Monday, June 29, 2009

IQ—Frequency (InsideOut/GEP)

IQ are a rare example of artistic redemption in the music industry. In 1985, IQ ruled the world—my world, at any rate. They’d just released The Wake, a glorious, cinematic album filled with sinister energy. Songs like “The Magic Roundabout” and “Widows Peak” bristled with drama. They should have been at least as big as Marillion, but a couple of factors held them back. One, they didn’t have a gigantic alcoholic Scotsman to work the press, and two, they were basically a DIY outfit. Marillion had EMI backing them almost from the get-go, so they got credit for spearheading the prog revival. IQ played the Marquee a lot, staying firmly within the EU. In Canada, if you lived near a really good import shop, you might have been able to find one of their records.

The Wake was a really impressive album, though, and by 1987, Peter Mensch and Cliff Burnstein were handling IQ’s affairs, scoring them a major deal on their label, Squawk. IQ looked set to start ruling the world beyond Kerrang! magazine and my bedroom. Unfortunately the album, Nomzamo, was a turd. Original singer Peter Nicholls was gone, and the music had been sanded down, stripped of all malevolence and polished to an electro-pop sheen—prog-lite that Patrick Bateman could have filed next to Invisible Touch. It went straight to the delete bins.

IQ eventually took control, dropped a couple members, reconnected with Nicholls, and formed their own record company, Giant Electric Pea, through which they released Ever in 1994. By this time, lonely hearted prog fans were starting to find each other through the internet, giving the rejuvenated IQ a worldwide fanbase. It helped that Ever was an excellent album, a return to the atmosphere-laden epics of their first couple releases. They’ve been going strong ever since, with new albums every few years.

Frequency finds IQ down a couple more original members—keyboardist Martin Orford has fled, dismayed by the "free music" culture, and drummer Paul Cook’s gone missing—but still making music that’s true to themselves and their legacy. Right from Frequency's opening riff, one of those signature IQ "duh duh duh" constructions, I can’t imagine any fan being disappointed with it. Orford’s replacement, Mark Westworth (Darwin's Radio), may have more of an overtly prog/rock style, but overall you’d be forgiven thinking no changes had occurred. The first three songs are the strongest. “Frequency” is heavy as IQ gets these days, an alternately delicate and powerful number. “Life Support” recalls their legendary b-side "Dans le Parc du Chateau Noir" with its quiet buildup and guitar-drenched release. Mike Holmes is still one of my favourite guitarists. His sinuous lead lines continue to dominate IQ's sound. Third song “Stronger Than Friction” is the album's apex, simultaneously epic and catchy. Nicholls has always been a master of melodies, and he delivers a corker of a chorus on this one.

The rest of Frequency flags a little. "The Province" shows some flashes of newfound heaviness and would have been one of the best songs on the album if they'd kept the energy up. Unfortunately, it saunters into a requisite faux "Supper's Ready" section that drags the song down. "Closer," a simpler song built around a chiming guitar figure, makes for a nice closer, though.

My copy comes with a bonus DVD of a live set in Holland 2007, well shot and with a set list drawn from their entire career (save that Squawk Records period) and featuring an early version of “Stronger than Friction.” They're not a hell-raising bunch of chaps on stage, but their sound and back wall projections are both exquisite.

1 comment:

Alan Duggan said...

Nomzamo and Are You Sitting Comfortably are the only decent IQ albums IMHO the rest is aweful turgid prog!