There are times when we all need to lie back, headphones on, and let music flow through us to take us to places in melodies and words. Whether it be bands from the past, like Pink Floyd, or the more recent Porcupine Tree, there is always a place for beauty and storytelling in rock music. The good news is, on Cardington, the second album by UK progsters Lifesigns, they deliver something quite special.
Each time I listen to it, I hear new things; whether it be a funky bass rhythm or a drum fill, or some complex time signature section, there is always something new. With main man John Young having an excellent ear for melody, there are some beautiful themes running through all the songs. He is ably assisted by Jon Poole (Cardiacs, Wildhearts) on bass and Martin “Frosty” Beedle (Cutting Crew) on drums, laying down the backbeat to everything, working their magic as part of the songs and arrangements. There is no unnecessary showing off, no losing sight of the importance of song, yet some of their playing is simply fantastic, which helps to make a very cohesive unit.
Lyrically, it is a very interesting album as most of the songs fit into the theme of the title track yet each stands on their own, having a similar theme of individuality, chasing dreams and reaching for the skies as best as is possible.
The album title and cover are about airship R101, which was made in a place called the “Cardington Sheds” in England. This was an airship which crashed in France, killing 48 out of 54 on board (2 of those died after being taken to hospital). A truly sad end to the dream and aspirations of those creative individuals.
The album is comprised of 3 longer pieces and 4 shorter tracks (or at least under 6 minutes). The first of the shorter tracks (“Voice In My Head”) opens a little like the Genesis’s song “I know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)”. Not for long though! It turns into a lovely track (almost pop music), but with some beautiful touches on guitar and keyboard to still make it prog rock!
“Chasing Rainbows” is bittersweet, with a strong Steven Wilson or Porcupine Tree sound, and is a fine example of the dual way to take the lyrics. On a personal level, it is possibly about his (and the band’s) fight against the music industry and press. On another level, it is about chasing that dream or rainbow of success in air travel despite the doubters.
“Impossible” is a jaunty little number. Once again, some sections do have an early Genesis playful vibe. Like many of the songs on the album it is very melodic and easy to listen to, yet some of the parts have interesting rhythms and underpinning guitar or keyboards which on further listens are very captivating. This lyrically is the most obvious one regarding the strains and stresses of dealing with music executives. Lyrics like “I would not take the lions share, just make it real, make it fair” and “you aim in one direction, and you play with one dimension” ask why the artists trying to create new music get the smallest percentage and why executives only care about the money and not the artistry.
The 3 longer songs are wonderfully crafted. The opener kicks in with piano and keyboards, then a Marillion-sounding drum opening and an off-kilter time sequence, which had me air drumming away (or at least trying to). “N” (that is the title) is a great example of what progressive music is about; melody, time changes, terrific playing and story-telling . The chorus of “you are freedom” captures the mood and sets the scene for the whole album. There are 2 great guitar solos with bass and drums doing their thing in between them. Musicianship at its finest. The ending words leave a foreboding taste of the story to come, with “carry on, never coming home, and I was always on my own, and it was…..”.
The second of the longer songs is my personal favourite track on the album. The bass work is especially thrilling. The clever thing is that it surrounds one of the most easy on the ear melodies and lyrical content on the album. It mixes modern keyboard sounds with old school progressive sounds. At times, it can be quite dark sounding and, at points, very uplifting. There are moments of almost orchestral music and a touch of mellow Pink Floyd, making this interesting and captivating. The song is a call to arms for those who do not fit in with what is around, “to be different”, to be who we are and to ignore those who disagree. I really felt the plaintiff cry of that lyric line.
The title track tells the story of the flight of R101 in both words and music. The mood of the music matches the story throughout, from the dreaming of reaching the skies, the trying to convince others that doubted, the radio signals with the music building up tension as weather reports come up, then onto the actual flight itself. The music accompanying the “fly high, fly through the clouds” is wonderous. Close your eyes and you can actually envisage the scene in your mind. I certainly found myself seeing the pictures in my head. The ending words, “in my world I can see skies of green” as they crash are a haunting and magnificent end to the song.
One thing I haven’t gone into details about are the guitar solos, which are excellent throughout. This is to be expected, as there are a number of fine guitarists on the album including Dave Bainbridge (The Strawbs), Robin Boult (Fish), Menno Gootjes (Focus) and Niko Tsonev (Steven Wilson). Each one adds their own touch to the album.
This is a very classy album. Everyone on the album is top notch, the music is elegant and composed tremendously. There are thoughtful lyrics and it is a very good example of progressive music at its best. For anyone who appreciates quality music, this is an album I highly recommend.