IQ

Subterranea

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Released in September 1997, Subterranea was quickly hailed by most progressive rock critics as a masterpiece and became one of the very few "classic" albums this style brought forth in 1990s. The two-CD, 103-minute concept album is indeed IQ's strongest effort and would even eclipse The Wake, if it weren't for the historical significance of the 1985 LP. An obscure story of subterranean beings, life-and-death chase, and initiatory quest packed with metaphorical implications, Subterranea, as a concept, is typical Peter Nicholls; all lyrics remain vague, only suggesting emotions and bits of plot, but to phenomenal results. The easy comparison would be Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and, yes, there is something of that in here, but the meaning of this album is even more cryptic. The music is rooted in IQ's neo-prog past: rather simple songs, driven by Martin Orford's keyboards and Peter Nicholls' theatrical and emotion-packed vocals, dressed in progressive rock grandeur without the flashy chops, and -- most of all -- very strong melodies. This monster of an album takes some time to get used to. After the first listen, one is left puzzled and uncertain, but once some of the melodies have had a chance to implement themselves in one's brain, Subterranea quickly becomes a "desert island" disc. Highlights include the rocking title track and "Tunnel Vision," the pompous "Failsafe," the heartbreaking ballad "Capricorn" (embellished by the saxophone of guest Tony Wright), and the short "State of Mind" and "Laid Low." The first of these two ends the first disc, while the second opens disc two, thereby presenting the "positive" and "negative" sides of the same melody -- a very clever way to link the two parts of the album as two "acts." The only weak track of the set is the 20-minute epic "The Narrow Margin." Coming at the end, it is simply too hard to digest, and it seems to lose its cohesion somewhere in the middle. Nevertheless, Subterranea is IQ's biggest musical accomplishment and will get under the skin of any prog fan. A live version of the album was released in 2000 under the title Subterranea: The Concert.

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