The pandemic has had an effect, and on Mr Slatter it has been to produce a guitar-led album about aliens, spaceships and – because he cannot help himself – murder. From the start we get something that is riff-driven and powerful, and it works. The long-form song works to storyteller Tom’s advantage, enhancing the narrative, and giving passages of lyrics emphasis and greater structure. Time Stands Still is the first of the epics here. I first heard it in an acoustic version at A Sunday in September, and I was struck (shouldn’t have sat so close) by how good it was, raising my expectations for the then forthcoming album. This first promise has now delivered so much.
The cruel person within, and in keeping with the banter war I have with Tom, should lead me to a line that it is reliant on the talent he has coerced to perform. Rumours of huge photographic dossiers abound, guaranteeing their compliance and enslavement. But no, it is a very good album, Tom’s vocal style as quirky as the lyrical content and suited to his narrative manner. The longer songs have depth as well as structure. Some brilliant guitar work is executed by Gareth Cole. With no need for electrodes, drums are tight and controlled, and proper proggy (Tom’s words). The first thing that strikes you is how what our Slatter does lends itself to the short-form song, drawing influences from everywhere it can, mangling them up and rolling them out.
Too Many Secrets follows the pattern; strong guitar intro, rhythmic and powerful, creating an earworm hard to avoid – not that I want to. Love the stolen “Attack ships on Fire” line (Rutgers Hauer’s soliloquy in Blade Runner). The music just keeps moving, changing and evolving, though I do find an element of ’50s B-movie sci-fi about it – not a detraction, it just adds to the fun. Clever changes reminiscent of a Flash Gordon spaceship dogfight. If you expect a sweeping Vangelis soundscape, just lower your expectations to The Clash and it becomes a real treat.
Let’s All Pretend has a Splodgenessabounds intro, it bounds into your ears like a demented Labrador before settling down, but it easily becomes excited again as a fresh ball is thrown. There are more fires and burning in Let’s All Pretend, the inner sanctum of many a rockstar, straddling a divide between independent and progressive (what is prog if not wilfully independent?). This is the first track that contains what I like to think of as a circus element, acrobatic swoops and flips, and an almost playful clownish turn. The bass at times is grungy, mated with The Stranglers sound, deep, dark, and atmospheric.
Rats, a Slatter sing-along, is almost a ballad for Tom before leaping forward and shaking the bit between the teeth. He has gone to town on the guitars on this album, and Gareth Cole has delivered. Rats though, to me, is a track slightly off kilter with the others, having its own habitat inside the album’s social grouping. It is good, but odd, and I suppose I should not be surprised.
Collateral, starting what it states, is a mish-mash of interesting bits, thrown in a bucket to see what comes out. It’s a little bit punk, Clash, casbah Moroccan, with a catchy hook and a high ho Silver. It’s a lot of fun, and I can see it becoming a live with band staple. It’s quite infectious but no need to isolate and there is a great solo towards the end.
And finally, the grand finale, where all the elements that make this album are drawn together. The tale will soon be over and as expected in a circus, each “act”, be they acrobat or clown, lays out is resume. Demon, the last album, where a few ghosts were exorcised, was great. Escape equals that in its greatness, but it is a hugely different beast. Tom is still the urban folk poet of our fears and imagination, with many a tale yet to tell, but if you need an excuse to part with some cash, like a challenge, in a nice way, then the purchase of this proto-prog steampunk epic may just be your kettle of fish (Cuttlefish??). If Tom had fun, in the vein of the Heineken adverts, this would be it. Okay it isn’t your traditional Prog format, but you won’t forget it easily, so part with those remaining Christmas vouchers, and please see him at a theatre near you. I find listening to Tom entertaining and rewarding, if only to stop me from listening to formatted musical styling.
Tom is currently mixing the music he made in the February 22 challenge.
01. Time Stands Still (12:36)
02. Too Many Secrets (5:13)
03. Let’s All Pretend (5:36)
04. Rats (4:56)
05. Collateral (6:12)
06. Going Nowhere (19:12)
Total Time – 53:59
Tom Slatter – Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Keith Buckman – Bass
Michael Cairns – Drums
Graham Keane – Lead Guitar (track 1)
Gareth Cole – Lead Guitar (track 4)
Ben Bell – Keyboards (track 6)
Record Label: Bad Elephant Music
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 1st October 2021