Twenty-seven years after their 1995 album, Safe, Poland’s widely revered – even iconic – band Collage return with a fifth new studio album, Over and Out. The engine room of the band remains the same – Krzysztof Palczewski on synthesisers, Piotr Mintay Witkowski on bass and Wojtek Szadkowski on drums. Artist Zdzisław Beksinski has produced yet another fine eye-catching cover, but gone are vocalist Robert Amirian and seminal founding guitarist Mirek Gil, replaced by Bartosz Kossowicz (Quidam) and Michał Kirmuć respectively.
Have the years been kind? The dramatic opening title track leaves you in absolutely no doubt as to the answer. Over the course of nearly 22 minutes, Collage lay down a compelling and unmistakable statement of intent which, on the one hand, deliberately references and captures the sheer raw energy and exuberance of Basnie (1990) whilst on the other, signposting more organic and developmental directions to be explored in the rest of the album.
The structure is complex, cleverly weaving a framework of shifting time signatures and tempos in order to provide structure and momentum to the song whilst creating musical changes to the mood and atmosphere. The instantly recognisable ‘signature’ Collage sound is writ large in the punch and dynamism which accompanies each shift along with some of the chord progressions which recall fond memories of earlier releases.
But to my mind, it’s not until we reach the second track – What About the Pain? (A Family Album) – that things begin to get really interesting. Closer to Moonshine (1994) in character and to Safe in spirit, this is where we first see the palpable signs of the kinds of new musical progressions and creativity they want to explore.
What About the Pain? is unapologetically, almost joyfully anthemic.
The fond happiness of nostalgia continues:
But then we’re hit with the most explosive, forlorn and blistering chorus, laden with pathos, agony, tenderness and heart break.
What about the rain / I’m standing in / Washing me away / Of all my dreams?”
And then the awful litany of where the song is taking us: love’s ‘sleazy ways’, the ‘alimony of lies’, the recurring inner ‘demons’, “poor bastards of my sanity”. The accentuated bass work thumps home each scar of sorrow, the echoed guitar screaming a tortured melodic dance. The clinching triumph of the song comes with the addition of a children’s choir singing the final chorus lines; heart-rending to hear such words sung from the mouths of the innocent.
If that doesn’t leave you emotionally wrecked, it certainly butters you up for One Empty Hand. Discussing the album with a colleague, he believes a better prog song than this track is unlikely to be heard in 2023. To be fair, it is hard not to agree. It’s a song of striking contrasts, a stirring delicacy of emotion outpouring with an energy positively fizzing with anger and resentment. An echoed vocal pleads a cruel lament, cradled against a jungle-esque rhythm echoed by deep drums. A superb guitar solo, light but intense, carries a vocal melody whilst riffing inventive variations in the background, the vocal slowly fading away.
The final track, Man in the Middle, is an air guitarist’s dream! Clocking in at just over 9 minutes, half the track is a sublime exhibition in the form of a sustained guitar solo courtesy of Steve Rothery. It is unspeakably magnificent. As only Rothery can, he coaxes every last ounce of character and of feeling into the light. The changing tones and textures exhorted from the strings across 4 minutes embodies the moody aching of a soul cruelly exposed.
Twenty-seven years since their last release, Over and Out is a glorious album. It takes a little time to weave its enticing spell, but once it does you will find it steeped in emotional intrigue, alive with imaginative creativity and brimming with musical inventiveness. It is great to have them back and recording again. Perhaps, next time, we can hope the creative juices won’t need to marinate for another quarter of a century!
01. Over and Out (21:50)
02. What About the Pain? (A Family Album) (8:36)
03. One Empty Hand (5:03)
04. A Moment, a Feeling (13:22)
05. Man in the Middle (9:10)
Total Time – 58:01
Michał Kirmuć – Electric & Acoustic Guitars
Bartosz Kossowicz – Vocals
Piotr Mintay Witkowski – Bass
Krzysztof Palczewski – Synthesisers
Wojtek Szadkowski – Drums & Percussion
Steve Rothery – Electric & Acoustic Guitars (track 5)
Record Label: Mystic Productions
Formats: Vinyl (Black, Ltd Ed. Blue), CD, Digital
Country of Origin: Poland
Date of Release: 2nd December 2022