In the 1970s, Scotland’s own Beggars Opera were considered the obscure early pioneers of Symphonic Progressive Rock with their first three albums from the Vertigo-era before going into the Straightforward Rock sound that wanted to move away from that sound that had received a mixed reaction from the fans who wanted the band to stay true to their earliest work with: Act One, Waters of Change, and Pathfinder. Now many years later, the band is going into more of an alternative and art rock sound for the 21st century.
Originally, they were a five piece band, today, they are now a trio featuring; Ricky Gardinier on guitar, Virginia Aurora Scott on keyboards/lead vocals, and their son Tom Gardiner on drums. So it’s almost a family partnership between the three members of the Gardiner family who now go into futuristic sceneries and take it into a different scale that would have embraced into a different direction than they were back in the golden-era of the ‘70s. It was Close to my Heart, that took ten years in the making to work on the album due to Rick’s illness and you can tell how it’s more of a new age/atmospheric space rock adventure.
So while the album has a lot of the sci-fi beauty elements on the title track, the jazz rock speeder on Warm Eyes, and the rumbling middle-eastern rocker on You Stranger, they pay more of an homage to Porcupine Tree’s On the Sunday of Life-era, which is evidential on the closer, Here Comes Everybody that is a surfing space adventure into the outer limits of space featuring Ricky’s virtuoso guitar playing and Virginia’s mellotron work setting the tone of the piece. Now while it sounds very interesting and kind of surprising on the new sound that the band is going into this new sound that could have fans say, ‘This is amusing, I might want to check this out.’
Now with Virginia’s voice, it’s a combination of Steven Wilson, Cathy Pruden of Julian’s Treatment, and at times Bjork, but you could tell that she was listening to some of these artists and want to take it up a notch which is heard on the electronic swirling nightmarish tale on Tight Blue Lips that would have hit the dance floors in about a second.. Touching the Edge, released back in 2009 it has more of a time travelling adventure and the recording process feels like it was done very quickly and done it in one night and went throughout till dawn.
The opener Dancer in the Wind and Escalator of Tall Stories are both hard driven-paced-experimental rock and a wonderous magic carpet ride into unbelievable imagination that at times sounds like something out of the Discipline-era of King Crimson while Attraction Gaze which features Ajijo on Sax, is very modern Rush sound that has some heavy power chord riffs that Rick does and Tom creates this Neil Peart-drum like sound as an homage to him. Meanwhile, Dreamtime, is a nightmarish take on the Master of Reality-era of Black Sabbath that has a dosage of hard jazz rock as Aijio takes the sax over as the robotic vocals, bass, drums, keyboards, and guitar arrangements are delicate.
Then it’s the ambient/atmospheric 16-minute tribute to the people who died in the Prison Camps around the Second World War on the finale Auschwitz. With keyboards and Rick’s guitar, it’s a mourning yet emotional take on some who survived and some who passed on during that time period and Gardiner’s Floyd style on the guitar, is just spot on as Virginia does this Celtic vocalization as if its a sound for peace and hope. Forward to 2010, the band sees them going into darker territories with the release of a 22nd century dystopian rock opera, Lose a Life.
You can hear of a futuristic city gone wrong with the electronics taking over the universe which is evidential on the 11-minute epics, Electrofire Invasion which owes a debt to the Wish You Were Here-era of Pink Floyd with Rick’s guitar sending a view of what has happened to the city and what went horribly wrong while Masts on my Roof has some sensitive and intense moments with a dosage of a moody ballad and uplifting mellotron and organ sounds along with synth droning’s and double-tracking vocals that Virginia does as if they are paying tribute to George Orwell’s classic, 1984.
Cosmic Tango, is a terrifying composition of dealing with a person going insane of the social media and the corporations taking over the enterprise and finding out there is nowhere out and no way out of here while Doctor Carlo has this Gilmour and Brian May influential sound that Rick does on his guitar giving it that layered sound before going into the sound to pay tribute to the Floyd and Queen man for an introduction as it goes into this jazzy uplifting momentum for thanking the Doctor to make a person sane and healthy again. Then everything becomes a mourning surrounding atmosphere on the closing track, Tango For the End.
It begins with a haunting Mellotron chord progression followed by a militant drum rumble and guitars filling the aftermath of what’s happened to the city and the networks have taken control of it with an epic-like score. A wonderful and hand-shaken comeback from a band who have come a long way, who have influenced both in the Symphonic and Experimental Rock sounds in the 1970s and in the 2000s and what will lay ahead for the future for them.