Map Of The Past
Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia
When U.K. based progressive rock/pop rock outfit It Bites marked their return to the music scene with ‘The Tall Ships’ after a nineteen year break, few were expecting too much from the veteran act. After all, the band were hardly what you would call a household name outside their native U.K., and vocalist/guitarist/principal songwriter Francis Dunnery had long parted ways with the group to focus on his successful solo career. But to almost everyone’s surprise, ‘The Tall Ships’ (Released in 2008 on Inside Out Music) proved that It Bites were a band that could once again reinvent themselves (Much like they did so many times before), and that Arena/Frost* vocalist/guitarist John Mitchell was more than capable of filling in the role vacated by Dunnery some twenty-two years ago.
Four years on, and three live releases later (2010’s ‘This Is Japan’, 2010 ‘Deutche Live!’ and 2011’s D.V.D./C.D. package ‘It Happened One Night’), and It Bites (Who now comprise of Mitchell, bassist/backing vocalist Lee Pomeroy, keyboardist/backing vocals John Beck and drummer/backing vocals Bob Dalton) are back with their long awaited second comeback/fifth release ‘Map Of The Past’. And again, It Bites continue to impress in a major way.
The opening track ‘Man In The Photograph’ brings to the fore the theme that runs throughout the album (A personal insight into the emotions conveyed through the eyes of an older generation of Brits as the U.K. enters a new century), and takes the listener on a trip through time with its various war-time radio samples, rich keyboard tones, military drums and Mitchell’s husky/emotive Peter Gabriel-like vocal delivery. The song is not quite what you would expect for an opener to the album, but definitely a worthy choice nonetheless.
‘Wallflower’ brings the band’s sound into the present with plenty of classic sounding Hammond keyboards, dramatic strings and some subtle progressive guitar riffs. Melodies wise, Mitchell tones back the harmonies a bit compared to anything from ‘The Tall Ships’, but keeps things catchy enough to make the song stand out for all the right reasons.
The title track ‘Map Of The Past’ veers a little more towards the band’s more accessible and pop/rock sound, but features enough progressive elements and melody to stay on the path to win listeners over, while the slower paced ballad ‘Clocks’ brings to mind Ray Wilson era Genesis, but with a twist with the addition of fairground sounds in its latter half.
The up-tempo ‘Flag’ is a good song, but definitely not a favourite with the overabundance of keyboards over guitars in the mix (Which inevitably gives the song a bit of an ‘80’s pop/rock sound), but the band do redeem themselves with the hard hitting and dramatic ‘The Big Machine’ and the simple melodic charm of the infectious ‘Cartoon Graveyard’.
The heavily orchestrated and multi-layered vocal leanings of ‘Send No Flowers’ again brings to mind Gabriel era Genesis with a touch of Queen in places (Which strangely enough works quite well), while the lengthy ‘Meadow And The Steam’ is by far the most progressive rock based piece on the album (In other words, Genesis like), and undoubtedly a definite favourite.
Mitchell brings a lot of emotion into the touching piano based ‘The Last Escape’ which could easily have been mistaken as an outtake from some long lost Frost* sessions, while the acoustic based closer ‘Exit Song’ is simply beautiful.
It Bites have never been the easiest of acts to pin down in the musical sense due to their constant evolution of sound and style. But on the strength of the band’s last couple of releases, It Bites seem to have found a sound that works for them, and one they’re obviously keen to build upon.
While I’m not entirely convinced that their latest release eclipses the brilliance of ‘The Tall Ships’, ‘Map Of The Past’ is still an excellent release, and one that no fan should overlook.
For more information on It Bites, check out - http://www.itbites.com/
© Justin Donnelly