Some debut albums hit high on production and musicianship values and yet feel somewhat empty. Tadj Mahall Gates is one of those. Beautifully recorded and featuring lush arrangements that go beyond the standard rock quintet to include oboe, trumpet, and Celtic harp, it remains a bit weak in the songwriting department. Lyrics have a tendency to fall flat and half of the songs fail to leave a memorable imprint. The tracks that do work out are truly worthwhile, though, like the title track, the glorious "Nightmare," "Autumn," and "Carelessness Song," all progressive rock anthems that synthesize the music of the genre's historical figures. Genesis, King Crimson (Lizard/Islands era), and Camel seem to have provided the main influences. Lionel Giardina sings in a refreshing non-theatrical style (rare for French prog rock), relying on a cast of backup singers to ornate his limited range. Frédéric Woff's arrangements are truly wonderful, especially when it comes to keyboards. His use of vintage Hammond organ and Mellotron never comes through as nostalgia-induced. When Aside Beside hits a low, it takes the form of a ballad or more straightforward piece (like "Ghost of Love," "Christmas Time," or "Loneliness"). With stronger melodies and more remarkable words, these could have brought tasteful contrast to the symphonic songs, but they only manage to sound like filler material. Tadj Mahall Gates contains a few really stunning prog rock pieces and fills up the remainder of its hour length with great production. If that's enough for you, check it out.
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AllMusic Review by François Couture