For Progressive Rock lovers, this release is of no small importance. One of the finest albums in that genre is now available in a remixed version with lots of added goodies and a DVD with live concert video and other tracks.
Back in 1983, two bands were the dominant force in re-energizing Progressive Rock. Marillion and IQ. Marillion was the first of the Prog bands (and there were many scrambling for acceptance) to sign with a major label (EMI) and produced a defining album, Script for a Jester’s Tear. And the other, with more modest beginnings, was IQ, which released their first album, Tales from the Lush Attic, on their own independent label. The production was thin on Tales, but the music – it was as strong as any of that period. And now, thirty years later, guitarist Mike Holmes has taken the master tapes, and as Steven Wilson has done so well recently, has remixed/remastered this seminal work and the results are spectacular.
For those that love Fish-era Marillion, then this is a must-have in your collection. If you haven’t heard IQ, then know that, though they are unique in many ways, the impression of Lush Attic is a sprinkling of Genesis’ Selling England with a modern edge like Marillion produced at the time. The big difference between the two was that Marillion often did not demonstrate their technical skills – the songs, the lyrics, and the overall compositions came first. IQ’s approach has always been a bit more to the other side. Mike Holmes is a technically brilliant guitarist and his solos and fills are unique and aggressive. Martin Orford, now into a solo career, contributed major keyboards solos and runs while also attending to mellotrons and “lush” key orchestrations. Tim Esau’s bass pulses with energy and original counter-point and drummer Paul “Cookie” Cook plays with speed and energy more in the style of Keith Moon. So my point being is that in addition to having written beautiful songs with alternating power and delicacy, they also stepped out of the comfort of structure and sometimes let loose. Lead vocalist Peter Nicholls wrote all the lyrics and has, like Marillion’s Fish, a Peter Gabriel sound. Though when you hear them now, neither sound that much like Gabriel did in his Genesis years, you are nevertheless reminded of that whimsical vocal style.
The album is made up of 5 tracks. The first, The Last Human Gateway, is over 20 minutes and was the entire side one of the original vinyl release. It is a suite of varying moods with an absolutely haunting melody that stays with you long after it ends. Beginning with lovely keyboard accompanying Nicholls’ plaintive voice, it builds and builds, creating a tapestry of musical highs and lows. To me, it is one of the defining songs of the genre and is worth the price of this set alone.
The other tracks are right up there as well. Through the Corridors (Oh! Shit Me) is a fast speed drill rocker with guitar and keyboards constantly exchanging runs – like a Camel track (from Mirage) on fast forward.
Awake and Nervous carries on with the pace, with definite Yes elements, with Orford once again demonstrating why he is still one of the best keyboardists of Prog. The song features the start of an IQ trademark with the rhythm section playing a time signature that defies your expectations while the main melody carries on – clever and ear catching.
My Baby Treats Me Right ‘Cos I’m a Hard Lovin’ Man All Night Long is a beautiful, fast paced (strangely named) classical inspired solo piano piece that completely pulls you away from the previous tracks. It is short (just under 2 minutes) and serves as a refreshing respite.
The album ends with the 14 minute The Enemy Smacks that brings you back to something in the area of Genesis’ The Battle of Epping Forest but faster paced and with darker elements. The middle section slows down and, like Human Corridor, has a classical, almost Bach sound to it. But the band explodes again, ripping through a heavy, Deep Purple-like sound that breaks into a slow, bluesy tempo. This comes as a surprise for sure, and Mike Holmes uses this as a platform for some nice and intense guitar.
Included on this CD are four bonus tracks: a 2012 recording of Wintertell, a track originally attended for the album but not used; an alternative edit of the final section of Human Gateway; and two unfinished demos.
So in the end, Tales from the Lush Attic presents an incredible array of music, some familiar with elements of early Genesis and Yes, heavier passages that recall Deep Purple Mark I, and then of course classical passages that all of the above bands also used. The sound of IQ is unique, though, in the same way Marillion was at that time – borrowing from the past masters but stamping the music with their own identity.
The DVD has a pile of stuff. There is concert footage of today’s IQ performing tracks from Lush Attack and one additional track. The concert is well filmed and the sound is excellent. They perform The Last Human Gateway, Through the Corridors (Oh! Shit Me), About Lake Five (from their first cassette only release, Seven Stories into Eight), Awake and Nervous and The Enemy Smacks. This was recorded in Holland in 2011. There is also a photo gallery, multi-track files for Through the Corridors, and further mixes and alternate files of the original album. But that’s not all! Besides a set of kitchen knives and a second set if you order now, you also get audio commentary, and MP3 files (with the sound being MP3) of Seven Stories into Eight (which, by the way, you can get re-recorded in a special edition that may be still available) and even more rare tracks.
The Digi-book comes with a complete essay on the making of the album including comments from a number of band members plus Mike Holmes’ thorough essay on how he remixed and all that entailed which turned out to be quite a process. For example, he had to literally bake the master tapes in order to ensure that the tapes would hold up under the transfer process! All the lyrics are also included.
Now on to the sound:
I have had the original vinyl and at least two other versions of this album on CD and none can compare to this release in audio quality. It is so far above any from the past that it is scary. Every instrument can be heard, but the real bonus here is that Holmes managed to make this warm and analogue sounding – it really is a true pleasure to listen to. Perhaps Steven Wilson’s remixes have raised the bar, but whatever the reason, this is an immaculate reissue that will please fans of the band and newcomers alike. It is obvious that Mike Holmes treated this as a labour of love, as he was never satisfied with the sound before – in fact he wouldn’t listen to it. He has done a great service and judging by other reviews I have read, he could be called upon to remix more albums even outside the IQ catalogue!
I can highly recommend Tales from the Lush Attic for its historical significance, its powerful and enjoyable music and its incredible sound.
Release Date: January 29, 2012 (1983)