“Roll up for Circu5...the entrance fee is your mind”
1) Coming Home
2) My Degenerate Mind
4) Days Erased
6) Blame It On Me
7) The Amazing Monstrous Grady
8) The Chosen One
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Often the phrase ‘takes multiple listens to get into...’ when used in the context of an album review is just a more polite way for the reviewer to say ‘this album isn’t very good, but if you listen to it enough times you might get used to it’.
This, however, is certainly not the case for ‘Circu5’, the debut solo release by British multi-instrumentalist Steve Tilling. Whilst one must indeed listen to the album a few times before you can truly ‘get into it’, in this case it is simply in order to appreciate the depth of the music and concept which Tilling has devised.
Described as ‘edgy rock with a progressive twist’, ‘Circu5’ tells the story of a child raised as a psychopath in a government facility, with everything from the morbid scene of the choosing of a particular child on which this experiment shall be performed, to the child’s reflections on their past as an adult, being depicted within the twelve tracks we find here.
Obviously a versatile musician, Tilling handles the majority of vocal, instrumental and production duties himself. As a listener we can certainly assume that one of his primary influences is early Genesis (although his vocals are less like Peter Gabriel’s and more like Ray Wilson’s, who sang with the seminal prog band on their latest and reportedly final album in 1997). There are hints of Foo Fighters too, particularly within the drumming, whilst some of the heavier moments on the album might appeal to fans of King Crimson or IQ.
In terms of the tracks themselves, the standouts are surely ‘My Degenerate Mind’ and ‘Blame It On Me’, the former of which creeps its way from an eerie opening to a snarling hook, and the latter achieving the ever-difficult feat of nestling a catchy chorus within a seriously high-concept song. Honourable mentions must also go to the ‘The Chosen One’ (the triumphant five-part epic that closes the album), as well as the intricate ‘Coming Home’, and the almost Rammstein-esque ‘Days Erased’. The lyrics- obviously a crucial part of the album’s concept- follow in similar veins (Genesis, Rammstein etc.) in terms of inspirations, and are often violently poetic; ‘Thrown out to sea, I cannot swim to the shore/a broken shell with stretching fingers of gore’ and ‘one of the days the stars won’t shine/so take this world and make it mine’ are highlights, from ‘The Amazing Monstrous Grady’ and ‘Stars’ respectively.
It is, however, as a whole package that the album is best taken rather than specific tracks- an idea emphasised by the accompanying artwork and design that really brings the whole thing together. Whilst the idea of concept art (and indeed, the concept album) is not new by any stretch of the imagination, the way Tilling’s ideas are presented- shadowy photographs, a picture of the artist as a barcode, text marking out certain points in the storyline- help cement the sinister, ominous ideas laid down in the music.
Little additions like a ‘secret’ document concealed within the CD cover are nice touches, and not only show the immense amount of thought and effort that has gone into the package as a whole, but also make a nice treat for those listeners who, as Tilling puts it himself, like to ‘dig deeper’.
On reflection, ‘Circu5’ is an album that has an enormous amount of appeal to fans of a wide range of music, a point surely proven by the guest appearances from the likes of Dave Gregory (XTC), Phil Spalding (Mike Oldfield), Matt Backer (Julian Lennon) and Johnny Warman (Peter Gabriel), to name a few. It is not only extraordinary to listen to, but also more than does the job of immersing the listener in the dark, twisted, and at times disturbing world it aims to create.
Photography credit: Lou Young for Dommett Young Photography
For more information on Circu5, a free track, and to purchase the full album visit: www.circu5.com
You can see Steve Tilling play live later this year at Swindon Arts Centre, as guitarist for TC&I (the recent pairing of ex-XTC members Colin Moulding and Terry Chambers). More details here: https://swindontheatres.co.uk/Online/tickets-tcandi-swindon-2018#BookTicketsa