Back in 2017, Nick Barrett posted a blog entry about the process of writing and how a deep personal engagement with his material meant he couldn’t simply churn out albums to order. Reflecting on the recent passing of his father, and the bitterly acerbic tone that political debates had taken, he wanted to put together an album that celebrated the wonder and goodness of life. With a recent move to Cornwall, and time spent motorcycling, surfing and caravanning, he mooted Love Over Fear. Just over two years later, that record is with us.
Alongside adopting an upbeat and life-affirming sentiment for the lyrics, Barrett also indicated a desire to return to some of the soundscapes of the band’s more symphonic ’90s oeuvre (those albums from The World to Not of This World). Personally, I met this news with a mixture of delight and trepidation. On the one hand, that is the period that includes my favourite Pendragon material, but on the other, the band’s ability to progress and reinvent themselves has meant that each album offers something new whilst remaining distinctively Pendragon. What a tremendous pleasure it was, then, to hear the latest offering and find that Barrett has succeeded in recording an album which takes the best of their legacy and at the same time still delivers something new and vibrant. Love Over Fear might just be Pendragon’s finest album to date, no mean feat for a band who have such an impressive back catalogue, one that ranks amongst the best prog has had to offer over the last few decades.
Love Over Fear opens with a stomping 4/4 beat and Seventies organ before moving into more familiar territory with Barrett’s signature guitar sound and a song that has a Masters of Illusion feel to it. Straight away it’s clear to the listener that Clive Nolan will have more of an opportunity to flex his fingers on this latest effort. The most striking thing about Pendragon’s eleventh studio album, aside from the welcome return of the symphonic sound, is the quality of Barrett’s vocals. On Starfish and the Moon, in particular, he stretches his range with superb dynamic control and maintains a delicate vibrato. This paired with Barrett’s piano and guitar melodies, and a synth string backing, make this soft percussion-less ballad a thing of beauty. Following Starfish and the Moon is the first of the album’s eight-minute epics, Truth and Lies. The arpeggiated twelve-string guitar calls to mind some of the gentler moments from Not of This World and a vocal melody which fans may recognise from Come Home Jack. You can feel the moment when the soaring guitar solo is about to kick in, and what a terrific solo it is. I love Jan-Vincent Velazco’s drumming on this: subtle, understated and working in and around the beats. I’m reminded of the playing of drummer and percussionist Vinnie Colaiuta.
360 Degrees was a real surprise. Kicking off with mandolin (or does it open with a ukulele, I’m not sure), the band swing into a Celtic folk-rocker featuring backing singer Zoe Devenish on violin. Considering that Barrett has relocated to Cornwall, and that this album is a love letter to the sea, the track is set in context and the listener is whisked away to a lock-in in a coastal pub. It’s great fun and is sure to have fans clapping along at gigs in much the same way that they have to Nostradamus in the past.
Soul and the Sea provides an engaging platform to showcase the band’s undoubted talents. Zoe Devenish is a gifted violinist and I sincerely hope that she will become a feature of Pendragon albums in the future. Both Nolan and Velazco feature prominently on this piece too. What follows is the second of the albums eight-minute tracks (and possibly my favourite), the breezily uplifting Eternal Light. Velazco’s slick percussion and drumming here accompany some of Love Over Fear’s best melodies. A quick reference back to opener Everything builds into some guitar and keyboard interplay that swells out into something reminiscent of both The Voyager and A Man of Nomadic Traits.
Water is another eight-minuter which builds gradually as a slightly moodier piece and develops into yet another fine guitar solo. Whirlwind is the second of Barrett’s piano pieces and is another surprise for the listener with its jazz chords and a welcome guest spot for Julian Baker on sax. Who Really Are We? is the one obvious nod to the more recent, heavier albums with an intro so Indigo-like that I was waiting to hear the dog bark. This is an excellent track with a little bit of all the things that make Pendragon such an exceptional prog band. So too the closer, Afraid of Everything, which rounds the album off with an achingly beautiful anthemic repeated theme. Top this off with some magnificent artwork from local artist Liz Saddington and Love Over Fear is a superb package.
The album is somewhat musically self-referential, but at the same time it’s also wedded to a host of pleasant new surprises and it’s hard not to be swept along by the positive energy of its theme and tone. I suspect that most Pendragon fans will adore this album. There isn’t a single weak moment on Love Over Fear, far less a weak track. Verses, choruses and instrumentals are all melody-rich, the instrumentation is wonderfully diverse, the dynamics varied and well-structured. I could go on and on.
Clearly a lot of thought and love has gone into this latest recording. Love Over Fear was well worth the wait and will undoubtedly come to be regarded as one of the highpoints in the career of one of prog’s greatest artists.
01. Everything (5:40)
02. Starfish and the Moon (3:37)
03. Truth and Lies (8:26)
04. 360 Degrees (5:34)
05. Soul and the Sea (5:44)
06. Eternal Light (8:19)
07. Water (7:58) 08. Whirlwind (4:59) 09. Who Really Are We? (8:42) 10. Afraid of Everything (5:08)
Total Time – 64:07
Nick Barrett – Vocals, Guitars, Keyboard Programming, Mandolin (track 4), Piano (tracks 2 & 8)
Clive Nolan – Keyboards
Peter Gee – Bass Guitar
Jan-Vincent Velazco – Drums & Percussion
Zoe Devenish – Backing Vocals, Violin (tracks 4 & 5)
Julian Baker – Saxophone (track 8)
Record Label: Toff Records
Catalogue#: CD – PEND30DS, Deluxe 3CD/Book – PEND30CD, Vinyl – PEND30LP
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 14th February 2020