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Old 07-11-2009, 11:27 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default It Bites: An Anthill Discography Review



It Bites
(1982–1990) – (2006 - ???)
Progressive Pop/Rock





Overview:

The 1980’s, depending on who you asked, was either a great era in music or among the most obnoxious of epochs. For the most part, I am in the former camp; after all, New Wave and post-punk were on the rise, with bands like the Talking Heads, XTC, The Smiths and New Order leading the pack and whose influences would be felt for years afterward. Alternatively, groups such as Marillion and IQ were pioneering a brand of theatrical rock that drew extensively from mid-70’s Genesis in an attempt to bring so called “progressive” rock back into popularity and prominence with the radio-listening public, a genre dubbed “neo-prog” by both adherents and detractors alike. Finally on the more mainstream side of things, glam rock/metal had taken over airwaves and is what the 80’s are remembered for most musically as a result. Still, like any decade, there were groups out there who didn't really fit any of the existing categories that people were generally aware of.

This is one such group.

In 1982, four friends from Egremont in the U.K. (Dunnery, Beck, Dalton and Nolan) would meld their respective fascinations with all these different scenes of music to form a band that would appeal to many but not sound like anyone else in particular, drenching their progressive tendencies in a collective love of soul, funk, pop & alternative music, the combinations of which would both awe and alienate critics and fans alike in ensuing years, but wouldn’t stop them; in between 1982 and '86 they would go from barely making ends meet at working men club concerts to filling venues the size of Hammersmith Odeon on word-of-mouth alone. Catchy as hell, intelligent lyrically and harder rocking than anyone could have expected, this was a band that truly deserved more exposure in a time where half-baked synths and a nice label could get you gold status in half a week.

So then ladies and gents, I humbly introduce to you one of the more underrated and talented bands of the 1980’s: welcome to the awesome discography of It Bites!


Band Members:

(1982-1990)
Francis Dunnery - guitar, lead vocals
John Beck - keyboards, backing vocals
Bob Dalton - drums, backing vocals
Dick Nolan - bass, backing vocals


(2006-???)
John Mitchell - guitar, bass & lead vocals
John Beck - keyboards, bass & backing vocals
Bob Dalton - drums, backing vocals



Discography:

* The Big Lad in the Windmill - (1986)
* Once Around the World - (1988)
* Eat Me in St Louis - (1989)
* The Tall Ships - (2008)



Final Comments:

Four rather dynamic studio releases have been wrought by this group over the course of two decades, hence there will be four reviews posted here in this thread. I feel these guys are a bit too obscure for their own good, have an interesting sound and a good story behind them, so hence this thread will be an introduction thread of sorts for those wanting to get into It Bites or learn more about the band. I will also up any of their albums for those that request them.

So read, enjoy, and if you got anything to say you're all welcome to post what ya think.


If you want an up of any of the albums I review here, PM me.
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Last edited by Anteater; 07-14-2009 at 09:56 PM.
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Old 07-11-2009, 11:27 AM   #2 (permalink)
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It Bites - The Big Lad In The Windmill (1986)



Track Listing
1. I Got You Eating Out Of my Hand (6:07)
2. All In Red (3:32)
3. Whole New World (4:25)
4. Screaming On The Beaches (3:46)
5. Wanna Shout (3:13)
6. Turn Me Loose (4:12)
7. Cold, Tired And Hungry (4:17)
8. Calling All The Heroes (5:33)
9. You'll Never Go To Heaven (7:13)
10. The Big Lad In The Windmill (0:48)

And so we begin at this group's debut. Although it may seem like nothing special at first listen considering the fact that this is, for the most part, a straightforward 80’s pop album (with a few twists), The Big Lad In The Windmill showcases the traits which would make these guys standouts in the British underground rock scene for years to come; the layered polyphonic vocal interplay between the four band members, searing guitar leads/progression and occasionally ethereal keyboard work are all present here in spades, elements which the band would go on to hone and sharpen to near science in later releases, as well as a few hints of the more progressive structures that beat beneath the surface on longer tracks such as 'You’ll Never Go To Heaven' and 'Calling All The Heroes' (the latter which would become their biggest chart hit of all time for that year, even if it was the weakest track on the album).

But, while they may be mostly hiding some of their chops underneath shiny pop exteriors at this point, lead guitarist and vocalist Francis Dunnery’s unique voice and lyrical sense carry the majority of these songs quite well and hint at something less common than typical subject matter. Although much of it is up to interpretation, from what I can tell the lyrics here, ranging from such subjects as old age (All In Red), atheism (You’ll Never Go To Heaven), WWII (Screaming On The Beaches), and abandonment and infidelity (Whole New World), are but a taste of the ideas that went into the songwriting here, and it shows Dunnery to be more competent than others might have expected from a guy who wasn't even 25 years old.

Still, the hard rock and occassional edginess contrasted with the pop sensibilities to a degree most music critics weren't comfortable with at the time, and as a result this and some of It Bites later albums would get trashed by many critics. It was too complex for most radio listeners, but too simple (or just odd) for the majority of those who were not – it was this conundrum which could either catapult them into being among the biggest cult bands of all time or delegate them to the lowest degree of obscurity possible, but at this point only time would tell which way the dice would roll.

Anyway, on the production side of things, don’t let the 80’s New Wave-ish pop sheen dissuade you from checking this out; these guys are technically at the top of their game, and Virgin Records did pretty good here in emphasizing that fact, with the guitar, keyboard and drums all very high in the mix. The vocals could be a bit louder, but that’s just nitpicking on an otherwise tight sounding record.

Judging this album isn’t an easy task really. For a pop album it has aged pretty well despite the obvious, and instrumentally its miles above and away much better than the majority of pop-rock albums that were being released back in the latter half of the 80’s..which is saying quite a bit right there. The occasionally quirky lyrical delivery is a nice touch also.

Hence, even if some of you despise music with leanings toward a commercial sensibility with lots of hard rock oomphies, I’d recommend to give this a try regardless. Along with their sophomore masterpiece Once Around The World, this isn't a bad place to begin one's musical start when it comes to It Bites.

Album Verdict: 4.8/7


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Last edited by Anteater; 07-14-2009 at 11:44 PM.
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Old 07-11-2009, 11:45 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Didn't do much for me, but good review nonetheless.
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Old 07-11-2009, 01:42 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Calling All The Heroes was everywhere when it came out it was awful then let alone now but big up for reviewing such an album.
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Old 07-14-2009, 09:43 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jackhammer View Post
Calling All The Heroes was everywhere when it came out it was awful then let alone now but big up for reviewing such an album.
Thanks! I also think Calling All The Heroes was pretty weaksauce, both as a song and the sort of picture it painted of the band. Funny that they would choose the weakest song on the album as a single, but thats Virgin Records for you...

Anyway...
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Old 07-14-2009, 09:43 PM   #6 (permalink)
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It Bites – Once Around The World (1988)



Track Listing
1. Midnight (4:04)
2. Kiss Like Judas (4:08)
3. Yellow Christian (6:29)
4. Rose Marie (3:33)
5. Black December (3:50)
6. Old Man and the Angel (9:21)
7. Hunting the Whale (4:46)
8. Plastic Dreamer (3:53)
9. Once Around the World (14:46)

What a difference two years playing shows non-stop, some experimental ideas and a willingness to take a few risks does for a band! It is here on Once Around The World, produced by famed space rock pioneer Steve Hillage of Gong, where the rudimentary pop sensibilities from Big Lad... begin to diversify and meld fantastically with the progressive tendencies that It Bites are no longer afraid of hiding. It bombed commercially and went over the heads of most critics, but that's all part of the fun in writing about it now!

So, to start with, there's quite a bit to like here for both the casual and more serious listener. Hard-hitter ‘Midnight’ and the oddly spacious 'Black December' retain the straightforwardness that marked their debut approach, but once we get to ‘Yellow Christian’ you'll notice a clear development in how Dunnery and co. are approaching song structure while still flourishing in vibrant guitar-driven hooks, resulting in one hella awesome ballad. “Hunting the Whale”, too, is definitely better than anything these guys did before, along with possessing one hell of a bridge. All of this, however, pales to the well-edged knottinness of 'Rose Marie', a hard rocking marvel which is pure pop-prog perfection for three minutes and 34 seconds:



Moving along though, the compositional merits and intricacies of the two longest cuts here, ‘Old Man & the Angel’ and the title track are absolutely magnificent, and in some ways define everything It Bites had originally aspired to become at their formation back in 1982: progressive rock in the vein of Genesis melded with not-quite Queen power-pop theatrics, tightened & topped with a sharp rock n' roll sensibility while playing together with the sort of chemistry you’d expect from bands more at home in jazz clubs. One listen through the extremely rocking ‘Rose Marie’ or the second half of ‘Yellow Christian’ will convince you if you don’t believe me, and their live performances are even better!

In any case, I suppose what I’m getting at is that although some of their debut material’s questionable at best (AKA ‘Calling All The Heroes’, 'Wanna Shout'), it’s a sophomore album like this that illustrates a common truth in bands; even if the debut isn’t that great or a mixed bag, if a group can learn from the experience and hone their sound well enough then the ensuing sophomore album will, more often than not, definitely showcase that band’s strengths at their creative peak, and Once Around The World is a textbook example. The title track alone is a measuring stick at just how big a difference twenty months can make!

So, even if this isn't your cup of tea, quit putting New Order, The Church, The Smiths, etc. on pedestals and wake up; we have entire magazines and a thousandfold reviews devoted to glorifying all of those classic works already. What we have here on the other hand is a bit different from the usual fare, an album that does successfully in one release what a hundred other bands since the mid 80’s have tried to do but failed miserably at for the most part: make progressive rock interesting and relevant to people who couldn’t give a shit otherwise, and with a few exceptions I have yet to hear too much that comes as close to that particular ideal.

Despite some of its moments of cheese, this is one of my favorite albums of all time and THE essential release from this band. Get it even if you don’t get anything else by these folks, and that’s an order!

Album Verdict: 6.6/7

Here's some killer live renditions from this album to put my review into perspective a bit.


__________________
My Top 30 Albums of 2018
Quote:
Originally Posted by Frownland
You can't blame the Jews for everything...just most things.
Quote:
Originally Posted by OccultHawk
Trump might be the best thing since free jazz.

Last edited by Anteater; 11-19-2009 at 08:38 AM.
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