While the 80's It Bites albums (judging from the ones I have heard so far) had a distinctively 80's sound, this new album has more of a 90's sound. On the surface it sounds rather like contemporary mainstream radio friendly rock. However, the high level of musicianship, the elaborated vocal harmonies and some of the arrangements puts this firmly in the Crossover Prog genre.
If you have been a fan of the band's 80's albums you will probably miss the original vocalist and guitarist Francis Dunnery who is no longer with the band. He is replaced here with John Mitchell of Arena fame. In Arena Mitchell just plays guitar, and he is a very good guitarist. Here he reveals himself as a fine vocalist as well. His voice would certainly not have fitted the much darker and more theatrical music of Arena, but it fits very well here. There are some slight similarities with the music of Arena here, but The Tall Ships is much more accessible and much more strongly melodic and also distinctively more light- hearted. It fits very well in the Crossover Prog genre. On some parts the band IQ also comes to mind.
The highlight of the album for me is the eight minute The Wind That Shakes The Barley. This is probably the most progressive track on The Tall Ships and it is an excellent one! It starts with a good riff played on organ, on top of that a slightly hard edged guitar riff and a strong, up tempo first chorus. This then gives way to the more laid back main verse of the song, followed again by the first chorus. About three and a half minutes into the track there is a nice first instrumental break with fast piano that introduces a different chorus. The song then positively explodes into a second instrumental break constituted by a great guitar and keyboard duel between John Mitchell and John Beck to finally repeat the first part of the song before the end. Terrific!
Other highlights are the slightly symphonic title track and the 13 + minute closer, This Is England. For Safekeeping is a nice piano-based semi-ballad. Overall, the second half of the album is stronger than the first half.
For me The Tall Ships is a good album, but I doubt that it will have a lasting impression on me. It is recommended for those who do not mind accessible Prog with some more mainstream elements. http://www.progarchives.com
Track Listing: 01.Oh My God (5:47) 02.Ghosts (4:45) 03.Playground (5:32) 04.Memory Of Water (4:49) 05.The Tall Ships (6:17) 06.The Wind That Shakes The Barley (8:11) 07.Great Disasters (4:59) 08.Fahrenheit (5:16) 09.For Safekeeping (5:27) 10.Lights (4:54) 11.This Is England (13:49) 12.When I Fall (4:41)
The Band: - John Mitchell / guitars & lead vocals - John Beck / keyboards & backing vocals - Bob Dalton / drums & backing vocals - John Mitchell and John Beck / bass guitars