|Tom Hayes||iQ||At A Glance|
Hard to imagine now, but at one time iQ was a boon for the prog-starved fan in the early 1980s. 1983 was an exciting time for progressive rock music. England was experiencing a renaissance in creativity after a dearth in exciting new music killed off by disco, punk, and synth-pop. Heavily inspired by the early works of Genesis, bands like Marillion, Pendragon, Pallas, Twelfth Night, Haze, and iQ were blazing a new trail. Decidedly noncommercial for the day, these bands were raising the spirit of Gabriel-era Genesis from the dead. Best of all, it was an updated sound with modern equipment, cleaner tones, and a more aggressive rock approach (influenced by the punk movement no doubt) combined with the challenging compositional style of albums like Foxtrot and Trick of the Tail.
It was during this period that I personally became involved with the progressive rock scene. I remember a review of Twelfth Night showing up in the metal magazine Kerrang claiming "Bring out the mini-moogs boys, the progressives are back!" And they were, even if it was just for a short period, in its original form anyway. Of all of the bands from that era, iQ were quite possibly the most accomplished.
Tales From the Lush Attic was iQ's debut released on a very small private label and released in minute quantities. The album, however, had gained the attention of the heavy metal media (of all people) and quickly sold out to an audience yearning for something a little different, thus leading to a much larger repress. iQ's reputation had begun. Opening with the 21-minute "The Last Human Gateway", iQ laid down the gauntlet. No group in their right mind did side long epics in 1983, lest they be panned by the lemming-like music press as the worst album since the "ghastly" Tales From Topographic Oceans! This track had all the right ingredients: Organ, mellotron, digital synths, crazy rhythms, Hackett-esque guitar, and possibly best of all, a very talented and dramatic singer in Peter Nicholls. He even wore face paint. My God, how très gauche 1970s! What no self-respecting record exec would ever admit is that there is an audience for this style and there always will be, just like there is for glam metal and country. C'est la vie. Continuing on, "Awake and Nervous" is a more commercial sounding track in case any reviewer had made it through the opener. This is followed by the hilariously titled "My Baby Treats Me Right 'Cos I'm the Hard Lovin' Man All Night Long" which is, appropriately, a classical solo piano piece. The closer, "The Enemy Smacks" is iQ's finest moment. A combination of hard rock and symphonic prog which happens to contain their most complex metronomic moments. Very powerful, and just the right punch to score with younger fans.
There was heavy anticipation for iQ's second album and they delivered in grand fashion. No sophomore slump on The Wake. No doubt their heavier moments from the debut were better received by a live audience and iQ began to move away from some of the subtle brilliance of Tales ... to more anthemic rock structures. The title track itself is proof that iQ could pack a wallop and still be interesting. The analog keyboards were almost completely tossed for modern, cutting edge synthesizers and samplers. While in today's world old vintage equipment is highly revered, the 1984 mindset was anxious to ditch the heavy, clumsy hardware for more sleek, easy to tote, and cleaner sounding instruments. Even for dyed-in-the-wool hardcore mellotron addicts, The Wake is not to be missed. "Widow's Peak" is iQ in all its glory. From powerful head banging anthems to guitar loops meshed with anguished vocals, the track delivers on a number of fronts. The album was a move forward to a larger audience while not compromising the creativity. iQ were on the tightrope of accessible progressive music, balancing perfectly here; but a rope that they were to fall off shortly thereafter.
With fellow English progressive band Marillion enjoying major label success on EMI, other labels were interested in signing the next "big thing." Polygram took a chance on iQ. This was to be the progressive community's big move into the mainstream. Their underground, uncompromising leaders iQ were to be the vanguard for a new sound! There would be a renaissance like ELP, Genesis, Yes, and Pink Floyd of yesteryear! "Wide open in the end zone, the throw is there, and ... ?" They dropped the ball. Nonzamo was a garden variety, typical mid-80's, mid-tempo, radio-friendly rock affair. What a huge disappointment. But the truth is, all the "prog" bands of the early 80's had moved in this direction. Arena rock bands such as Europe and Night Ranger were drawing enormous crowds and selling albums at a sizzling pace. Marillion, Pendragon, and IQ were only 10 or 15 too many complicated meters from joining this money tree as well. Why not? "Our fans will be there and our songwriting will be better". It's hard to blame a band for thinking this way, especially with a major marketing machine behind you. And so iQ went down this sordid path only to be abandoned by their hard core faithful. Trouble is they didn't pick up the fickle, don't-care-what-I-listen-to-as-long-as-it's-loud record buyer. Bottom line is this kind of music just isn't iQ's strength and it probably didn't help that original vocalist/leader Peter Nicholls had bolted not long before recording. iQ even received another chance to mend their ways. Are You Sitting Comfortably? was perhaps even worse. They were bound and determined to be a commercial smash! And, in the end, this sad chapter ends with egg on their faces.
By 1993 progressive rock really had found its roots again, and with bands like Anglagard and Anekdoten blowing everyone away with their modern take on 1972, a band like iQ didn't seem to have an audience, especially after such a long silence. The logical choice would've been for them to join what was now known as "Neo Prog," which had quite a large niche audience. Bands such as Marillion and Pendragon were enjoying a cult-like status and they had many emulators. Peter Nicholls was back, but could iQ regain their fans? Ever was the result. This is the album they should've done for Polygram! Picking up right where The Wake leaves off, iQ climbed back on the tightrope. There are plenty of quirks and complicated moves to please the more discerning listener while still delivering accessible melodies for the more commercial oriented. In fact, the two-part "Fading Senses" is as good a track as iQ has ever recorded. A many segmented piece with some stunning atmospheric keyboard work and driving guitar. The two-CD follow-up Subterranea, by contrast, is an exercise in overindulgence. In keeping with the Genesis theme, this would equate to iQ's version of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. As with that work, this album focuses too much on lyrical content while the instrumentation and arrangements take a back seat. Still it's far better than their commercial period and there is plenty to admire overall.
iQ has released many live albums, outtakes, demos, and other such
non-studio recordings. Most of these I haven't heard so I really shouldn't comment.
There's also a new album, The Seventh House, which I'll include as
soon as I hear it.
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