In the wake of punk/new wave's emergence in the mid-1970s, progressive rock underwent massive restructuring and a shift from mainstream popularity to niche status. By the latter half of the decade, Emerson, Lake & Palmer
began a revolving-door personnel policy that would continue into the 21st century, resulting in minor classics like Drama (Atlantic, 1980) and major mistakes like Tormato (Atlantic, 1978). Gentle Giant
came to an end, not with a bang but a whimper, following failed attempts to simplify on the tremendously disappointing Giant for a Day! (Chrysalis, 1978) and only slightly less-so Civilian (Chrysalis, 1980). Robert Fripp
made the then-shocking but ultimately smart decision to break up in the mid-1970s, only to reform in completely different form with the intelligent, gamelan-centric and minimalism-informed dance music of Discipline (DGM Live, 1981). Only Genesis
, in fact, proved capable of making the successful transition from epic progsters to more radio-friendly popsters, with the increasing success of ...And Then There Were Three (Atlantic, 1978), Duke (Atlantic, 1980) and Abacab (Atlantic, 1981).
And so, decreased record sales, increasing sedimentation of once-innovative acts, and a massive popular and critical desertion of progressive rock seemed, at least on the surface, to ring the death-knell for a genre that once sold albums in the millions and packed arenas by the tens of thousands. But while the masses left progressive rock to become a veritable dinosaur, the early 1980s actually signaled the quiet beginning of a resurgence that continued to ebb and flow as popular music moved through big hair and synth-driven dance music, roots revivals and genre/cultural cross-pollination. Progressive rock may have only begun its global resurgence in the late 1990s, when the internet made the creation of an international community possible; one that continues to expand to this day through indie labels, smaller-scale shows and busy online forums like Progressive Ears. But hardcore fans never truly deserted it, making way for the emergence of groups like Marillion, Pendragon...and IQ.
Forming in the early 1980s, like Marillion, IQ materialized, seemingly out of nowhere, with the shadow of Genesis looming large, in particular the more iconic progressive rock group's earlier days with Peter Gabriel. Lead singer Peter Nicholls was disposed towards Gabriel-esque facial make-up and composed song intros; keyboardist Martin Orford's symphonic mellotron and synth lines were straight out of Tony Banks; guitarist Michael Holmes' fuzz-toned melodies and arpeggiated chords were redolent of both Steve Hackett and Mike Rutherford; drummer Peter Cook navigated mixed-meters with the confidence (albeit, perhaps, less panache) of Phil Collins; and bassist Tim Esau augmented his many basses with Rutherford-informed bass pedals. But while there was no denying the group's roots, IQ would continue on to release record after record of classic, symphonic-informed proga total of 14 albums by summer 2010, including two contemporary masterpieces in 1997's double-disc concept album, Subterranea and 2004's Dark Matter (both on Giant Electric Pea), with the latter's 25-minute "Harvest of Souls" compared, at least by fans, to Genesis' epic "Suppers Ready," from Foxtrot (Charisma, 1972).
While most groups take time to find their way, IQ had an early creative peak with only its second album, 1985's The Wake (actually the group's third release, if the 1982, cassette-only indie release, Seven Stories Into Eight, is included). Twenty-five years on, with the group still riding high on a significantly revamped line-up for its fine 2009 release, Frequency (Giant Electric Pea)founding members Cook and Orford gone following Dark Matter, leaving Nicholls and Holmes as the only original IQers, with bassist John Jowitt, who joined the group for 1994's Ever (Giant Electric Pea), alongside incoming keyboardist Mark Westworth and drummer Andy Edwardsa remastered and significantly expanded version of The Wake Deluxe Edition encourages a look back at an album that might well have fared better commercially, had IQ come about a decade prior.
Does the world really need a full-four disc version of The Wake? One with two full CDs of bonus tracks from the recording sessions, including rough and alternate mixes, vocal outtakes, demos, works-in-progress, run-throughs and live/radio performances? A DVD that contains, in addition to a very rough but revealing transfer of the group's 1984 appearance in Watford, UK, another 150 minutes of instrumental demos, unused ideas, writing sessions and interviews? The truth is that the majority of this bonus material may be turned to rarelyfor many, likely no more than oncebut it provides a remarkably thorough look at the recording process at a time before Pro Tools and the advent of technology cheap enough to allow DIY home recordings good enough to be released as finished albums. A 60-page booklet, including a 36-page essay with input from everyone in the band, documents the birth of a classic that was, in a word, painful, as well as album lyrics and photos.
IQ's Peter Nicholls
Sometimes the best music stems from adversity. After the release of its relatively rushed Tales from the Lush Attic (Samurai, 1983), IQ decided to spend more timeand, given studio rates at the time, a lot more moneyfor its follow-up. Recorded in the months of March and April 1985, and released only a couple months later in June, it reflects yet another change from today's often long-delayed release schedules, where albums are sometimes released a year or more after completion; consequently, not truly representative of where an artist or band is because, by street date, they've often evolved towards substantially different places. Even more luxurious than the four weeks the group spent in the studio recording The Wake were the roughly 18 months spent writing, rehearsing and developing ideaseven performing new songs live and getting the chance to hone them even further before committing them to tape.
The result is an album of symphonic prog that may still wear its roots on its sleeve, but remains a cogent and cohesive effort combining vintage analog synths with then-new drum machines. IQ also made strong use of the Mellotron, a curious beast made popular by The Moody Blues and King Crimson in the late 1960s; a keyboard where each key literally triggered an individual tape loop on which everything from choirs and flutes to full string orchestras were recorded, allowing groups to bring the sound of orchestras and choirs with them in a more compact, affordable way, albeit an incredibly unreliable one for which tuningthe victim of wavering voltageswas a constant challenge.
At a time when remasters are under fire for excessive compression to "upgrade" the sound and, ultimately, losing much of the music's dynamics, Holmes (who has produced/co-produced most of IQ's releases) and Rob Aubrey (the group's engineer since Ever) have done a terrific job with their 2010 remaster of the original album. Rounder and fuller than the original, they've managed to remove some of the harsh edges that made The Wake a little hard on the ears, sonically fitting more naturally with the group's recent output.
The Wake is an album that could only have been made in the 1980s. It's impossible to ignore the "classic" sound of the Yamaha DX7, the mechanical sounds of the drum machine on the more radio-friendly "Corners," or Nicholls and Esau's massive hairdos. But equally, it's possible to hear a group not just searching for a voice, but finding it early on, despite an unequivocal nod to both U2 and the more popularist 1980s incarnation of Genesis on the thundering power-pop of "A Thousand Days." The highlights remain IQ's longer, episodic tracks: the up-tempo opener, "Outer Limits," up-tempo, that is, after a foreboding intro, driven by Esau's pulsating bass and Orford's swelling strings; the tightly arranged "The Magic Roundabout," featuring some of Holmes' best solo and supporting guitar work; and the album's longest track, "Widow's Peak," with Holmes' searing solo, Paul Cook's thundering kit driving this irregular-metered symphonic epic, and Orford's powerful Mellotron. The title track may be the album's shortest, at just over four minutes, but it's a head-bobbing, fist-pumping progressive rock anthem, with Nicholls delivering some of his most plaintive vocals on the album.
The bevy of bonus material is best absorbed in smaller chunks, as it reveals the process of conception, development and, ultimately, final result. Much like deleted scenes on a DVD of a movie, the vocal outtakes, in particular, are self-explanatory in their being finally rejected for Nicholls' and Holmes' final choices, but they're interesting to hear for a revelatory window into a recording process that has, in the years since The Wake was recorded, changed substantially. It's in many ways easier now than it was then, but there's something about the struggle to find the right take, the right arrangement, the right mixwhere it's not as easy as simply Pro Tooling in post-productionthat makes an achievement like this all the more remarkable.
It's a little odd that IQ chose not to include the bonus track that was on the previous issue of The Wake, however. It's understandable, perhaps, why " Dans Le Parc Du Chateau Noir" was left off the original 1985 release, but with this being a four-disc Deluxe Edition, its omission, if nowhere else but on the DVD (a bit of a catch-all for related items), remains a curious omission. Still, it's a relatively minor quibble.
The 47-minute live performance from a 1984 gig from "Heads" (Verulan Arms), in Watford (on the outskirts of London, England), that's included on the multimedia DVD, provides an opportunity to hear (and, for the most part, see) IQ at a relatively early stage in its career and in the development of The Wake. Far from hi-fi, it's a digital transfer of a rather weak videotape where the video cuts out completely at times, with still images substituted over the audio. With three tracks from Tales from the Lush Attic, including the first two parts of their early 20-minute epic, "The Last Human Gateway," as well as the second half of "The Enemy Smacks" and "Awake and Nervous," it's also a chance to hear some of the group's earliest material, including Seven Stories into Eight's "Barbell is In" and the second half of "It All Stops Here."
Most revealing, however, are early versions of The Wake's "The Thousand Days" (already quite well-formed), the first part of "Widow's Peak," and a take of "The Magic Roundabout" that's also close to completealthough all three tracks would continue to evolve before being committed to tape the following year. Overall, not anywhere close to the quality of the 2007 DVD live performance in Holland that's included with the Special Edition of Frequency, but still a worthwhile and valuable document of a young and hungry IQ, complete with Nicholls' heavy face-painting and some fairly low-tech lighting. Clearly, IQ has come a long way.
But as far as they've come, what The Wake Deluxe Edition demonstrates, in spades, is that the group had managed to quickly establish itself in the progressive rock resurgence of the early 1980s. An early classic that, standing with Subterranea and Dark Matter as one of the IQ's strongest releases, the 2010 remaster, with an additional five-plus hours of bonus material on CD and DVD, is one of the most complete documents of the recording process of the time as is likely to be found anywhere; a valuable lesson to students of recording technology as well as an interesting window, to fans of the group, into the mind of IQ, as it worked its way towards releasing a contemporary classic of symphonic prog.
Tracks: CD1 (The Wake 2010 Remaster): Outer Limits; The Wake; The Magic Roundabout; Corners; Widow's Peak; The Thousand Days; Headlong. CD2 (Bonus Tracks): Outer Limits (work in progress demo); Outer Limits (demo); Outer Limits (vocal outtakes); The Wake (vocal outtakes); The Wake (rough mix); The Magic Roundabout (writing session); The Magic Roundabout (demo); The Magic Roundabout (vocal outtakes); The Magic Roundabout (rough mix); Corners (demo); Corners (vocal outtake); Corners (7" single remix). CD3 (Bonus Tracks): Widow's Peak (first live performance); Widow's Peak (BBC Friday Rock Show session); Widow's Peak (vocal outtakes); Widow's Peak (alternative mix); The Thousand Days (writing session); The Thousand Days (demo, early take); The Thousand Days (rough mix); Headlong (work in progress demo); Headlong (first complete run-through); Headlong (vocal outtake); Headlong (vocal outtake); Headlong (rough mix); DVD (Multimedia): IQ: Live at "Heads" (Verulam Arms) Watford, October 24, 1984: The Enemy Smacks (Part 2); The Thousand Days; Widow's Peak (Part 1); It All Stops Here (Part 2); The Magic Roundabout; Awake and Nervous; Barbell is In; The Last Human Gateway (Parts 1&2). Album commentary by Paul Cook, Peter Nicholls and Mike Holmes. Multi-track files for "Corners" DIY mix. MP3 files: Out Limits Instrumental Demo 2; Outer Limits Instrumental Demo 3; The Wake Writing Sessions; TMR Writing Sessions 1; TMR Writing Sessions 2; TMR Writing Sessions 3; Corners Instrumental Demo 1; WP Unused Idea 1; WP Unused Idea 2; WP Unused Idea 3; WP Unused Idea 4; WP Unused Idea 5; The Thousand Days (Demo); HL Writing Sessions Combined; Dance; Quiet Track; Short Idea 1; Dans Le Parc Du Chateau Noir; Mike Davis Beacon Radio Interview (Paul Nicholls and Martin Orford); Andy Rushton Uni Radio Notts Interview (Peter Nicholls and Michael Holmes); Tom Russell Radio Clyde Interview (Peter Nicholls and Martin Orford).
Personnel: Paul Cook: drums, percussion; Tim Esau: Music Man, Fender Jazz and Fender Fretless basses, bass pedals; Michael Holmes: Gibson Firebrand, Fender Stratocaster, Coral sitar guitar, Ibanez acoustic guitar; Peter Nicholls: lead and backing vocals, tambourine; Martin Orford: Emulator II, Yamaha DX7, Oberheim Xpander, Memory Moog, Yamaha CS-80, ARP Odyssey, Roland VK1, Mellotron, Logan string synth, flute, backing vocals.