Label: Inside Out Music 2011
Review by Alan Holloway
You know, I just love it when beloved bands and performers come back from the dead and prove to be just as good, if not better, than they were before. Last year Fiona Flanagan appeared with a fantastic album, and recently Van Halen blew me away against all expectations. For me, though, the best comeback was when It Bites recruited John Mitchell and blew many away with “The Tall Ships”, an album that was in many ways a true successor to their classic “Once Around The World” disc. It’s been three years, incredibly, but I’m glad to say the wait is over with the release of “Map Of The Past”, for which the band have taken a bit of a sideways step.
“Map of The Past” has ostensibly been touted as the band’s first concept album, and to be honest I was a bit wary, as concept albums seem to be the most likely to disappear up their own arsehole whilst being awfully clever at the same time. The concept, however, is actually very loose, and simply deals with looking at past events and fixing things that once went wrong. Well, that’s what the press release says, but as usual I can’t make a lot of sense out of John Mitchell’s lyrics.
Whereas the previous album had plenty of bounce and pop sensibilities amongst prog and rock overtones, “Map Of The Past” is in general a more relaxed affair, and definitely has more of a prog feel, courtesy, no doubt, of Mitchell. With that said, there are still plenty of It Bites touches, as keyboard player and general songwriting guru John Beck joined Mitchell on songwriting duties, with the two of them creating a varied, entertaining mix of tracks that get better with each listen.
There’s some more straightforward stuff here, like the catchy “Flags”, which features a very nice little keyboard riff that sneaks in through the back door, and “Cartoon Graveyard”, with the first featuring quite an energetic guitar solo from Mitchell, whilst the latter has a typically quirky John Beck keyboard piece as well as another blistering little guitar solo. These tracks mix keyboard and guitar very well, and have the bounce factor that will delight existing fans.
Many of the tracks blend in together without a break, creating the illusion of a complete piece of music, and this can be lots of fun, like when “Cartoon Graveyard” seems to segue into an orchestral piece which is actually the opening to the subdued “Send No Flowers”, a track that is for me the only real low point of the album, as it doesn’t seem to really go anywhere much. Fortunately, the rest is a real treat, with tracks that wander in their own directions, full of quirky charm as well as some very nice choruses that will get lodged in your noggin (“Meadow & The Stream”, I’m talking about YOU!).
So what we have here is a nice, natural progression from “The Tall Ships”, allowing Beck and Mitchell (ably backed by bassist Lee Pomeroy and long time drummer Bob Dalton) to stretch their prog wings a little more than before whilct still capturing the essence of what It Bites are all about. Don’t be put off by the labels ’prog’ or ’concept’, this is a stunning album of melodic rock that dares to be a little different.