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As the opener, “Liminal Ennui”, kicks off this new album from Pennies By The Pound, perhaps, for the first time, I can hear the proggy influences that their music is built on come unabashedly to the fore. Yes, of course, such influences and infusions have worked their magic. Still, the charm of Pennies By the Pound has always been their ability to balance such prog urges with other, often almost pop, accessibility, and infectiousness. Here though, for a moment at least, I have an image of Gabriel, and later Marillion working on a follow-up to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. And it is glorious!
But, the Pennies are too smart to get sucked into the easy ride of plagiarism and plunder, this is their show, and as the song progresses, their own singular musical personality rules the roost. And by the time the electro-pop-rock-dance groove of “Thus Spoke the Master” hoves into earshot, you realize how unique the band really is.
And if Nothingside is a concept album, a word designed to reduce non-proggers to quivering wrecks, then it is a concept album for the modern age. One playing by new rules and to a new gallery. No unnecessary overindulgence, no showboating, no music for music’s sake…no ten-minute drum solos, just a suite of connected pieces, a song cycle all driving a narrative but never at the expense of really great music.
“The End Times” also blends pop and rock, dance and prog in exciting ways, reminding me, stylistically at least, of the way that the prog movement of the early 80s often mixed and merged with the burgeoning post-punk and New Romantic scenes. Even King Crimson (probably the band that initially defined the genre) got in on the act with albums such as Three of A Perfect Pair and the Talking Heads -esque Beat.) “Concrete and Condescension” is a lovely, if short, acoustic guitar piece, which I mention as much for its fantastic title and we round off with the slow-burning title track, which runs from gentle, if ornate, sonic seduction to heady, anthemic crescendoes and back again.
If you list all the elements of this album, it might seem to be about as prog as it gets. But play it, and you realize that a lot has changed in that genre. But that is the irony of a genre termed progressive music. How can something designed to be ever-changing, ever-evolving, and ever-heading toward the future be captured under one simple generic title?
Pennies by the Pound have produced a glorious album here, but don’t try to file it by genre. Then again, you won’t need to, as it will never be off your turntable. (I know the last line doesn’t work in the modern age, but you understand what I’m trying to say, right?)
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