Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate has been building a very positive reputation for itself over the last ten years or so. Over the six albums since 2012 the band has woven together a reputation for intelligent, literate, imaginative, artful music created with warm and empathic philosophical outlooks and positivity. The Confidence Trick again grasps that nettle with a firm hand and introduces the listener to something they might not have considered before.
The overall theme of The Confidence Trick is of our cognitive errors, particularly overconfidence, and our repeated failure to learn from history. Each track explores a facet of that, sometimes challenging your own thoughts and actions. The opener, Silence Is A Statement, suggests that keeping quiet about something which is palpably wrong is very dangerous. Not to speak out about oppression of any kind is erroneous. There’s the haunting spectre of complicity to be negotiated is the implication. Malcolm Galloway, the band’s frontman, states that; “Overconfidence can be divided into two broad concepts – excessive certainty and excessively positive views of ourselves and our favoured groups. Both kinds of overconfidence can be dangerous. Leaders may start wars erroneously certain of rapid victory. The company director may risk the livelihoods of their staff and creditors to make risky debt-laden acquisitions, excessively certain of their outstanding performance…”
On this release the band consists of Malcolm Galloway on vocals, lead guitar, keyboards, synthesisers and programming along with Mark Gatland performing on bass guitar, additional guitars, keyboards, synthesisers, Chapman Stick and backing vocals together with Kathryn Thomas on flute and backing vocals. (Previous outings have seen the band expanding on this line-up, but not on this occasion). The band seems to realise that what they are presenting could quickly become pretentious or too high-brow and manage to prick this potential balloon before it inflates too far. There’s a touch of irony in the lyrics that grounds the songs somewhat. There’s an incongruous irony in saying that silence is a statement, for example.
Intelligence is often a stark reality of this album, in a good way. Unlike the utterings in some lyrics you may come across during your prog listenings, there’s nothing fanciful here, no wishy-washy half-thought ramblings. Malcolm is a retired neuropathologist who had to select a different path after a joint-related collagen disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome brought an end to his medical career. That must have been a blow, but such intelligence seems to underpin much of this album. Malcolm explains his thinking behind the album; “I was a diagnostic neuropathologist and a medical school teacher. One of my areas of interest was in how doctors learn to make diagnoses, and how they might improve. I taught about how overconfidence and excessive certainty can be important causes of misdiagnosis, and how we might challenge this. As I explored this issue in my professional work, it became increasingly clear to me that this is a problem more widely in society, with potentially horrific consequences.”
All the tracks have intriguing meanings. Back Where I Started is about someone who has a time machine but each time it is used the protagonist manages to make something worse, End Of The Line deals with the philosophical issue of a society that cannot raise existential issues without fear of conflict, while Perky Pat is an instrumental tune inspired by a book by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. World War Terminus takes on another Philip K Dick influence, this time dealing with something more Blade Runner-ish. Pretending To Breathe is an interlude-type instrumental while Another Plague is an allegory relating to how we dehumanise those that seem different. Refuge is an instrumental inspired by his great grandmother’s escape from antisemitism and the Nazi Holocaust. Interlude is just that, while The Confidence Trick sinks its teeth into the trickiness of over-confidence. Lava Lamprey is a jazzy instrumental that represents the transition from The Confidence Trick, which is about dictatorial people taking power, leading to All Empires Fall, which relates to the impermanence of even the most seemingly untouchable leader. Cygnus was the code-name for a 2016 UK viral pandemic preparedness exercise. Cygnus, as any twitcher would know, is Latin for swan, and was used as a reference to a fictional bird-flu transmitted by swans. This song is dedicated to all the health, social care, and other front-line workers who lost their lives while caring for others during the COVID pandemic.
Instead of being a rather turgid, languorous listen The Confidence Trick is quite an eclectic one. The band employs whatever sounds or style suit the song. Besides various flavours of rock, you’ll notice jazzier elements, ambient, and more than a modicum of minimalism. If anything, the music is understated rather than grandiose. Whatever the chosen style, the tracks always remain melodic. Once in a while you might be reminded of Pink Floyd, for example on The Confidence Trick, or the keyboard sounds might draw comparisons with Tony Banks or Keith Emerson. There’s a touch of Tangerine Dream and Marillion too. Malcolms singing style is confident (but, hopefully, not overly so given the subject matter!), often slipping into a near spoken quality. The standard of musicianship is high from both Malcolm and Mark, while Kathryn’s flute work brings a lighter tone at times, but there are points when her sound becomes unworldly rather than ethereal. Her voice introduces a fresh distinctive element to some of the songs too.
Mention should be made of the booklet. The artwork, created by Malcolm and Mark, is quite beautiful and stunning, and excellently matches up with the meanings and atmospheres of the songs. There are contributions from others, not least The Conjurer by Hieronymous Bosch which adorns page three. The artwork adds to the feel of the work overall.
This is a first-rate release by Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate. In spite of the gravity of its meaning the band have handled it with a light touch. It probably would have been a mistake to be to pompous or grandiose. It is not a difficult album to listen too, quite the reverse actually, but the listener might find their thoughts and actions challenged. It is a thought provoking album. “We all might be better off if we sometimes paused to ask ourselves, ‘why might I be wrong?’” Malcolm concludes.
1. Silence Is a Statement
2. Back Where I Started
3. End of the Line
4. Perky Pat
5. World War Terminus
6. Pretending to Breathe
7. Another Plague
10. The Confidence Trick
11. Lava Lamprey
12. All Empires Fall
Malcolm Galloway – vocals, lead guitar, keyboards, synths, programming
Mark Gatland – bass, slide guitars, keyboards, synths, Chapman Stick, backing vocals (1-12)
Kathryn Thomas – flute & backing vocals (2,3,8,12)
Release date: 15th July, 2022
Label: Glass Castle Recordings
Formats: CD and digital