Reviewed by Bryan Morey. 14th November 2016.
Nottingham's Red Bazar has been around for nine years, but the recent addition of vocalist Peter Jones has taken the band to the next level. Tales From the Bookcase finds the band telling a series of stories based upon Jones' favorite books. Very proggy indeed. In addition to Jones, the band features Andy Wilson on guitar, Mick Wilson on bass, Paul Comerie on drums, and Gary Marsh on keyboards.
Red Bazar combines some of the best aspects of 1970s prog, with a more contemporary sound. Musically, they remind me of Genesis in many ways, including Jones' vocals. At times, he really sounds like Peter Gabriel, particularly at the beginning of Calling on Her. The band often sounds like a fusion of progressive-era Genesis (i.e. through Wind and Wuthering), with Peter Gabriel's solo career. However, these are mere overtones. Red Bazar certainly creates its own sound, and Jones' voice is all its own, not a match of Gabriel's.
While the lyrics and vocals take center stage on Tales From the Bookcase, instrumentation is equally important. Wilson's guitar work is especially nice, ranging at times from a calmer, Floydian tone to a metallic one. There are several moments throughout where the heaviness of the guitars makes their music approach metal, but the band never fully embraces that sound. What results is truly unique, and it works really well.
The rest of the instrumentation on this album is solid, as many of us spoiled prog fans have come to expect from our favorite genre. I have found the bass to be particularly important for Red Bazar. Of course, the rhythm section in a band is always responsible for holding things together, but the bass plays a central role throughout this album. Mick Wilson does a fantastic job throughout, and he often mixes up his bass tone, which isn't all that common in most bands.
One cannot do a proper review of this album without discussing the lyrcis, for I believe they are central to the success of this record. In a way, Tales From the Bookcase is a concept album. The songs are not necessarily connected thematically, but they are all stories. Think of this album as a small bookcase of short stories; merely connected by the fact that they are next to each other on the shelf.
I'll leave the bulk of the lyrical exploration to you, but I do want to highlight City and the Stars. This song has some of the most thoughtful lyrics I've heard all year, mainly because it addresses many of the political and social issues the Western world has been dealing with in recent times. There is a lot going on in this song, and I pick up new things each time I hear it. The second verse is particularly brilliant:
"People get lost inside their virtual lives / In 5.1 high definition screens / While others give their all just to survive / Your avatar forgot what living means / Invaders cross our shores by our own leave / Our name, our culture slipping from our grasp..."
The band finishes the verse, "Somewhere our Jerusalem got blown away / Somewhere yesterday."
This song has continued to hit me in new ways each time I listen to it. Each verse is packed with incredible truth about the way we live. Red Bazar touch on what it means to be human, and they question the decisions our societies keeps making. They question the role of technology in our lives, both in our personal devices and in our weapons. It is remarkably thought-provoking for people of all political persuasions. I think one of the best parts of this song is the fact that they don't impress their own political agenda. Rather, they ask: "How did it ever get this far?" An excellent question.
The more I listen to Tales From the Bookcase, the better it gets. This is an album that deserves repeated listens. Musically, Red Bazar ranks with some of the top prog bands of today, and, lyrically, the band matches lyricists such as Neal Morse and Steven Wilson. In my view, this is a criminally underrated band and album worthy of your attention.