Review Summary: Wishbone Ash, keeping fellows in line.
We've reached a point in time where the legendary bands of the 70s rock Golden Age are in their twilight years, which in many bands has seen a pattern - most have their 70s glory days, delivering the goods such as Led Zeppelin IV, Deep Purple In Rock, Hawkwind's Hall of the Mountain Grill and Wishbone Ash's Argus, there's then the rough 80s and 90s period of albums too eye-wateringly weak to be named. And finally, in a delightful phenomenon, the 21st Century has brought a resurgence of the old gods. With Deep Purple returning to credibility in Now What
, UFO releasing the respectable Seven Deadly
and Hawkwind churching out the impressive Onward
, Wishbone Ash's climb back to greatness after a 90s period that saw them dabbling in Trance music (yup) is cemented by the wonderful Blue Horizon
The album is a glorious show of a band in the most comfortable place of its career, recently securing the rights to be the one and only Wishbone Ash, and featuring a tight line-up oozing with chemistry.
Throughout, we are presented with all of their best characteristics, the progressive-tinged long solo passages really standing out on 'Being One' and the superb tempo change of opener 'Take It Back' after a hair-raising intro, just going to show that lone founding member Andy Powell is still as vibrant as ever. There's no wankery here however, with variation provided on the jazzy leanings of 'American Century.' Plus, fans will be pleased with the blues influences reminiscent of There's The Rub
thanks to Finnish guitarist Muddy Mannien on 'Deep Blues' (obviously) and 'Mary Jane' which make the cliché lyrics of a difficult lover acceptable.
There is a tendency for cheesy lyrics, as a song title like 'Way Down South' will testify, but we can let the band off, having reached a point in their careers where they've already sung about angst, girls, wizards, warriors and the like. Instead, the album has a theme of a band at peace with where they've ended up, looking for closure - "I'll find some time for thinking / They say that life is slower way down south"
. Even if you are slightly lactose intolerance, the song makes up for it with a mid-point drop to a soothing transition that feels almost retrospective, bursting into an upbeat joyous solo the likes of which you'd hear on 'Sometime World.'
Despite the occasional American-themed song title, Wishbone Ash wear their quintessential Britishness on their sleeves with Powell's wise-old-father vocals and particularly the stirring chorus of "Tally Ho!," a song that plays with classic prog loud-quiet dynamics excellently, the guitarwork never feeling stale and younger drummer Joe Crabtree doing a great job of creating an atmosphere.
Atmosphere is another of the album's greatest merits, mirroring the lush blue artwork just as you'd hope, the persistent clean guitar tone creating a relaxed and airy feel, contrasted brilliantly by Bob Skeat's bass, throwing down a dirty line on 'Strange How Things Come Around' and though having nothing on Martin Turner's Argus-era antics, Skeat is a more-than-worthy successor.
The last two songs of the album, in a very Argus way, end with an astounding one-two-punch of glorious 7 minute-each classic rock goodness. The burbling bass of 'Blue Horizon' opens the stage to an onslaught of riffing, with even the keys making an appearance and would have been a fine way to end an album, but 'All There Is To Say' is even better. The song starts with a riff continually teasing you with a chance of breaking into Argus' transcendent closer 'Throw Down The Sword.' It moves into a folk-tinged verse that is a perfect way of encapsulating Blue Horizon's perfect balance between the classic rock sound of old, and the modern production that gives way to one of Ash's most atmospheric works to date.
This song's title, as well as the album's, reinforces that having achieved everything they could have wanted with commercial success, critical acclaim and a loyal fanbase, Wishbone Ash are putting out a firm statement (as well as charting in Amazon's top 10 "rock 'n' roll" albums in several countries) that they're still rock royalty, even as the band approaches its final horizon.