Review : The Spotlight Effect – from Progradar

Review – Strangefish – The Spotlight Effect – by James R. Turner

Original Review

Back in the day when I was more heavily involved in helping at gigs and on merch desks for the CRS than I am now (and we’re talking not quite 20 years ago) I had the pleasure of seeing some amazing bands at the HLC in Rotherham, during what some regard as the golden era of the old CRS. I watched bands like Mostly AutumnKarnatakaArenaThreshold, among many others (all of whom are now household names across this mighty span of genre that we cover here at Progradar) make their first tentative steps into the spotlight, some more successfully than others. Some became instant favourites but some took time to bed in.

Now, other than the mighty Jump, there was only one band who never played the same set twice and brought bags of charm and charisma to the stage, and who presided over some of my favourite CRS gigs over the years that I was attending either as staff or simply Johnny Punter.

That band of course is Strangefish, those Mancunian scamps who used to pop over the border on a regular basis, not just as ‘the turn’ but also as members of the audience. These guys didn’t just play prog, they were immersed in the scene, loving the music they were playing and the bands who weren’t them.

After releasing one EP and two albums, the last of which, ‘Fortune Telling’, was their masterpiece, a full blown and fantastic concept album, they took an extended holiday. Drifting off a scene that they had illuminated and blown away with their musical presence, wallflowers they weren’t, and yet once they’d reeled us in, they were gone. Always leave ‘em wanting more it seemed.

Now, only a mere 12 years after their last album, they return, with an enhanced line up, and a brand-new slice of sound, ‘The Spotlight Effect’.

The core band, charismatic vocalist Steve TaylorPaul O’Neill on keys, Bob on guitars and Dave Whittaker on drums, welcome new members Carl Howard on bass and Jo Whittaker on vocals, (and having seen this line-up at their debut gig a few years ago, I can confirm they are a mighty powerful musical combination) this is Strangefish reborn.

The break seems to have done them the world of good and, on the surprising opener, the acoustic Death of Common Sense, the well observed and intelligent lyrics are back yet the sonic palette is expanded. It might seem brave opening an album with an atypical song and a new sound for them, but this is the confidence of a band who know they’ve still got it and have a renewed sense of purpose.

Progress in Reverse is a scathing look at where we are now over an amazing musical piece, really jumping out on you after the opener. This is more familiar territory but with that subtly harder edge and deeper sound, this is a real boot you up the bum moment.

As the title of the album (and its subtitle – the phenomenon in which people tend to believe they are being noticed more than they actually are) suggests, it’s overriding themes are over exposure and the fact that anyone can be a celebrity by being online.

Topics which the wonderful, and heavier edged, Iconacon (what a fantastic title) tackles with some skill and aplomb, Bob rocking out with the best of them and the band musically on top form, trading licks and riffs and vocals.

There’s also loss felt on this album, the lovely Summer Slips Away is a hauntingly beautiful poignant ballad where the understated guitar work of Bob and Paul’s gentle keyboards allow Steve and Jo’s wonderful duet to shine. The two voices work perfectly, it’s amazing the impact a second vocalist has on the band’s sound.

Strangefish have always been fond of their epics and well known for their effervescent stage presence and fun-loving attitude. There’s been serious undercurrents from tracks like Ignorance of Bliss of ‘Fortune Telling’ and, of course, they are no strangers to epic work outs that give them room to breathe and build and here is no exception.

The centrepiece of the album is the three-parter Delicate, consisting of 1: Now is not the time, 2: Half the Battle and3: The Light at the other side. This is a full-blown epic, looking at the struggle of life, the human condition and reaching out for help. There is so much going on here that I could spend the whole review analysing it however, the nature of the subject matter and the nuances and, indeed, resonance it will have with you is dependant on your perspectives and experiences, so I will leave it for you to decipher emotionally. I will say that Steve has never sounded better on vocals, particularly about 12 minutes in on the Half the battlesection, before the motive spoken word part and then Bob’s guitar and Paul’s keyboard kicks in, it is heart wrenching.

The part where Jo’s vocals kick in after Paul’s sublime subdued keyboards and leads us into the Light at the other side, followed by Steve returning with a haunting counter melody, is the sound of 2018 Strangefish. Two powerful vocalists pushing each other on and giving the song such emotional depth and resonance.

Title track The Spotlight Effect features some great heavy guitar and bass work, the addition of Carl has ever so subtly brought the heavier and darker sound of the bands music out, with Bob and Dave sounding like they are enjoying themselves, riffing away whilst Paul’s keyboard work sparkles.

The instrumental Reverse Switch does that sneaky prog trick of revisiting Progress in Reverse, leading into the album closer, the rousing and stirring Up toYouThis has the closest sound to ‘old’ Strangefish as anything on here, with it’s big chorus and optimistic message, it finishes this cracking album with a positive and funky vibe.

Bands reforming after a break with new members can either give us a ‘90125’ or a ‘Calling All Stations’. Fortunately, this album is the follow up that ‘Fortune Telling’ deserved and is Strangefish’s strongest album to date. After having had that break, I think we can now put Strangefish back where they belong.

Next time when you look in the dictionary under the phrase ‘Comeback’ you will see a picture of this album.

Released 18th June 2018

Review : The Spotlight Effect – from Sea of Tranquility

Original review published here

What is this Strangefish that’s scuttled up to us after some twelve years out in the cold? Putting themselves front and centre under The Spotlight Effect, the UK progsters return with their first new album since 2006’s Fortune Telling and having added bassist Carl Howard and co-vocalist Jo Whittaker to their original quartet of Steve Taylor (vocals), Paul O’Neill (keys), Dave Whittaker (drums) and the enigmatically (but not that enigmatically) named Bob, on guitar.Twelve years away from the scene is a long time in anyone’s book and it would be fair to suggest that one of the key changes to the world that’s occurred in the meantime is what appears to be on the mind of Strangefish. Basing the album round the themes of the modern state’s acceptance, if not reliance on social media, false fame and the unwitting surveillance we all live under because of it, it’s fitting that “Death Of Common Sense” is our first window onto this world; a folk-prog tale of control, inequality and the skewed view of the press and the law. So far, so hard hitting, and especially with Taylor clearly impassioned by the topics. “Progress In Reverse” continues the backward journey into regression and the manner in which we seem to be sleepwalking into these situations without the merest notion that we are. Suddenly weapons new and old are on show for this band, the shiny new twin vocals an immediate asset, where Taylor and Whittaker (the one of the Jo variety) meld, but not too closely, to form an intentionally double edged blade. All the while the more anticipated cut and thrust of O’Neill’s keys and Bob’s guitar drive the advantage home, as a sound that gleefully pulls from 70s, 80s and 00s prog wins the day.If there’s a better song title than “Iconacon” and its Marillion meets Steve Vai (and I mean his David Lee Roth era!) guitar howls, revealed in 2018, then I haven’t encountered it yet. An angry eight minute rampage over fleeting, false fame and the celebrity over talent culture that breeds household names that are known for, well, what exactly? Although it’s impossible to argue against those sentiments, that “Summer Slips Away” decides to change attack heightens its impact and that of what has come before. A much more lamenting style adopted as we slip largely back into acoustic territory, although this time with male and female vocals sparking off each other (sometimes in synch, sometimes heading in different directions altogether) the effect is much more beguiling than it is angry, even if the message is no more cheerful than before.Arguably it’s the three part “Delicate” that we’ve been building towards all this time, a perfect balance struck between instrumental sections that lightly remind of Genesis, running quite beautifully alongside a vocal accompaniment which nods surreptitiously at The Beautiful South! However as we wend our way through this lengthy piece (eighteen minutes, give or take a few seconds) something more neo-prog surges into view, keyboards of many colours spreading their coat over an ever changing rhythmical landscape; causing ripples of excitement as they do. Not satisfied with the breadth of ground covered in this one fell swoop, the album’s title track gnaws with a deeper, dirtier riffage than before, but with the superb bass work from Howard underpinning all in sight, space is still allowed for the keyboards to sprinkle their magic melody dust over the top.From there, we’re heading for home, the ambient keyboard splashes of “Reverse Switch” pulling earlier musical themes back into play, before “Up To You” takes us back in time by being an unexpectedly catchy, neo-prog outburst. Unusually for a closing piece, it’s inarguably the album’s most instant and memorable moment; the cleverness of placing it last in this ever evolving journey being that you’ll be singing this Arena like anthem for hours after you’ve stopped spinning The Spotlight Effect. That is, of course, presuming that you don’t just hit play and begin the journey all over again, for what is revealed by Strangefish on their comeback effort is sure to keep you coming back for more.

Track Listing 
1. Death Of Common Sense 
2. Progress In Reverse 
3. Iconacon 
4. Summer Slips Away 
5. Delicate 
6. Spotlight Effect 
7. Reverse Switch 
8. Up To You

Added: July 7th 2018
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Score: 4 stars
R

New Album – The Spotlight Effect

Strangefish announce third studio album, ‘The Spotlight Effect,’ on 18th June.

We’ve never been blessed with a great sense of urgency, so two years on from deciding we had enough in the bag for the album and kick-started the recordings, here we are finally with a new collection of songs, of which we all feel immensely proud.

‘The Spotlight Effect’ focuses on the media driven world we find ourselves in today, where every move we make is analysed then picked to pieces. There’s nothing sacred anymore; all things are considered fair game for an ‘entertain-me’ hungry audience. This perfectly summed up the general mood of all the songs, with aspects of the human condition as the overriding theme.

We really do hope you enjoy the fruits of our labours.