Article by: Tony Colvill
Okay, on first listen, it’s an interesting ride. I was expecting more in the vein of the last album, different tunes but the same style. This is different, the influences are there still, but this is truer to The Skys rather than those who influenced them. And I like it. I have listened to much that is progressive, symphonic, mellow recently, and loved it, but this is progressive rock!
Do I love it though? That’s when it becomes more difficult. The last The Skys album I reviewed seemed to have a flow throughout, Automatic Minds is more ebb and flow, the songs seemingly tailored to the guests and without their own identity. Or am I very wrong?
Get Rid of This is a quirky tune with its typewriter accompaniment and an irritating bell that chimes and has me looking for a message on my phone. Swines! It has a strong guitar solo, and I suppose the fact that its four minutes seems to pass quickly is a good reflection. It is sometimes good to give an album a rest before embarking on putting pen to paper. An excuse for being tardy? Probably, but if you cannot be open and only half listen then a step back serves you – and the band – better. Today, one and a half months after the first listen, it is fresher, cheeky even. Not a review from an ‘Automatic Mind’, so to speak. Automatic Mind is the second track and features some sinful sax and another guitar solo, of the two guitar solos the acoustic Spanish style picking attracts my ears the most.
The Guardian of the Water Tower images aspects of Mike Oldfield’s playing, the bridge not unlike a mellow passage from Tubular Bells. There is quite an Oldfield feel through the whole piece, it’s very listenable, and not just from attaching its tune to the past glories of others. The Singing Tree takes me back to the long school holidays in the seventies, an Eastern European television programme that could be twee and scary. Again, a nice saxophone passage that lifts a fine piece into something better.
Chord changes a plenty with Templar’s Last Stand, a weird one with much inside it and a slightly demonic nature. For me it remains a ‘not sure’ track, but it has an odd charm. The Skys are not afraid to step outside their comfort zone, and the next two tracks, Love of Life and Dry Water, both change paths and direction, like an aural maze. More guitar, solid drumming, great sax, and a general feeling that if you start on a crossword you might just miss something. Durga McBroom makes an appearance here with a vocal passage not dissimilar to The Great Gig in the Sky from Dark Side of the Moon.
It is at this point that I reflect again on the benefits of taking that little step back. The album has become stronger because of it, a far better album than my first tentative thoughts. Dead End has a few more of those Mike Oldfield touches, a Tubular Bells with lyrics. The piano intro with synth undercurrent is lovely before the aforesaid Tubular Bells guitar steps in, and then the vocal. It’s a style that takes getting used to, and for some the term ‘marmite’ may apply to those in the higher register.
Last track on the album is Communication, seemingly Yes-like in construction, the higher register works here, the lower vocal intonation complimentary, and though having Yes references, it leans more to the blues than the jazz which I would expect of a Yes composition.
The Skys have produced another good album, but I would say you need to persevere with it if it doesn’t warm your cockles at first play. I would listen again and again, but my choice of dance partner, or other music if you will, would be crucial to my enjoyment of Automatic Minds. It is to me, an awkward one to place, and watching live might assist that. Essential no, a pleasure, absolutely.
The Skys will perform at HRH Prog in March 2020 in Sheffield and London, and will be very worthwhile to see live!