It’s been three years since Lifesigns’ last studio album Cardington and much has happened in the world since. Despite the global situation, studio relocation and the loss of a founder member, Lifesigns have by removing the distraction of named special guests as per the first two albums produced possibly their most cohesive album to date. With Zoltan Csorsz Jnr. (Flower Kings) on board on drums and the addition of female backing vocals & strings, despite remote recording (Zoltan sending in his input from Sweden), this is Lifesigns hitting all the right notes … in the right order.
Title track ‘Altitude’ continues skyward where Cardington left off. Gently soaring through the sky with John Young’s voice and piano giving the air of floating on a breeze. Promoting the feel of the excitement, joy and freedom of flight it is only when the vocals reach the words “Targets destroyed” that it is apparent that this tale is a little more sinister than first impressions first led you to believe. With its story of the distance between aggressor and victims during modern warfare, we get the first-hand story of an attack drone, the “I could be something better” line giving the listener new hope if only new technologies could be used towards more positive outcomes. New boy Zoltan’s drums rattle along joining the chapters within this 15-minute journey and the addition of female backing vocals from Lynsey Ward (Exploring Birdsong) and strings – Peter Knight on violin and Juliet Wolff on Cello – produce a true epic.
‘Gregarious’ (adjective: fond of company; sociable) has come a long way since it was introduced to the crowds at the bands pre pandemic shows early in 2020. Jon Poole’s punchy bass line has shaken off much of its Alex Harvey mood to become the track with the most promising for a single edit to hit the radio airwaves. The band lock into a tight groove and each member finds their place with Dave Bainbridge’s cascading guitar solo bringing the track to a close.
‘Ivory Tower’ is the first of two archive John Young cuts. A popular live track, it now finds its place within the Lifesigns studio catalog with acoustic guitar supplied by very special guest Robin Boult (JYB/Howard Jones), the only guitarist to appear on all three of Lifesigns studio albums. The 2020 version of this song originally from John Young’s Life Underground (The Demos) album stands as a testament to the quality of Steve Rispin’s studio skills with considerably more depth and such subtle musical layers (listen on headphones for full effect) without a radical overall shift in mood.
Zoltan kicks into ‘Shoreline’ with so much punch that it is obvious that his addition to the band is likely to lift their stage presence once normality returns and gigs resume. Shoreline (a personal favorite) also puts the mastery of John Young’s songwriting into the shop window with hooks aplenty despite its numerous tempo shifts. The use of female harmonies on this track is a perfect example of what Lifesigns 2021 do best. Future classic.
Next up, ‘Fortitude’ which ticks metronomically into life until the guitar riff drives this wordy 10-minute showcase forward switching from keyboard to vocal then guitar and back again. The perfect example of less is more as each member finds their own space within the groove without elbowing to the front. Steve Rispin showcases his studio mastery here proving he really is a key fifth member of the band. This track is destined to become a staple within the live set for many years (hint, hint).
The track listed as ‘Arkhangelsk’, at less than a minute, is used as an intro to the second revisited track which should be familiar to John Wetton/Qango fans as it was written by John Young for Qango and appeared on their Live In The Hood album with John Wetton on vocals. ‘Last One Home’ is the pinnacle of the album and has been revisited in the studio due to the huge impact it has made to the Lifesigns audiences when it was added to their live set. With its thought-provoking words and waves of instrumentation mirroring the ocean currents, many tears have been shed during the live shows and I’m sure this version will see many handkerchiefs in use over the coming months. Special mention must go to Dave Bainbridge whose guitar solo on this track should go down in the annals of progressive rock history and is crying out to be heard in concert halls around the globe.
The final track returns us to whence we came with our drone once more reaffirming that “I could be so much better”. The ‘Altitude Reprise’ also takes us full circle and invites us to return to where it all began … so why not put the kettle on, turn the Hi-Fi up and give it one more spin. There is so much more to be discovered here.
The CD is available in March followed by vinyl in May (with artwork once again from Brett Wilde) and anyone who purchases either via the band website will receive a download from 1 February 2021.
Who knows whether during these turbulent times this album will see Lifesigns stock reach new levels, but with John Young’s ability to leave space within the lyrics for the listener’s own interpretation and the obvious talent of all five members, this latest offering should see Lifesigns rise to a higher Altitude.
- Review by Peter Brockwell
- Ivory Tower
- Last One Home
- Altitude Reprise