We’ve reached the number 13 spot which might be considered to be an unlucky position. Not so here, because hopefully the band at the centre of this post will enjoy a little more time in the spotlight. I hope so anyway.
Before I launch into today’s pick, just a reminder that you can read any of the preceding posts in this year’s countdown as well as the entire lists from 2012 and 2013 via the links at the bottom of this post.
And with that, here’s my number 13:
I reviewed this album in full a few months ago. If you’re interested in reading the full review, click here. For the purposes of this post however, here are the highlights:
The music that A.C.T. offer is difficult to put into words, although the adjective ‘quirky’ is one of the most apt that I can muster. At it’s core though, and regardless of any genre labels one might wish to apportion, this is progressive rock of the highest order that blends many different styles into an homogenous and cohesive end product that will no doubt confound and delight in equal measure.
One of the big strengths of ‘Circus Pandemonium’ is the lyrical content which, in common with many other bands in the prog rock world, is a concept disc, where each track acts as a chapter in the overall story. The lyrical content may be commendable but crucially, it is backed up by some stunning music.
To begin with, the musicianship is of the absolute highest calibre. Each member of the band is a master of his chosen craft, resulting in a set of songs that, on the face of it appear quite straightforward and immediate, yet are deceptively complicated and involved. Every note has been thought about in minute detail and is performed with the professionalism that many other bands would kill for.
To make reference to all of the influences at play on this album is, to a certain extent, an exercise in futility but I shall try to give it a go. Naturally, there’s plenty of circus-inspired themes given the story, as evidenced in ‘The End’ for example. There’s a reggae vibe to ‘A Truly Gifted Man’ which ends in rousing fashion whereas ‘Look At The Freak’ calls to mind Queen or E.L.O. at their most theatrical, bringing a touch of the West End stage with them at the same time. ‘A Mother’s Love’ is a piano-led ballad that has echoes of 80s pop about it but which is beautifully emotional whilst the cheeky beat to ‘The Funniest Man Alive’ will have fans of all ages dancing a jig around their living rooms. Then there’s the opening riff to ‘Lady In White’ which would be comfortable on many a metal album, as would the ferocious drumming within the closing moments of final track ‘Freak Of Nature’.
The band’s own Facebook page also mentions acts like Styx, Rush, Kansas and The Beatles. Normally such things should be taken with a pinch of salt but, in the case of A.C.T., there’s a strong case to say that these references are absolutely spot on and to a greater or lesser extent, there are elements of each to be heard on this record.
But above all and arguably more importantly, each and every track, be it a full-on tack or a brief instrumental interlude, offers something very special. In particular, the melodies throughout are stunning and will stick with you for days on end. Just listen to the choruses to ‘Lady In White’ or ‘Manager’s Wish’ for examples of this.
To cut to the chase and put it as simply as I am able, this is art rock at its very best. Progressive in nature, it flits from idea to idea with gay abandon but manages to keep the central core intact, namely creating memorable music that defies labels but which is memorable, entertaining and technically superb. You can’t do that and pull it off so sensationally well without being a very special band indeed. And that’s exactly what A.C.T. are: a very special band indeed.
Check out the other posts in this series:
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 14
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 15
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 17
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 18
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 20
And if you’re interested, my similar countdowns from previous years can be accessed here: