“Beauty always comes with dark thoughts”, warns Tuomas Holopainen (Nightwish). When the liner notes of an album have a final page dedicated to an impressive bibliography of further reading, containing titles with phrases which include ‘Narcissistic Abuse’, ‘Chronic Shame’, ‘Covert Narcissism’ and ‘the Malevolent Dark Triad’, you would do well to pay close heed to his observation.
Make no mistake about it. The Science of Goodbye is a gorgeous album. The sheer opulence of the music is utterly enchanting; layers of gently rippling, sumptuous keyboards fashion a seductive soundscape which is enticingly beautiful in the way they cascade and overlap with delightfully exquisite vocals to form alluring harmonies and ravishing melodies. Fabulous bass work provides an inky depth whilst unassuming guitars weave delicate textures.
The musical experience is, quite simply, breathtaking. Yet it’s not long before your attention becomes worryingly snagged on lyrical intrusions which slowly begin to disrupt the seeming elegance of the musical façade. Know You Now is arrestingly brutal in the deceptive discord it sows between a delicious melodic finesse and a horrendously damaging lyrical portrait of psychological and emotional abuse.
“No enigma here: a fairy-tale of fear / Hollow to the core, my torture your reward”. As is so often the way in manipulative relationships, “Nobody sees your rage, your misery / Just an ordinary guy”. From the outside, no one knows. No one sees the hurt, the pain, the fear, the intimidation, the continually cruel and heartless onslaught creating devastating feelings of worthlessness.
“Heartless words that cut so deep / Pray my broken soul to keep / I know you now”. When the penny finally drops, when realisation dawns, it inevitably feels too late. “Too much ventured, nothing gained / Love left rusting in the rain / I know you now”. But from the sorry wistfulness of acceptance and self-blame, defiance can arise: “No more tears, no more the fool / Damn your cruelty, fuck your rules / I know you know”. The trumpet solo which follows captures with absolute perfection the smoky, film-noir sentiment of the song.
Unfortunately, however, where manipulation has taken its emotional toll and abuse has carved psychological scars, defiance wavers and the hooks that keep us in place remain. The songs which follow are wrenching in their painting of wavering uncertainty and crippling self-doubt. The title track is forlorn in lamenting “twelve years wasted and one woman down”. Yet the struggle remains: “Put on the gaslight, take me apart”. Despite faux concern and blinding tears, there is no hiding from the truth that “he tasted like Kryptonite” (Tasted Like Kryptonite, Track 6).
Still doubts remain: “Should I, could I and will I make the move this time?” (Rainbow’s End). One final trick in the armoury is yet to be played and the magnificent Blood Moon Rising is uncompromising: “It’s a little late to tell me if that’s how you feel” but nevertheless “oh, here we go”. One last chance? “Kiss me under the North Star” A last flicker of hope; “There’s a look in your eyes.” Fondness rekindled: “when you kiss me it’s like coming home”.
But no. “It’s too late to tell me and you’ll always be empty inside”. There is only so much we can take. The startling end track The Science of Goodbye is an anthem of hope for the hopeless, for those who doubt they have the strength or the stamina to survive. “I’ll take back my life now that I’m awake inside / Heart opened wide / I’ll take back what’s mine in a future redesigned / That’s the science of goodbye”.
When I first listened to this release, I anticipated that much of what I would draw your attention to would be the music. Yet I find that in the end, this is not so much a review as more a love note of appreciation to what is a thoroughly remarkable album. It does so many things right. Thrilling musical artistry, dramatic creative virtuosity which serves to heighten and intensify a profound set of incredibly sensitive reflections on distress and desolation which often goes unspoken and unseen.
Prog often deals with personal experiences that are deeply poignant and painfully existential. That The Science of Goodbye finishes with an informative and supportive reading list is exemplary – and certainly a practice which is to be welcomed and heartily encouraged. I can’t help feel that Holopainen is right. But when such painfully dark thoughts can be shared so passionately in music that is indeed astonishingly beautiful, it stands as a beacon of hope for the true power of prog to touch our lives and allow us to be with each other in ways nothing else can.
01. Enter, Soubrette (4:58)
02. Wonderland (How Can This Be Love?) (5:22)
03. Know You Now (4:27)
04. Ghosts in the Wind (5:46)
05. Three Colours Dark (4:34)
06. Tasted Like Kryptonite (4:22)
07. Rainbow’s End (3:51)
08. Blood Moon Rising (6:04)
09. Monster (5:34)
10. The Science of Goodbye (6:18)
Total Time – 51:00
Rachel Cohen – Vocals
Jonathan Edwards – Grand & Rhodes Pianos, Synths & Electric Guitar
Tim Hamill – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Bass Guitar & Drum Programming
Dave Gregory – Electric Guitar
Steve Balsamo – Vocals
Chantel McGregor – Electric Guitar & Ebow
Nathan Bray – Trumpet & Flugelhorn
Kate Ronconi – Violin
Record Label: Firefly Music
Date of Release: 27th March 2020