no ticket - waiting in line
I haven't heard a straight-up progressive rock album in…ages. And I don't mean progressive rock with other genres infused into it, or rock with progressive elements, I mean Waiting in Line is as pure a progressive rock album as most people could hope to create. As for the definition of progressive…it falls perfectly into mine, and it's my review, so…
No Ticket is a quad of Canadians who make lengthy, baroque, sometimes cheesy, sometimes cinematic tracks that use the piano as their main focus. Oh yeah, there's like no guitar on here, but don't head for the hills; the piano as the lead instrument is an intriguing choice and lends a more elegant sound to the otherwise dark tones the album conveys.
Human-wise, No Ticket is Emmanuel Trottier-Marcotte (drums, lyrics) and Vincent Allard (piano, keyboards), Simon Leblanc (bass) and Christopher Hemmings (vocals, lyrics). As I said before, Allard's presence is most noticeable next to Hemmings, who commands each track with a moan that steers the music into almost vaudevillian territory as suddenly as he can dip into valleys of despair. Leblanc is a wild card for the music; his bass lines are technically more impressive than most musicians I hear nowadays and make for an engaging listen as he adds his unique rhythms to the already unique sound of the band. Sometimes it doesn't fare as well, though "Monsters" is the only misstep of his I'd watch out for. It is a bit too slow and it doesn't match the mood. Trottier-Marcotte is a versatile drummer who adds passion to the tracks that require it but can also fade into the background with skittish percussion that subtly adds swathes of color instead of dousing songs with it.
All right, so the music. It is very bombastic and very ambitious, if the track lengths are any indication. Allard's piano often directs the mood and I did several double takes as I reminded myself there was no guitar on this album. It's definitely not the usual listening experience. All four members have excellent synergy. The opener "Tokyo" does what any good opener should do and exemplifies this. The song's lyrics take on an almost dystopian approach, helped in part by Hemmings' brilliant wailing: “Welcome to a world / where time matters none / where we hold the swords / and you hold the guns." Imagery combines architectural grandeur with mental psychosis, with the build-up leading to the frenetic outro, "Welcome to Tokyo / you always blame your god / but what about yourself."
"Monsters" is comparatively weaker with Allard's keyboards barely registering as more than ripples on the water. Leblanc's bass and TM's drumming are also noticeably more subdued and even Allard can't do much when he switches to pain. Hemmings, strong and evocative in "Tokyo," does his best to inject the same enthusiasm in this track but comes off as unconvincing.
The band pulls more than 90 but less than a 180 with "Tears in Rain" a sober and somber reflection of a relationship gone south. Instrumentation is again blunted, but unlike “Monsters” the musical space is filled with purpose, from the quiet drumming to the piano's shimmering glissando and Hemmings belting out the lyrics in full force before cueing the other members to reel back the energy. Even the bass won't hit you until well near the end of the song.
Finally we arrive at "Just What I'd Do," the longest track on the album and the most striking in terms of mood. It has the air of the final scene in a film, and the tone is noticeably more cheerful, or at least optimistic, despite the dreary subject matter (there's no 'we' in suicide, after all). Leblanc is the true winner here, with his bass lines that sound like they could've been lifted from an Os Mutantes album. Hemmings experiments with his voice with lustful moans, laughs and howls, all the while Allard keeps things chill with a lounge-ready piano melody.
So yeah, check it out.
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