The inclusion of the track Common Ground on this album makes for an interesting point of reference between past and present. Menel’s anthem for the doomed youth of The Somme is one of the high points of the first of two albums he made with IQ back in the late eighties. Many existing fans struggled with what they saw as the creeping commerciality he brought to the previous progressive waters of the band and his time with them always seen as one of a battle between old values and new horizons. Back then Common Ground was a sweeping soundscape, a typically proggy thing of widescreen breadth and grandeur. This time around it is a taut, groovesome pop-rock piece and you can almost feel his sense of relief as he gets to explore his own sound.
It is a route that we have seen before, Peter Gabriel with Genesis and Alan Reed with Pallas, both shrugged off the expectations of the progressive rock straight jacket to build a new audience in more commercially minded arenas. And like them the result here is the best of both worlds. The experiences of the journey so far bring intricate but well-defined song-writing, textured but never cluttered, the freedom to play with styles and hop generic boundaries makes for a wonderful variance and sense of musical exploration.
Pedestal is a graceful wander through pastoral pastures, They Call Her Leaf is a sumptuous Gabriel-esque slice of textured pop and Hey, Did You Hear About Paul is a deep, emotional exploration. It is an album that rocks out when it feels like it, covers a lot of ground musically but it’s finest moments are in its smoother, quieter moments, in the subtlety of the balladry, the folk reinventions, its world music references, its fine details and intricacies. It is an album of gentleness, dynamics and depth, of hypnotic patterns and shifting colours. More than anything it is an album of great beauty. It is an album that will but Paul Menel on the map.