Review Summary: Fireworks: don't count your chickens
As someone whose memories of progressive rock are frequently charged with embarrassment or regret, I’ve always found Gazpacho one of the more baggage-free paths of least resistance between the genre’s various avenues of indulgence and appeal. Their scale, tone and conceptual bent have always been decidedly prog, but their songwriting style eschews extravagant moments of misfortune and digressive bullshit almost entirely. Part of it is the clarity of their narratives and part is the relative simplicity and directness of their song structures; the impression you get listening to the likes of Demon
compared to whatever your Thank You Scientists or your Karnivools or your post-Mars Voltas have on the table is like the difference between hearing a gifted storyteller weave a spellbinding tale in a candlelit bar and being subjected to a greasy intern in a fluorescent and mostly empty conference room struggling to remember the Reddit-sourced motivational sales pitch that is somehow emerging from between their lips like an oil slick of the sound waves. Their flow is natural and seemingly effortless, yet even at their most expansive and ambitious Gazpacho construct their tracks from a distinctly sparing pool of ideas. Their epics and vignettes alike always follow a clear thread with admirable focus.
This is quite the endorsement, but don’t count your chickens, or Gazpacho’s chickens, or anyone else’s. Their latest effort Fireworker
is in some ways a return to (relatively) exciting territory after their competent but largely unmemorable slowburner Soyuz
, but there are a couple of Buyer Bewares to slam onto this sales pitch (this is not a sales pitch). Remember that clear thread we covered literally three sentences ago? Um, yeah, about that: it’s pretty much missing here! Maybe not entirely, but it sure as hell does not show up throughout the megagigantic twenty-minute opener “Space Cowboy.” Yes, a twenty-minute opener! The stakes are high! You need a patient audience and many, many spools of clear thread to traverse those kinds of waters. I’m a pretty patient chap when it comes to music not conspicuously built for instant gratification (it’s a dog eat dog world!), and it took me until approximately minute #9 to get over Gazpacho’s typically gorgeous arrangements and airy production and realise that those
momentous waves of overdriven guitar distortion (yes.) complete with background choirs are entirely at odds of wherever the song previously felt like it was going, which in turn pales in comparison to the aimlessness of the following strain-your-ears-and-you’ll-hear-a-typical-Gazpacho-song-played-many-decibels-quieter-than-usual verse, which in turn pales into sandwich fodder when the following verse shows up to replace it with a more mysterious tone and superior development.
Ladies, gentlemen, and all in between, we are dealing with an unceremonious, poorly segued composite epic structure. Would all those grumbling that Gazpacho might not technically even be
a prog band please take a seat.
If “Space Cowboy”’s momentary hints at intrigue and panoramic - nay, intergalactic! - scope pass in a protracted series of fits and starts, the rest of the album feels like afterthoughts that might in another timeline have been follow-ons from a successful, overpowering thesis track. “Hourglass” and “Antique” are Gazpacho-by-numbers midtempo trudges that don’t have the flair to be graceful or the melodies to be beautiful, while “Fireworker“ is a more forthright outing that wraps surging rises and falls into evasive pacing and a dynamic arrangement with a fair degree of success. This track is a more energetic nod to the tone Gazpacho toyed with on their underrated 2015 release Molok
, a rousing fusion of “Know Your Time” and “Bela Kiss” if you will. It isn’t quite enough to set this album ablaze, but it’s a welcome midway gem. However, it takes until the closing epic “Sapien” to get to the real knockout. This track guns for the same maximalist peaks and sudden dips into delicacy that “Space Cowboy” fumbled for, but anchors itself in a far more tangible progression and ends up as the stuff of vintage Gazpacho longform gold. The atmosphere here is a little bold and brazen and perhaps short of the mystery or wistfulness that made their past triumphs in this vein so memorable, but it’s more than adequate as a closing statement to an album as unexpectedly shapeless as this one. Gazpacho’s knack for varied instrumentation and competence as performers is as far above water as ever, but Fireworker
is less heat and sparks and more smokey obfuscation of a once unimpeachable focus.