The stalwart neo-proggers' most successful album to date starts shamelessly pompously, with a mock operatic chorus in the style of Mozart's Requiem (actually sung to Italian words). But despite some of its sins of gluttony there's some pretty solid pop-prog material on here, especially the first half. Its strongest tunes include the thumping "As Good as Gold" (excusing its nasty key change) and the more sensitive "Paintbox" (excusing its ham-fisted art metaphors). The tracks in the second half are less memorable but still have some nice ideas. Plenty of neo-prog signatures that should appeal to devotees of the style, but not quite enough originality to justify their length.
I can't quite put my finger on why I find these guys listenable, and not other similar exponents of stodgy neo-prog, such as I.Q. Maybe it's just that Pendragon write better songs. And while Nick Barrett's distinctive mannered voice may irritate some, especially in his more hammy moments (such as the "Americaaah!" moment on "Pursuit of Excellence", and other occasions where he goes a tad too high) at least it has some character.
August 26, 2003