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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

It Bites

Map of the Past

Review by Alison Reijman

It Bites first exploded onto the British music scene back in the 80s, when, having formed in 1982, they had a huge commercial hit with their second single, the anthemic “Calling All The Heroes” four years later. That piece also appeared on their first album The Big Lad in the Windmill. These both established them as a top notch rock band with progressive leanings and they followed them up in quick succession with albums Once Around The World, which tapped into their proggier leanings and Eat Me in St Louis, for which they adopted a far rockier feel. The departure of Francis Dunnery, their iconic guitarist, in 1990 left the band in limbo. Replacing him with Lee Knott during the early 2000s, they were unable to recapture their earlier glories. But in 2006, guitarist John Mitchell was enlisted, having played in Kino with both drummer Bob Dalton and keyboard player John Beck. However, a final change of personnel came about when original bass player Dick Nolan left and was replaced with Lee Pomeroy, who has recently worked with both Adam Wakeman’s Headspace and Steve Hackett. Together, they issued their fourth album Tall Ships in 2008 to much critical acclaim.

Now Map of the Past has taken It Bites’ body of contemporary work, best described as “prog pop,” to a completely new level and without a shadow of doubt, this beautifully conceived and packaged album will be on many “best of 2012” lists at the end of the year. This is also the band’s first concept album inspired by a sepia photograph of a man in military uniform that Mitchell found in his adoptive family home in Cornwall. This gentleman had been the source of much family disruption 100 years ago when the photograph was taken, so the album’s theme is about how that generation dealt with emotions such as love, jealousy, loss and regret all set against a 21st century landscape.

How this is conveyed is through a series of closely linked songs, each portraying a different mood and emotion that not only relates to the characteristics of the age 100 years ago but also brilliantly harnesses the spirit of here and now. Not only that, the production by Beck and Mitchell, the album’s main songwriters, is totally precise so that absolutely nothing – neither in the instrumentation nor the structure of the songs - is wasted within it.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Man In The Photograph

The opening track begins with the sounds of a crackling radio from a bygone era switching from channel to channel before Beck’s churchy organ chords provide a hymn-like backdrop for Mitchell’s vocals. It’s sung as a meditational tract as he reflects on the fate of “the man” before the song takes on a quasi-military march feel complete with rolling drums.

Wallflower
Then the tempo completely changes as the out and out rocker “Wallflower” takes over with full-on guitars, piping keyboards and a huge swelling melody telling a tale of bitter-sweet love. The chorus will linger long in your mind long after the album ends.
Map of the Past
The title track finds the band getting into another rocky groove with Mitchell sounding incredibly like mid-80s Peter Gabriel with his slightly raw vocals topping some lovely instrumental hooks and harmonies. Those elements continue to build into a delicious guitar solo and then pares back again into the song’s narrative.
Clocks
Again, the sounds of the past are evoked through “Clocks” played in an irresistible 4/4 waltz time signature and lilting melody that suddenly lurches into a riot of sound colour. It conjures up a fairground atmosphere with Mitchell’s voice also going from restrained to zany. You can almost see couples from a century ago sweeping around a dance-floor in time to this.
Flag
Then it all goes off at another delightful tangent with “Flag.” It is one of the stand-out tracks with its lusciously rich melody brokered through guitar and keyboard, the rhythm engine room of Pomeroy and Dalton keeping it motoring along at a wonderful tempo.  The lyrics however, reflect a different reality – questioning the need for young men to go to war – “so small inside, a frightened child.”
The Big Machine
This cut ratchets up the big swell of sound again, punctuated with the sound of iron on iron right at its heart before one of Beck’s flights of fancy on keyboard and Mitchell’s gorgeous guitar licks take over.
Cartoon Graveyard
This is an absolute gem lyrically. Starting with a gentle keyboard motif and Mitchell’s voice, it gradually gains momentum as a sung soliloquy about how one particular individual wants himself perceived by others. Perhaps it’s meant to be just before he is off to face the perils of war. There are lots of chunky keyboards and fuzzy guitars in there, too.
Send No Flowers
Then again the whole musical landscape changes with a huge organ-led orchestration starting “Send No Flowers,” almost sounding like the overture to a musical until Mitchell pitches in with a distinctly gallows humour music-hall tinged vocal.
Meadow and the Stream
Again, we are back with the lush melodies through “Meadow and the Stream,” another lyrically poignant song about imaginary friends and drawing yourself a reality which does not exist the way you want it to.  The fusion of prog styles within it recalls both ELO and Genesis in their pomp.
The Last Escape
If there is one song to define this album, it has to be “The Last Escape,” an astonishing emotionally charged piece in which Beck’s mournful piano motif leads straight into Mitchell’s rawest, most sorrowful vocal bidding a final farewell to a loved one - “I miss you completely.”  From here, he reinforces the song with a bittersweet guitar solo, a perfect continuation of the sentiment being conveyed. It does not matter in which era we live, the emotions never changed, it seems to say.
Exit Song
This is a final gentle acoustic acknowledgement to the man in the photograph with the radio reporting the Titanic being lost at sea and the disappearance of a man “changing his own past” and ending with the words “Goodbye.”
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