CD REVIEW – THE TALL SHIPS/MAP OF THE PAST – by IT BITES

by Aaron Gidney

Finally, 2021 sees the release/remaster/reissue of these two fine albums – often overlooked as part of the Art-Rockers canon. Arena/Frost* guitar hero, John Mitchell ably picked up the reins left by It Bites Mainman, Francis Dunnery following his departure after releasing third album, ‘Eat Me in St Louis’ in 1989 and then going on hiatus from 1990-2005. The band regrouped in 2006, minus Dunnery and embarked on a tour/live album and 2008 saw the release of The Tall Ships, the band’s fourth album and first without Dunnery.

The Tall Ships reintroduces the It Bites sound to a new audience and feels like a more, dare I say, ‘mature’ and modern sound, whilst retaining the hallmarks of the It Bites sound. The multi-layered and harmonised vocals being the key ingredient here. John Mitchell does a fantastic job of not only replacing Dunnery, but adding his own distinct ‘Mitchell’ sound for those of you familiar with his work. Whilst Dunnery had a great pop voice and was quite a virtuoso guitarist at times, John’s vocals have a well-known hint of the Gabriel huskiness and maturity/purity that blends perfectly with the modern sound. The guitars feel beefy and are at the forefront of the mixes – something I felt was sometimes missing from earlier It Bites material. Gone are the ’80’s cheesy synths (yes, I realise they were of their time) and there’s a bigger emphasis on Mitchell’s guitars and more modern Prog-synths which has hopefully opened them up to a bigger audience. The essence of It Bites is still there despite Dunnery’s obvious absence. Tracks like ‘Oh My God’ and ‘Great Disasters’ still sound like the familiar It Bites we all remember.

2012’s ‘Map of the Past’ continues the good form, albeit it does feel like a slightly more subdued, laid back affair in comparison (nothing wrong with that though). The album is built around themes of the past seen via old family photographs. It’s a much more reflective album, understandably so with some flashes of brilliance – the first seconds of the intro of Flag is straight out of the Dream Theater songbook and injects some much need urgency into proceedings. The album is a natural continuation of the musical journey restarted with The Tall Ships. Mitchell’s pensive vocals are a real highlight of the album and the intensity of the emotions trying to be conveyed really come across well in the quieter moments.

It’s a shame they haven’t continued to build on the momentum since 2012 – hopefully we are due a reunion or another album soon!

It should be stated that kudos should be given to John Mitchell for not just filling the shoes of Dunnery but for taking the band into the 21st Century to a new audience who may have missed them the first time round. It’s certainly a different kind of It Bites but one that was most certainly needed!

Tracks:

The Tall Ships (2008)

  1. “Oh My God” (5:49)
  2. “Ghosts” (4:47)
  3. “Playground” (5:34)
  4. “Memory of Water” (4:51)
  5. “The Tall Ships” (6:19)
  6. “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” (8:14)
  7. “Great Disasters” (5:01)
  8. “Fahrenheit” (5:18)
  9. “For Safekeeping” (5:29)
  10. “Lights” (4:56)
  11. “This is England” (13:51)
  12. “These Words” (6:03) 
  13. “When I Fall” (4:41) 

Line-up:

John Mitchell – Vocals, Guitar, Bass
John Beck – Keyboards, Backing Vocals, Bass
Bob Dalton – Drums

Map of the Past (2012)

  1. “Man in the Photograph” (3:44)
  2. “Wallflower” (4:51)
  3. “Map of the Past” (4:37)
  4. “Clocks” (5:43)
  5. “Flag” (4:38)
  6. “The Big Machine” (5:18)
  7. “Cartoon Graveyard” (5:03)
  8. “Send No Flowers” (4:15)
  9. “Meadow and the Stream” (6:42)
  10. “The Last Escape” (6:07)
  11. “Exit Song” (1:43)
  12. “Come On” (5:10)

Line-up:

John Mitchell – Vocals, Guitar
John Beck – Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Bob Dalton – Drums Lee Pomeroy – Bass

Online: https://www.insideoutmusic.com/artists/it-bites/

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