Review of "Tug Of War" by DPRP
This album really should come with a few listening instructions. Based on my approach, they should read something like this. 'Upon receipt of Tug Of War, place the CD immediately in player and allow it to rotate quietly while you do something else. Do not form any opinion of what you have heard. Quickly remove CD, return to its case and store in a cool, but easily accessible place for two weeks. Then wait until dusk on the 14th night, pour a strong bottle of ale and slide the CD carefully out of its case. Consume contents of bottle quickly, lie back in relaxed pose and...gently...press play. Am I slowly going mad? Who knows?!? But if, after reading this, you decide that it's time to become Enchanted, then I'd strongly recommend that you allow this a bit of time to work its magic. On the first few listens it left me cold. But after a short break, the subtle melodies and hooks really began to sink in. Now I really can't stop enjoying this album.
In the course of their five albums to date, Enchant has steadily built a reputation as one of the biggest names in progressive rock circles. Their melodic, progressive-tinged rock with a welcome heavy edge has managed to blend driving riffs, adventurous keyboards, ever-changing rhythms and some juicy hooks - yet always remaining accessible.
Always able to create the occasional masterpiece, it wasn't until their last release Blink Of An Eye that they managed to maintain the standard throughout a whole album. This time they've gone one better - Tug Of War just makes you want to press the replay button at the end and listen to it again....and again.... and again..... The reason, lies in the fact that this is their most direct, straight-to-the-point work to date. Sure, there's still plenty of progressive explorations and some splendid, extended instrumental workouts, but the melody is far more central to the songs.
Enchant has always had an immediately recognisable sound thanks to the warm, clear voice of Ted Leonard. Here he puts in a captivating performance from beginning to end. Another big plus point is the superb guitar work of Doug Ott. A slighter, harder edge to his sound, this also adds to the directness of the record.
There's really so much variation across this disk that it's impossible to do it justice in words alone. And anyway, I wouldn't want to spoil your chance to explore it for yourselves? The whole thing is well packaged, with a crystal clear production and the special edition comes with a 28-page booklet and a live track Below Zero. The only things stopping me from giving the full 10-point treatment, is the unnecessary instrumental Progtology and the rather obvious pop/rock of Long Way Down. Suffice it to say that this is guaranteed to delight existing fans and will undoubtedly win the band many new ones. I also bet they'll give Spock's Beard a good run for their money on their European tour in October. I know who I'll be looking forward to the most.
9.5 out of 10
San Franciscan outfit Enchant made an immediate splash on the progressive rock scene with their 1993 debut A Blueprint Of The World, and have barely put a foot wrong since, putting out a string of high quality releases. Somewhat puzzlingly however they havenít made the same headway as contemporaries such as Spockís Beard and The Flower Kings. The fact that the band havenít toured since 1998ís Break, and have suffered a number of line-up changes since then (including the loss of drummer and key songwriter Paul Craddick) probably hasnít helped their progress. Hopefully though things are about to step up a gear for Enchant - they now have a full and (hopefully) settled line-up, with the addition (at long last) of a new keyboardist in Bill Jenkins; they are supporting Spockís Beard on their European tour in the Autumn and most importantly, they have a new album in Tug Of War (their sixth studio release) which is as strong as anything theyíve done to date.
For those not in the know, Enchant are usually described as sounding somewhat like 80ís era Rush mixed with a bit of Kansas. The band must be sick of this comparison, but its probably the closest you can get to an accurate description of their sound, as they have by now very much carved out a niche for themselves. The Kansas comparisons are usually aimed primarily at vocalist Ted Leonard, who undeniably occupies the same sort of territory as Steve Walsh, with perhaps an even more AOR feel to his voice. Many would-be fans appear to be put off by Leonardís vocals; I personally think they work very well with the music, and Iím certainly no huge fan of AOR. Guitarist Doug Ott meanwhile appears to take some of his cues from Steve Rothery (who incidentally produced some of Enchantís debut), at least in the expressive soloís which are liberally scattered throughout this album (another reason Rush fans may take to this, given the lack of any Alex Lifeson soloís on ĎVapor Trailsí).
Musically, Tug Of War is both a continuation of and progression from 2002ís excellent Blink Of An Eye. The continuation is in the heavier sound the band were forging on Blink... - not heavy as in prog metal heavy, but more as in a general beefing up of the sound; the rhythm section (Ed Platt on bass and Sean Flanagan on drums) sound more urgent and powerful than on earlier releases, whilst Ott (also the main songwriter since Craddickís departure) has developed a pleasingly muscular playing style, whilst not forgetting about instilling proceedings with plenty of melody and musical light and shade. The keyboards, meanwhile, are probably more effective here than on many of the bandís other releases precisely because they are used more sparingly.
The progression comes from the wider variety of styles used on this album; whilst Blink... seemed at times like a heavier version of 2000ís Juggling 9 or Dropping 10, Tug Of War sees the band pushing the envelope and trying out some experimental sounds and structures - all of which are successful.
It would certainly be true to say that the songs which stick closest to the Ďclassicí Enchant sound are the most instantly likeable. Sinking Sand shows the band really playing to their strengths, featuring an immediately identifiable main riff, plenty of well worked time changes, plus a stellar performance from Leonard, who really shows the extent of his range on the off-beat, piano-inflected chorus. The title track is a powerful, bass-driven rocker with a strong chorus; Living In A Movie is an emotional powerhouse with typically heartfelt lyrics, whilst the instrumental Progtology (a companion piece to Prognosis, the bonus track on Blink Of An Eye) would give Rushís YYZ a run for its money, and features one of the best guitar soloís on the album (which, coming from an album full of great soloís, is saying something!).
Its those tracks which donít grab you at the start that are in many ways the most satisfying, and these are generally the ones which break from the norm. Holding The Wind, for instance, is a little tough to get into, yet rewards repeated listens - I particularly liked the atypical mid-section, which owes something to the fade-out section of Marillionís Seasonís End. Long Way Home has a strange, staccato rhythm and features great vocal harmonies - one of those tracks which shouldnít really gel together and work but somehow does. See No Evil meanwhile has a passing resemblance to Edie Brickellís What I Am, and is another song which gradually crawls under your skin.
The production (by Doug Ott) is of the usual high quality; some may find it a little dense but I think this style works well for Enchantís music. Lyrically too this is a notch higher than the usual prog fare, dealing with real issues and situations rather than the cliched airy-fairy stuff that many bands of this ilk come up with.
In summation, this really is an excellent effort from Enchant. Despite the fact that thereís been barely a year since their last album, Tug Of War sees them brimming with new ideas and sounding more purposeful and sure of themselves than ever. If they can translate this material well to the stage, the forthcoming shows with Spockís Beard are going to be a treat.
Tom De Val
9 out of 10