IT's gritty portrayal of life circa 2017 is a harrowing vision of the strains that many of us face trying to negotiate the often cruel snares of a contemporary society increasingly ruled by and for the elite.
Anybody with a cursory familiarity with rock history knows a society in turmoil often foments some our most powerful music. It’s a necessity, really, and it’s not exclusive to rock and roll, or even to music. Some eras are so well-defined and documented by artistic expression that focuses on social and political commentary that the art becomes an immutable part of the period’s cultural fabric. In the realm of rock and roll, we need only look at the Vietnam War era as one example of a sweeping wave of politically charged music inspired by the events of a particular time. Listening to “Fortunate Son” or “Run Through the Jungle” is the closest thing we’ll ever get to time travel.
It seems like we’re about ready for another such wave, and it’s easy to understand why. As the world roils and rifts around us, this chaos will be frequently reflected in the art being created. Not all art, of course. Those who work in stories or fantasies or escapism intended and experienced as a refuge are just as vital.
Not so for the hard-edged London-based progressive rockers IT on their new album We’re All in this Together. The band’s gritty portrayal of life circa 2017 is a harrowing vision of the strains that many of us face trying to negotiate the often cruel snares of a contemporary society increasingly ruled by and for the elite. IT’s savage fusion of blazing guitar riffs that slash through a futuristic soundscape of synths and electronics battered by Will Chism’s tight-as-nails drumwork is viscerally compelling and authentic. Vocalist Nick Jackson delivers the sharply pointed lyrics with a fiery intensity that suits the music, completing a picture that is dark, but not without hope.
The songs are primarily written by Jackson and Andy Rowberry, although Chism and bassist James Hawkins also contribute. The album follows a concept of sorts, the battle against the establishment and whether the present state of the world is sufficient to bring people in massive numbers to fight for change -- a revolution. The ending is ambiguous. The first single and closing track, “Revolution", concludes with a query: “It’s a revolution / a seed, a solution / it’s like evolution / it’s forever, it’s forever / it’s a revolution?” We’ll see.
“Power” propels the collection with a frenetic jolt of searing guitar, a rock-solid rhythm and an impassioned vocal. The song is a caustic indictment of governments which are, in effect, corrupt oligarchies controlled by cash and corporations. The last section presents an impressive vocal arrangement and restless waves of synths that fuse with the guitars to ratchet the tension tighter and tighter until the final second.
After the torrid hard-rock opener, IT slows down the pace with a slow-burning drama that echoes Pink Floyd sonically and in Jackson’s richly sonorous voice reminiscent of later-era David Gilmour. “Born into Debt” is a taut and ominous piece quivering with the specter of impending violence. Jackson inhabits the point of view of a man so broken and desperate by lack of opportunity and bitter hopelessness that he’s on a knife’s edge of turning to crime. Jackson’s lyrics are suggestive, offering inner thoughts that don’t spell out anything explicit but the listener can feel the simmering frustration likely to boil over at any moment. “When you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose,” a legendary artist once wrote.
“Working Man” has an vast, wide-open feel to it. A mid-tempo rocker built on a foundation of acoustic guitar and piano until the electric kicks in on the third verse, “Working Man” reflects on the endless consumption that absorbs so much of our time, energy, money and overall existence, and those who toil to produce all of these things we are conditioned to covet. “Gamble the Dream” is another powerhouse rocker with an ambitious vocal arrangement and molten torrents of guitar. It tells of feeling cheated, of realizing that all the idealistic dreams we are sold and the expectations to which we are expected to conform are often the hollowest of promises.
“Voices” is an eerie and poignant reminder of the flesh-and-flood humans -- brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters -- sacrificed by the masters of war, profiteers and political opportunists who leave cities leveled, battlefields soaked in blood, cemeteries filled and empty holes of grief in the hearts of loved ones left behind. The album’s centerpiece is the 12-minute behemoth “The Path of Least Resistance,” an elaborate piece that perhaps best demonstrates the meticulous attention to detail IT lavishes on their music. The sound effects, the vocal reverb, the unpredictable and cleverly crafted musical arrangement… it’s headphone music of the highest caliber.
A late highlight is “House,” with its soaring chorus and a wicked groove during the verses. It’s one of the more melodic tracks on the album, and would be a perfect choice as a potential single. “Down the Hatch” is a defiant inventory of the toll austerity takes on the ordinary citizen. It’s no shock that in the late ‘70s, during a comparable period of malaise and austerity in England, the punk movement arose. What movement will emerge from the stranger-than-fiction existence in which we now find ourselves? Defiance? Resistance? Or are we too anesthetized to rise up and act? IT lays out the challenge boldly and with genuine fervor.
We’re All in this Together is a focused and authentic expression of the resentments and toils of many told through razor-sharp lyrics and blistering hard-rock that will blow the casings off your speakers if you play it loudly enough. The production and mixing by Jackson and his colleagues is outstanding. The album has a crisp, cutting vibe, a remarkable sonic clarity. The arrangements are elaborate and complex -- a lot of things are happening, and in the wrong hands it might have been overblown, but IT nails it.
Someone looking back a few decades from now seeking to make sense of our world could do far worse than absorbing this strident collection that is dynamic not only in lyrical content but in its tightly-wound musical ferocity. It’s angry, yeah, but We’re All in this Together isn’t just a recitation of outrages and grievances. The album doesn’t just raise the specter of the troubles we all understand so well, it provides a very clear solution. It’s in the album’s title, it's woven through all of the songs, it's in the final question posed by "Revolution," and Jackson sings it explicitly in “Last Chance”: “Together, together / only we can change this fate.” It's a solution we've heard so many times before.
Power to the People. People Have the Power. Stand! Lift Every Voice and Sing. We Shall Overcome. The Rising. Get Together. We’re All in this Together. Endless others, famous and forgotten, by superstars and unknown bands playing their hearts out in small clubs or garages, rising out of the endless anxiety, anger, and frustration of their daily lives. All are calls to action and awakening. And of course, as we know, it is true, after all. We do have the power. If only we had the will to wield it.