Impressive and thought-provoking sixth album release from the eloquent and eclectic UK prog rock band, Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate.
Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate (HOGIA) are a London-based progressive rock band fronted by Malcolm Galloway (on vocals, lead guitar, keyboards/synthesisers and programming) with Mark Gatland (on bass guitar, additional guitars, keyboards/synthesisers, Chapman Stick and backing vocals) and Kathryn Thomas (on flute and backing vocals). Malcolm is a classical minimalist musician and composer and retired neuropathologist who has followed a diverse creative arts path after Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (a joint-related collagen disorder) curtailed his medical career. HOGIA has been his band project, releasing their debut album Invisible in 2012, and more recently their critically acclaimed fifth album, Nostalgia For Infinity in 2020, just before lockdown. Mark Gatland is a talented musician and composer in his own right, and also plays bass guitar for the prog rock band IT. Kathryn is Malcolm’s wife, who joins him and Mark at live gigs where her classical music commitments allow.
They have forged a fine reputation on the UK prog festival circuit and have steadily built a strong following. New album The Confidence Trick showcases not only the infectiously dynamic side of their live performances (which made me once describe them – tongue-in-cheek, of course – as the ‘Otway & Barrett of Prog’), but highlights their complex and multi-layered musicianship, especially on the keyboards/synthesisers and programmed drumming – which by necessity is often laid down on backing tracks when playing live.
Malcolm says, “This album is a collection of tracks on the theme of cognitive errors, particularly overconfidence, and our failure to learn from the consequences of repeatedly following the overconfident. Overconfidence can be divided into two broad concepts – excessive certainty and excessively positive views of ourselves and our favoured groups. Both kinds of overconfidence can be dangerous. Leaders may start wars erroneously certain of rapid victory. The company director may risk the livelihoods of their staff and creditors to make risky debt-laden acquisitions, excessively certain of their outstanding performance… We all might be better off if we sometimes paused to ask ourselves, ‘why might I be wrong?'”
The result is a musically diverse, contemporary and intelligent album of prog rock with many other musical genres merging in. Over thirteen songs, of which five are instrumental, HOGIA hold up a lens to the world around us in these challenging times. Often using sci-fi stories as allegories for our fears and experiences, the band have produced not only their most mature work, but also their best album to date, in my view.
Silence is a Statement is a very strong melodic start to the album. Lovely, chiming synthesised guitar notes sparkle over a deep electronica rumble, followed by piano and Malcolm’s initially hushed vocals, before Mark’s powerful bass and lively drums take the song on. The vocals build confidently, and the increasingly defiant lyrics drive home.
When we say nothing – silence is a statement”
The dangers of not speaking out against oppression is the powerful message here. Silence is a statement of compliance and acceptance and can only strengthen the oppressor. The importance of both speaking out as well as speaking to each other is emphasised well. It’s a song that has been played live for almost a year now – often opening the set – and it always works well, dynamically. However, the studio version positively shimmers and shines.
Back Where I Started is an immediate shift in style. Kathryn’s flute flurries soar over a darker, keyboard-led background and heavy guitar chords – providing an intriguing musical counterpoint. Malcolm’s desperate and weary vocals recount a sci-fi tale of a time traveller who tries to fix events in history, but accidently makes things worse. The album’s thematic concept of cognitive errors, overconfidence in our abilities and failure to learn from past mistakes in order to avoid repeating them is laid out bleakly before us.
And every redrawn path leads back to the start”
The parallels to the Greek legend of Sisyphus – continually rolling his boulder up the hill, only to see it repeatedly roll back – are emphasised by the incessant, slow pace of the track and it is a real grower with repeated listens.
End of the Line outlines a story of a society who can no longer philosophically question their existence and future without the fear of conflict. Is the road stretched out beyond them a line to somewhere else (outside?) or merely a loop to continually repeat? Musically, it creates an atmospheric soundscape of keyboards and muted guitar before a rich bass and slow percussive beat propels the unsettling lyrics. Once again, Kathryn’s lovely flute playing lifts the music from its melancholic sense of futility, created by the hypnotic instrumentation conjured up by Malcolm and Mark.
Something better left unspoken
We don’t ask anymore
A loop or a line”
Malcolm’s vocals seem to have a touch of Steve Hogarth weariness to them at times, whilst his well-judged guitar solo seems to offer a sense of hope – although maybe it’s a false one?
Perky Pat is an instrumental inspired by the Philip K. Dick story of a post-apocalyptic world where an older generation of survivors use a glamorous doll with a fictionalised lifestyle to distract them from their current situation – at odds with their children, who have no interest in the delusion and have begun adapting to their new life. Musically, it is a lovely slice of progressive rock and electronica, with urgent, synthesised keyboard passages ebbing and flowing over a busy rhythm. There are some mesmeric, full-blown proggy moments of exuberance which wash wonderfully over you through to a stately conclusion.
World War Terminus refers to another Philip K. Dick story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (filmed as Blade Runner), and the bloody, destructive, but ultimately mysterious nuclear conflict that nobody can remember how or why it started, symbolising mankind’s inexplicable tendency to destroy themselves and their environment for the sake of selfish desires. The allegoric parallels to Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine are stark and lend a real gravitas to the lyric. Malcolm’s stream of consciousness vocals mocking the idea of “Another war to end all wars” are accompanied by measured guitar lines, complex instrumentation, and twinkling keyboards towards the end. A short, quirky and punchy track that stays with you.
HOGIA like to mix instrumentals with vocal-led songs to create a flow and balance to their albums and Pretending to Breathe is such a track. Another atmospheric blending of prog and electronica that flows thoughtfully with nice changes of pace, ambient-like passages punctuating some enjoyable keyboard/synthesiser playing. Not particularly linked to the album’s overriding theme, but it fits in well between the more intense and calmer songs elsewhere.
Malcolm’s love of science fiction has been clear to see on previous albums and the genre is often a great way to capture the current ‘zeitgeist’. Another Plague draws on his experience as a neuropathologist and tells the story of a new disease that makes people’s faces seem to disappear – starting with the most marginalised groups, or those we have less empathy for, but eventually spreading to us all. The story is based on the idea that the condition affects the ‘fusiform gyrus’ part of the brain, which is important for visual recognition. It turns out to be a powerful metaphor for both the COVID pandemic and quarantine/isolation, and how those judged as different or less important to society are dehumanised – the faceless poor, old, frail or displaced. The music is dense and powerful, and Malcolm delivers a stunning melodic guitar solo. There are many layers to explore and ponder in this pivotal track.
Then it spread, stealing faces of those who look different
It’s now so widespread, we’ve given up containment
I can’t recognise my friends; they don’t recognise their children”
Just as the extended instrumental Ark from Nostalgia For Infinity recounted the story of Malcolm’s great grandfather’s wartime role with the Ark Royal, Refuge is inspired by his great grandmother’s escape from anti-semitic pogroms and the Nazi Holocaust. The musical style and tempo attempt to match her journey from calm and peace, through fear and flight, then hiding and, finally, escape. It begins serenely with gentle piano before a sumptuous orchestral sweep of keyboards and synthesisers and through the story’s twists and turns. This is complex, symphonic and cinematic prog of the highest order. Pulsating, dramatic and even dancing rhythms, and ‘avant garde’ touches appear, before another uplifting and climatic guitar solo and a hopeful piano coda. Even without the back story, this is a track to savour. It is a fine tribute to her positive and caring spirit in the face of such brutalisation, as well as the bravery of those who risked their own lives to protect a stranger. The parallels with the plight of the refugees of today are there for us all to consider.
Interlude is a shorter instrumental that provides another refreshing contrast. Guitar, keyboards, bass and drums are allowed to combine in a rich, vibrant slice of neo-prog rock that could easily have been extended for me.
The Confidence Trick is thematically at the heart of the album’s message about overconfidence, both with excessive certainty and excessive optimism – and the dangers of mistaking confidence for competence in society, our leaders, our decisions and in our daily lives – which lead to repeating the mistakes of the past. It is here that that the lyrics and instrumentation are most integrated, and it is a real album highlight. Malcolm delivers more glorious guitar cameos, ably supported by Mark, as he wearily recounts how we get deceived time and time again by the “confident, incompetent” and the “narcissistic slaughtermen”.
The confidence trick
To fool ourselves
To let ourselves be used”
The instrumentation is dynamic and assured, and the restrained anger of the lyrics, with their echoes of the angst of Roger Waters and even Pete Townsend, sadly offer no solution – other than to stay alert.
Lava Lamprey is a short, jazzy piano-led instrumental with a twisty structure that Malcolm likens to being on an out-of-control ride at a nightmare funfair. It provides a transition from The Confidence Trick, into All Empires Fall, linking the idea of dictatorial power destined to eventually fail. It is another example of never quite knowing where HOGIA are heading at any particular time, which is very much where their eclectic charm lies.
All Empires Fall gives a positive slant on the view that even the most evil of dictators and regimes will eventually fail. It gives a sort of ‘nihilistic realism’ to history and as a physicist, I can relate to the idea of the triumph of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and how “Entropy wins”. Strident guitar and stirring bass mingle with rap-like vocals and a modern, accessible alt-rock/pop feel with a catchy chorus. The sentiments are so contemporary, although I was reminded of the Galahad song Empires Never Last and even Shelley’s poem Ozymandias. However, it was the famous quote by Carl Sagan related to the famous ‘pale blue dot’ photograph from Voyager 1 that came into my mind: “Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot”. When will the overconfidence of the world’s leaders ever be recognised?
It is just like HOGIA to throw a curve ball at the end. Cygnus is a sombre, reflective and down-beat ending to the album – but also has great dignity. Accompanied by piano, Malcolm’s heart-felt lyrics on the betrayal of NHS and care staff at the start of the pandemic, due to the failure to follow the recommendations of the Operation Cygnus viral pandemic preparation exercise, resonate strongly. In just over a minute, the loss of so many loved ones due to overconfidence of those in power is clear to see.
We sent them to fight
Armed with applause
And it wasn’t enough”
The excellent and expressive CD artwork design is by Malcolm himself, along with Mark, and demands a physical copy of the album in addition to any download. The music and imagery create a truly special and integrated experience to enjoy.
Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate have produced their best album to date with The Confidence Trick. Articulate and contemporary, and also as diverse and eclectic as ever, but showing a greater confidence in their musical abilities and vision. Progressive rock mingling effortlessly with electronica, classical and alt-rock influences.
An album that can be enjoyed in one immersive sitting, but with individual tracks that can easily stand on their own merits. The band have gained a growing and enthusiastic following due to their dynamic performances as a duo or trio, and their back catalogue has much to savour – but this release is a real step-up in my opinion. If you like a variety of styles in your prog rock and intelligent, thoughtful lyrics to ponder, The Confidence Trick is not only ‘more than adequate’… It’s blooming marvellous!
01. Silence is A Statement (4:24)
02. Back Where I Started (4:44)
03. End of the Line (6:54)
04. Perky Pat (6:03)
05. World War Terminus (3:12)
06. Pretending to Breathe (6:31)
07. Another Plague (7:29)
08. Refuge (10:23)
09. Interlude (4:04)
10. The Confidence Trick (6:31)
11. Lava Lamprey (3:16)
12. All Empires Fall (3:24)
13. Cygnus (1:13)
Total Time – 68:08
Malcolm Galloway – Vocals, Lead Guitar, Keyboards/Synths, Programming
Mark Gatland – Bass, Slide Guitars, Keyboards/Synths, Chapman Stick, Backing Vocals (tracks 1-12)
Kathryn Thomas – Flute, Backing Vocals (tracks 2,3,8 & 12)
Record Label: Glass Castle Recordings
Formats: CD & Digital
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 15th July 2022