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IQ, England









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IQ - Seven Stories into Eight. 1982 private. Cassette only. Re-recorded as Seven Stories into '98. 1998 Giant Electric Pea.
IQ - Tales from the Lush Attic. 1983 The Major Record Company (LP); 1988 MSI (France CD)
IQ - The Wake. 1985 Sahara (LP); 1994 Giant Electric Pea (CD)
IQ - Nonzamo. 1987 Mercury CD + LP
IQ - Are You Sitting Comfortably? 1989 Vertigo CD + LP
IQ - Ever. 1993 Giant Electric Pea (reissued in 2013 on LP)
IQ - Subterranea. 1997 Giant Electric Pea (reissued in 2012 on LP)
IQ - The Seventh House. 2000 Giant Electric Pea; 2005 InsideOut (Germany)
IQ - Dark Matter. 2004 Giant Electric Pea (reissued in 2008 on LP by Primal Vinyl)
IQ - Frequency. 2009 InsideOut (Germany)
IQ - The Road of Bones. 2014 Giant Electric Pea (also as a 2 CD set with bonus tracks)

IQ have also released many live albums, outtakes, demos, and other such non-studio recordings that I've left off here. This includes the debut tape, which I will investigate further now that I see there was a re-recording of it that looks quite good. But I've held this article back long enough.

----

IQ are not really a group that is under the radar, but for me, they are such an important part of my collection that I feel most compelled to feature them here on UTR, even though much virtual ink has already been spilled for the band. And despite the fact they had a couple of missteps in the late 1980s, IQ have remained true to the cause even after 30 years! My review of their first 6 albums (originally for Gnosis) dates back over a dozen years ago, and much of what I said then still applies. However I've gone ahead and altered/enhanced/added-to these original notes.

----Tales From the Lush Attic

Hard to imagine now, but at one time IQ was a boon for the progressive rock starved fan in the early 1980s. Believe it or not, 1983 was an exciting time for traditional progressive rock music. England was experiencing a renaissance in creativity after a few years' dearth of interesting new music that was killed off by disco, punk, and Synth Pop (though the heavy metal field - especially from England - held some secret gems). Heavily inspired by the classic progressive rock works of Genesis, bands like Marillion, Pendragon, Pallas, Twelfth Night, Haze, and.... yes IQ, were blazing a new trail for a younger generation looking for more challenging music than the radio and TV was affording at that time. Decidedly noncommercial for their day, these bands were raising the spirit of Gabriel-era Genesis from the virtual dead. Best of all, it was an updated sound with modern equipment, cleaner tones, and a more aggressive rock approach (no doubt influenced by the contemporary punk and metal movements) combined with the challenging compositional style of Genesis albums like "Foxtrot" and "Trick of the Tail".

It was during this period that I personally became involved with the progressive rock scene. I still remember a review of Twelfth Night showing up in the metal magazine Kerrang claiming "Bring out the Mini-Moogs boys, the Progressives are back!" And they were, even if it was just for a short period - in its original form anyway. Of all of the bands from that era, IQ were quite possibly the most accomplished, at least from an exploratory progressive rock mindset.

Tales From the Lush Attic is IQ's debut (on LP, there was a demo cassette prior), released on a small private label and in very minute quantities. The album, however, had gained the attention of the heavy metal media (of all people) and quickly sold out to an audience yearning for something a little different and more challenging, thus leading to a much larger repress. IQ's well-deserved positive reputation had begun. Opening with the 21-minute 'The Last Human Gateway', IQ laid down the gauntlet that they were serious about this progressive rock thing, despite in appearance looking like a typical MTV synth-pop act. No group in their right mind did side long epics in 1983, lest they be panned by the lemming-like music press as the worst album since the ghastly Tales From Topographic Oceans. This track had all the right ingredients: Organ, mellotron, synthesizers, crazy rhythms, Hackett-esque guitar, and possibly best of all, a very talented and dramatic singer in Peter Nicholls. He even wore face paint for crying out loud! Continuing on, 'Awake and Nervous' is a more commercial sounding track in the rare case that any reviewer had actually made it through the opener and its short followup. This is followed by the hilariously titled 'My Baby Treats Me Right Cos I'm the Hard Lovin Man All Night Long' which is, appropriately enough for the setting, a classical solo piano piece. The closer, 'The Enemy Smacks' is IQ's finest moment here. A combination of aggressive hard rock with symphonic progressive which happens to contain their most complex metronomic moments as a bonus. Very powerful - and perhaps just the right punch to score with the younger fans it so coveted - and represented themselves. A brilliant debut.

----The Wake

There was heavy anticipation for IQ's second album and they delivered in grand fashion. No sophomore slump can be found on The Wake. There can be no doubt that the heavier moments from their debut were better received by a live audience, and IQ began to move away from some of the subtle brilliance of "Tales From the Lush Attic" and more towards aggressive anthem rock structures. The title track itself is proof that IQ could pack a wallop, and still be interesting to progressive rock listeners, while the opener 'Outer Limits' is a great mix of progressive and accessible rock (listen to those synthesizer solos alone!). The analog keyboards from the past were starting to get minimized (except for the glorious mellotron) and traded in for modern, cutting edge synthesizers, and samplers. While in today's world, old vintage equipment is highly revered, the 1985 mindset was much more anxious to ditch the heavy, clumsy, and unpredictable hardware, for more sleek - easy to tote - and cleaner sounding instruments. Even for dyed-in-the-wool hardcore mellotron addicts, "The Wake" is not to be missed. Side 2's opener 'Widow's Peak' is IQ in all its glory. From powerful head banging anthems and atmospheric flute, to guitar loops meshed with anguished vocals - the track delivers on a number of fronts. The 6 and a half minute mark of 'Widow's Peak' delivers one of the most powerful musical statements in my entire collection! 'The Thousand Days' demonstrates their move to commercialism, while not abandoning their progressive integrity, and it all fits the era in which it was released so perfectly. Overall, "The Wake" was a bold move forward to a larger audience while not compromising their overall creativity. In conclusion it is indeed another classic. The band seemingly could do no wrong.

IQ were on the tightrope of accessible progressive music, balancing everything perfectly here.

It was a rope, though, that they were to fall off - oh so very off - shortly thereafter.

----The waste of time years

With fellow English progressive band Marillion enjoying major label success on EMI, other labels were interested in signing the next big thing. Polygram/Mercury took a chance on IQ. This was to be the progressive community's big move into the mainstream.... their underground, uncompromising leaders. IQ were to be the vanguard for a new progressive movement! There would be a renaissance like ELP, Genesis, Yes, and Pink Floyd of yesteryear! Wide open in the end zone, the throw is there, and ... ? They dropped the ball! Nonzamo is a typical garden variety, mid-1980's, average tempo, radio-friendly rock affair. What an enormous disappointment. But the truth is, all the "prog" bands of the early 80's had moved in this direction. Arena rock bands such as Europe and Night Ranger were drawing enormous crowds and selling albums at a sizzling pace. Marillion, Pendragon, and IQ were only 10 or 15 too many complicated meters from joining this money tree as well. Why not think this way?: "Our fans will be there and our songwriting will be better". It's hard to blame a band for going down this route, especially with a major label's marketing machine behind you. And so IQ went down this sordid path only to be abandoned by their hardcore faithful. Trouble is... they didn't pick up the fickle, don't-care-what-I-listen-to-as-long-as-its-loud record buyer. Bottom line is this kind of music just wasn't IQ's strength and it probably didn't help that original vocalist/leader Peter Nicholls had bolted not long before recording. IQ even received another chance to mend their ways. Are You Sitting Comfortably? was perhaps even worse. They were bound and determined to be a commercial smash! And, in the end, this sad chapter ends with egg on their faces. As you perhaps have already noted, I only feature album covers that I own. Yes... these two are missing. Hmmm.

----Ever (back on track!)

By 1993, progressive rock had found its roots again, and with new-on-the-scene bands like Anglagard and Anekdoten blowing everyone away with their modern take on 1972, a group like IQ didn't seem to have an audience anymore, especially after such a long silence and having released two commercially oriented, and arguably failed, albums. The logical choice would've been for them to join what was now known as the Neo Prog movement, which already had quite a large niche audience itself. Bands such as Marillion and Pendragon were enjoying a cult-like status and they had many emulators. Peter Nicholls was back at the microphone, with Jadis' John Jowitt now on bass, but could IQ regain their fans? Ever was the result. This is the album, of course in retrospect, they should have released for Polygram. Picking up right where The Wake leaves off, with the near 11 minute opening 'The Darkest Hour', IQ climbed back on that tightrope of balancing complex progressive rock with a more poppy approach. There are plenty of quirks and complicated meters to please the more discerning listener, while still delivering accessible melodies and structures for the more commercial oriented. The opener is followed by the two-part 'Fading Senses', which is as good a track as IQ had ever recorded up this point (other than 'Widow's Peak' of course). A multi-segmented piece with some stunning atmospheric keyboard work, impassioned vocals, and driving electric guitar. The 14 minute+ 'Further Away' brings back the epic opus, with all its sections/meter changes/dynamics/climaxes - and demonstrates that IQ are ready and willing to sign back up for all-in progressive rock. They hadn't quite given up their pop aspirations, as can be heard on 'Out of Nowhere' and 'Came Down' (good examples of commercial rock, however). With "Ever", IQ were back in the saddle. And they never strayed again. In fact, they would turn the dial even more towards complex progressive rock, while moving further away from any thoughts of commercial stardom. Except perhaps one last look back.......... said Lot's wife.

----Subterranea

The two-CD follow-up Subterranea has always been tough for me to penetrate ever since its release in 1997 and my immediate subsequent purchase.  I know some folks don't want to hear this, but yea, it's definitely IQ's version of Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. As with that work, this album focuses on a concept album with specific focus on heavy lyrical content while the instrumentation and complex arrangements (if they are complex at all) take a back seat. Subterranea is one hour and 42 minutes in duration. I'd say that's about one hour too long. For an album that features 19 tracks, it's amazing not one of them really stands out in an extraordinary way. Subterranea is one of those albums that I really want to like, since it's obviously very popular with fans of the band - and I am too a fan of the band - and yet this one is lost on me. On this last listen, I was bound and determined I would get everything out of it as possible. I sat there, headphones on, dedicated to hearing the entire album in one sitting listening to every note, without distraction. But I just couldn't find any major redeeming qualities. There was no 'Enemy Smacks' or 'Widow's Peak' or 'Fading Senses' or any of the other great tracks from the first two albums and "Ever". I have to say there is a lot of down time with Subterranea. Long stretches of vocals and boom-boom-bash drumming over a wall of keyboards and guitar choruses - like any respected pop band would do. They just couldn't let go of those commercial aspirations, even a decade later. If nothing else, if you start with Disc 2, you are likely to have a better experience. Yes, the 20 minute track 'The Narrow Margin' is really the best thing here, and even it doesn't really get cooking until the halfway mark. It's not a bad album mind you, not at all in fact, but it's definitely their weakest studio release beyond those two albums that I hope need not name. They were to improve from here though. Perhaps not immediately, but oh yes, they were going to demonstrate repeatedly they were indeed the band that released two masterpieces in the early to mid 1980s.

----Seven Stories into '98

July 2016 update: When I did this full IQ retrospective 2 years ago, I realized I had never heard their initial demo tape from 1982. It was then, for the first time it appears (not sure why?), I became aware of this CD. The fact that they re-recorded the material was even more exciting. So off I went to buy the CD... ugh. OOP and expensive. So I waited. And now I've finally sourced a copy on ebay for a reasonable price, and here we are.

First off, I was determined to hear the tape first, followed by the re-recordings. The band of course pushed the new recording first, as they indicate often an apologetic approach to releasing the demo at all, but I think most fans wouldn't care about the flaws. And I do recommend a similar approach, otherwise it will take your ears quite a bit of time to adjust from professionals in a studio to amateurs in a bedroom.

The liner notes alone were worth the price of admission, and I learned some things about that band I never knew. For example, I didn't realize they had started out as an instrumental fusion band influenced by the likes of Return to Forever. And this shows prominently on the opening track 'Capital Letters'. It's not until the namesake 'Intelligent Quotient' do we first hear Peter Nicholls and their trademark neo prog sound they helped create. By the time we get to 'It All Stops Here', you can tell the band is firing on all cylinders and ready to hit the studio for their brilliant Tales From the Lush Attic debut.

After hearing the tape, I fully expected to be blown away by the new recordings. But honestly, I enjoyed them about the same, despite the obvious improvement in sound and execution. Perhaps it's because I grew up in the same cassette tape culture IQ operated in, and I appreciate the raw grit that comes with it. This CD is a must own if you're a fan of the early IQ sound, of which I most certainly am.


----The Seventh House

And now we get to The Seventh House, which is of course, their 7th studio album. If Ever and Subterranea represent the two albums that IQ should have released for major label Mercury, then The Seventh House seems to be the album that would have come after The Wake - had they stayed in the underground that is. The tight and compact structures, combined with the anthems of The Wake and Tales From the Lush Attic, have returned on The Seventh House. Generally registered - or derided depending on one's perspective - as IQ's decent, but not great album, between their late 90s two CD epic Subterranea and their 70's throwback masterpiece Dark Matter - I personally find that The Seventh House is more a return to form to the IQ I love. While there's no 'Widow's Peak' hair raising moments, IQ have clearly shed their commercial desires here, with perhaps the exception of 'Shooting Angels', and even that track isn't too overt in its desire to attract mass audiences. I think it is on this album, moreso than the last two works, where IQ realized that they are stars in their own world - but have no chance for world domination. If they did have that chance, then that ship sailed long ago. They made their try.... and failed. Sorry chaps. Now it's time to get serious about this progressive rock thing... yea, that's right, the style of music they originally made a go at some 15+ years prior. And very successfully. To my ears, it's amazing how much the 2000 release The Seventh House sounds like something from 1986... a year I could go a whole lifetime without acknowledging again, and yet they make me pine for it as if in a fit of nostalgia. I honestly mean this when I say: Only IQ could pull something like that off. With The Seventh House, IQ are back on track and ready to wow their old-found progressive rock audience.

----Dark Matter

IQ were always a band of the 1980s with a compositional structure that points to the '70s. With Dark Matter they finally look backward in time and marry their instrumental side with their writing style. Martin Orford will never be accused of obsequious loyalty to the analog beasts of yore, but at least here he is willing to give the heavy wood pieces a bit more attention than prior. And even if they're not authentic 1971 ware, at least the effort was made to sound as such. As with The Seventh House, the days of penning pop hits are long in the rear view mirror. This is all-in progressive rock. Dark toned opener 'Sacred Sound' recalls the brilliant 'Widow's Peak' - but with an organ dirge in the middle. 'You Never Will' possesses some fine heavy bass and synthesizer. And 'Born Brilliant' brings back the old mid-80s IQ anthem-styled stomper. The much ballyhooed 24 minute+ 'Harvest of Souls' includes a dynamic and rocking Yes-like mid section similar to the glory days of Relayer. On initial impact, I was certain that Dark Matter was an improvement on The Seventh House, but while taking in all the IQ albums in succession, I'm more of a mind now that they are of similar quality. One represents the 80s IQ, while the other gives us a peek at a potential look back in time. Both are excellent and essential.

----Frequency

Vocalists and bassists come and go, but IQ stalwarts Martin Orford and Paul Cook have now exited stage left, and in their stead are Frost* drummer Andy Edwards and Darwin's Radio (and Grey Lady Down prior) keys man Mark Westworth. This leaves only guitarist Michael Holmes to have weathered the entire storm to date. And so what does Frequency sound like? IQ. In fact, it sounds like IQ in 3-D. Their brand identity has been distinctly carved out now, and this is a band who knows what that identity is. Everything is bigger, louder, and more pronounced than before. So at this point, it's about the composition, and the execution thereof.  IQ are always at their best when in foot stomping mode, and 'Ryker Skies' is this album's best representation of said sound. And 'The Province' picks up on IQ's ability to go deep into the progressive rock weeds with multiple time changes and mood changes. While the nostalgic exhilaration of Tales of the Lush Attic and The Wake inevitably take those albums higher for me personally, objectively it's hard to argue that Frequency is not their best album to date. Only in that it is their most focused, and overtly progressive rock themed album yet (well OK 'One Fatal Mistake' kind of blows, self-defining the title a bit then...). Not that the latter statement of "most progressive themed" is a virtue in of itself, but when executed by IQ... maybe it is.

----The Road of Bones

And so now we arrive at IQ's most ambitious album to date: The Road of Bones. 30+ years after debuting on the scene, IQ have remarkably not only stayed true to progressive rock (after the aforementioned missteps), but are the rare breed to continue to actually progress, thus living up to the genre name. Perhaps most surprising is that the lineup for The Road of Bones is a major upheaval from their last Frequency album. Whereas that album was the least looking IQ lineup, with only founding members Michael Holmes and Peter Nicholls on board, on The Road of Bones these two are rejoined by the original rhythm section of Tim Esau on bass and Paul Cook on drums. It's been over 25 years since Esau was in the band, and yet he fit like a hand in glove. And not only that, but Mark Westworth's position as keyboard maestro lasted for one album, and here he is replaced by Sphere3's Neil Durant - who to my ears is probably the best choice yet for IQ, given his preference towards analog equipment. You won't miss Martin Orford (really). The album has been presented as a single, or a double, depending on one's budget I presume. It is important to note that this isn't a one album CD, with archival bonus material filling out the second disc - or some novelty item of IQ covering classic 70s rock. No... It's a double CD filled to the brim with classic IQ music. So if you do decide to get the one CD version, you'll end up with half the album. I don't recommend that to anyone. No matter your budget, wait a bit and save up the few extra dollars, and buy the CD in its full glory. You'll want it eventually anyway. I haven't spoken yet about the music, and not sure I need to. There are 100's of reviews out there already dissecting each note, theme, lyric, and purpose. This tells me IQ is bigger than ever, and the world is a better place for thinking that way. Sure, for purists not everything is "just so", and IQ utilizes too much metal, or electronic, modern production techniques, ET CETERA. And yea, Nicholls sometimes has to sing a novel, and doesn't shut his yap. But the music is absolutely identifiable as only IQ. No one else sounds like them, and their music has a depth that allows for multiple listens, and new discoveries await at every turn. I found it hard to pick a favorite song, as each one was of a high quality. In some ways, objectively speaking, this is IQ's finest hour.... err 2 hours (so yes, they have one upped Frequency). For me, my life is inextricably linked to their first two LPs, and they likely will always be my favorites. If coming at this band for the first time (is that even possible?), then start here and absorb the album in full before launching into their deep catalog. For me, IQ can do no wrong. And I hope we hear from them again in the next 5 years (or sooner, eh guys?).

----summary

As we reflect, IQ remains the leading light from the original NWOBPR spirit. With the exception of the late 1980s misstep into overt commercialism, IQ has evolved as I would've expected all the bands from the original movement to have - with more creative compositions and better musicianship. Perhaps only IQ, of the many bands from their era, pulled that off convincingly. Truly a band worth the hallowed halls of progressive rock fame and glory.

Last update: July 9, 2016

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  1. From one IQ fan to another, I enjoyed the article Tom.

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    1. Thanks Mark. I appreciate the comment!

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