suddenly become colourblind after painting with so many colours throughout their career. For Another Lifetime is a decent effort but fortunately, there is better yet to come.
The Great Spirit Way kicks off Disc Two with an explosion that suddenly makes you sit up. The opening four minutes is simply heavenly, especially from a drummer’s perspective. After hearing the intro I actually had to check who the drummer was, as longtime IQ percussionist Paul Cook has stepped up his game so much for this track, and indeed this whole album, that he’s barely recognisable. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the double bass pedals being played quite so artfully. No need for Mike Portnoy with these kinds of chops on show. Unfortunately, with nearly 22 minutes to fill, the band doesn’t quite make the whole thing worthwhile, with a handful of weak parts marring the experience, but The Great Spirit Way is still hands-down the best track on the album.
Fire and Security is a tedious five-minute experiment with the heavy sound once again, all chugging chords and droning organ topped with a semi-decent Mike Holmes solo for your time. Next, please. Perfect Space is a curious mini-epic, only eight-and-a-half minutes but quite unpredictable. Once again, however, the lack of any strong themes is likely to keep this piece an enigma.
Resistance closes with the 20-minute epic Fallout, and I honestly had a jolly good laugh with this one. The first half of the track is pretty unremarkable but a piano solo starting around the eleven-minute mark made me sit up once again. The chords chosen are quite striking, and yet also oddly familiar. The chords are repeated with the other instruments included for an epic build-up towards the ending of the song, all topped off with a grandiose guitar solo featuring synthesised choir voices. Sound like anything you know? I’ll keep you from guessing; it’s Awaken. It’s absolutely, totally Awaken. When the guitar kicked in I hooted with laughter at how closely it reminded me of that classic “there’s no doubt, no doubt” moment by Yes. In exactly the same way as the original, the guitar solo gives way to an ambient section featuring a few more lyrics before fading out gently. I’ll give IQ something, I’ve never heard a band trying to copy Awaken before, and their version is commendable although rather obvious.
So there you have it, a long double album with a few high points but many disappointments. I’m sure most IQ fans will lap it up and praise this new heavy version of the group, but it simply betrays too many of the good qualities IQ is known for, the main one being strong melodies. Fans may want to buy the album simply for Paul Cook’s drumming, which I’d go as far as saying is his best on any IQ album, as well as for the more consistent tracks Shallow Bay and The Great Spirit Way, but for all other progheads Resistance will probably be one of a long list of IQ albums where you like a couple of the songs and forget all the rest. Despite this, I would look forward to hearing what the band do next, and hope that they break their five-year album cycle to bring us something new before 2024.
01. A Missile (6:41)
02. Rise (6:49)
03. Stay Down (7:54)
04. Alampandria (3:49)
05. Shallow Bay (6:21)
06. If Anything (6:03)
07. For Another Lifetime (15:22)
Time – 52:56
01. The Great Spirit Way (21:45)
02. Fire and Security (5:25)
03. Perfect Space (8:33)
04. Fallout (19:55)
Time – 55:36
Total Time – 1:48:32
Mike Holmes – Guitars
Peter Nicholls – Vocals
Paul Cook – Drums
Neil Durant – Keyboards
Tim Esau – Bass
Record label: Giant Electric Pea
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 27th September 2019