Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986, which now shifts to the releases I didn’t discover until after 1986]
Artist: IT BITES
Album: THE BIG LAD IN THE WINDMILL
As I previously mentioned in my GTR post, the 1980’s were a difficult time to be a fan of progressive rock, with the greats of the previous decade moving in a more mainstream direction and apparently very few new artists coming along to wave the prog-rock flag. For those of us with open minds (and open ears), however, there was plenty of new prog to enjoy. We just had to search harder to find it. One such artist was the UK-based It Bites. Although their debut album, The Big Lad In The Windmill, was released in 1986, I didn’t become aware of them until 1989 when a co-worker recommended them based on my desire to discover current progressive artists. This was years before the internet, of course, so British music magazines like Q were my go-to source for new music, and bands like It Bites didn’t always make the pages of those publications. With a synth-drenched sonic landscape aiming for the pop charts, they initially sound like any number of bands from that era, but on closer inspection the songs reveal complex arrangements and incredible musicianship courtesy of lead vocalist/guitarist Francis Dunnery, keyboardist John Beck, bassist Dick Nolan and drummer Bob Dalton. The album managed to crack into the UK Top 40, and one single reached #6, but they were probably too slick for prog fans and too complex for pop fans.
The repeated riff in “I Got You Eating Out Of My Hand” reminds me of Styx’s “Borrowed Time.” I would think fans of American prog bands like Styx and Kansas, who are occasionally derided as “pomp rock,” would also enjoy It Bites. The aforementioned hit single, “Calling All The Heroes,” begins with a synth-horn fanfare before shifting to a programmed rhythm and an incredibly catchy chorus. Previous single “All In Red” has a slower tempo and could easily have been a hit, although the shifts between synth ballad and crunchy guitars might have been too jarring for many listeners. Both “Cold, Tired And Hungry” and “You’ll Never Go To Heaven” are the most distinctive, and prog-friendly, songs here. The latter especially, with its 7+ minute running time, atmospheric arrangement and inspired track-closing 2-minute guitar solo, will impress anyone with a love of melody & musicality. “Turn Me Loose” and “Whole New World” are infectious pop/rock songs that would have fit nicely next to artists like Nick Kershaw, Howard Jones, Level 42 and other ‘80s UK icons. “Screaming On The Beaches” is another standout track, with its subtle rhythmic shifts, heavy synth solo and Dunnery’s snarling…and distinctly British…lead vocal performance. The band carried on for two more excellent albums before disbanding at the dawn of the ‘90s. Dunnery went on to an incredible (and incredibly diverse) solo career, and has worked with numerous well-known artists, including a brief but memorable stint with Robert Plant. Beck & Dalton resurrected It Bites with new vocalist/guitarist John Mitchell nearly 20 years later (after the three initially formed the one-and-done Kino in 2004). As good as they’ve been apart, the work they created together over a few short years is what I come back to most frequently, and it’s stood the test of time. Sure, the production choices might scare off a few listeners but it’s all about the songs and performances for me.