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Thread: Cosmograf - The Man Left In Space

  1. #1
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    Cosmograf - The Man Left In Space

    In 2011 I discovered an album called When Age Has Done Its Duty by Cosmograf. I’d never heard of the album, the band or, indeed, the musician/writer behind the project, a guy named Robin Armstrong. The album became a firm favourite of mine; a mixture of old and modern rock and prog sounds and ideas all tied together very effectively through a linked storyline about memory and the ageing process.

    Two years later, Cosmograf has released a new work entitled The Man Left In Space. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it’s another concept piece, although slightly more byzantine in that it uses the theme of a failed space mission as the backdrop for posing some interesting questions regarding ambition, over-achievement, isolation and futility. All very heady stuff. ……but don’t worry because the music is, quite literally, out of this world!

    The album begins with a spoken prologue with our stricken astronaut, Sam, pondering how and why he arrived at his fateful situation, "how did I get here, who decreed this plan, if I dare to be a winner, will I be a better man?” We’re also introduced to the rather seductive voice of Sam’s on-board computer as Sam’s words are logged and stored. Track two, Aspire, Achieve, begins with a delicate and laid back acoustic melody where our hero expands on the theme of what brought him to be the man he became, “ambition brought me here, a winner in my field, dare to be a dreamer, find your fate is sealed, hidden truths revealed.” The quite unexpected introduction of a heavy riff (and what a riff it is, too) that kicks out of the speakers lets us know, in no uncertain terms, that this is going to be a bumpy ride! Armstrong delivers some fine guitar work here that really sets the stall out for what is to come on this journey into the unknown.

    Next up is The Good Earth Behind Me, as the mission blasts off. Armstrong’s tastefully evocative guitar underpins and then breaks free from a reading of John Gillespie Magee’s poem, High Flight, “Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth – put out my hand and touched the Face of God”, - well known to most air force pilots and read by Tom O’Bedlam, who also featured on the When Age Has Done Its Duty album. The song reaches a celebratory, almost anthemic, finale featuring synthesizer and guitar as Sam’s craft reaches for the heavens. The other worldly atmosphere of flight through space is depicted next on The Vacuum That I Fly Through, a tastefully constructed instrumental through which Matt Stevens’ guitar work helps to deliver a moody and illustrative soundscape backed by the tumbling bass of Greg Spawton (of Big Big Train) and solid drumming of Nick D’Virgilio (just about everyone). Great stuff!

    As that lovely computer drags Sam into his “mandatory sleep period”, This Naked Endeavour lets us into Sam’s dream world where President Nixon speaks to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on their historic moon-landing mission. Words of promise not lost on the creator of this album, I think, “it inspires us to double our efforts to bring peace and tranquillity to earth”. I’m not sure what happened there, then. Armstrong (Robin, this time) sings of that hope as the song ends with that quote, “to touch the face of God”. Disconnect takes us to the failure of the mission as Sam and his craft are forsaken and sacrificed to their fate, with Sam left to live out his remaining time in an environment that seems to offer comfort but no solace and certainly no hope. As Sam begins to withdraw from reality the desperation is conveyed through the screaming guitar of Luke Machin as he delivers two scorching solos between the verses of our broken astronaut. The lingering ennui of Sam’s space-bound decline is underlined in Beautiful Treadmill with the mind numbing existence played out through daily exercise, where there’s no need to think or be engaged. This track revolves around a great rocky tune where Armstrong, Lee Abraham and Nick D’Virgilio have great fun pounding out a slice of good old rock! This track has also given me a relentless earworm moment – my wife keeps asking what that bloody treadmill is that I’m always singing about! Thanks, Robin!

    The closing two tracks are both nine minutes plus and provide a fabulous ending to the album. Title track, The Man Left In Space, sees Sam reflecting his fate, “making the grade is easy to do, but ambition fades right in front of you”; comparing his life to those who chose a different path, “it started at school, they tested your mind, you failed to ignite, you got left behind”. The quote about making the grade is, I think, a direct reference to Bowie’s Space Oddity, we even get a stylophone on this song! This is a fabulous song with Anderson again proving himself adept as an instrumentalist – very Gilmour on the guitar! So we reach the end with When The Air Runs Out, as Sam runs out of air. Sam’s computer demands “resolution” as the alarm whoops and the band kicks in with a heavy refrain – we know there’s no saving our hero now. The names of other high achievers who have suffered for their ambition are narrated in the background as both synthesizer and guitar play out the last throes of life. There’s a little twist at the very end of the track as Robert Ramsay (of Tinyfish fame) plays the part of a radio announcer …….but I won’t divulge any of that here!

    The Man Left In Space is, for me, a brilliant piece of modern rock/prog, or whatever you choose to call it! It’s a collection of well thought out and constructed songs that flow quite marvellously as a musical storyboard. The playing throughout is top class with Armstrong proving that he is a very talented multi-instrumentalist. The musicians that guest on the album all put in stellar performances, underlining their commitment to the project. What Armstrong has done brilliantly, though, is choose the right player for the right role. When he needed atmospheric, mood setting guitar he used Matt Stevens; for a more raw emotional feel he used Luke Machin. When a heavier backing was required on Beautiful Treadmill it was Lee Abrahams bass that got the call. It must be stated, however, that some of the most effective work on display here is when Armstrong provides most of the music himself, as with Aspire, Achieve, when just Steve Dunn is used on bass with Armstrong providing everything else and The Man Left In Space with Armstrong and D’Virgilio only. Whilst realising that opinion is a very personal thing I have to say I’m bowled over by this album and can’t recommend it highly enough.

  2. #2
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    Cannot wait to hear this one. When Age Has Done Its Futy has been one of my faves rom the last five years. If this one is even half as good, I'll be quite satisfied.

  3. #3
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    I love "When Age has Done Its Duty", a fine concept album.

    Looking forward to the new one.

  4. #4
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    I reckon this one is better than WAHDID ........ it really is that good!

  5. #5
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    Very good and thorough review Imperial. You're right it is a really fine album

  6. #6
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    A quick apology, if I may. In my haste to tell the world about my regard for The Man Left In Space I made the error of attributing the guitar work on track three - The Good Earth Behind Me, to Robin Armstrong. The guitar work is actually by Simon Rogers (of Also Eden), who also co-wrote the song. Simon Rogers also played guitar and co-wrote On Which we Stand, a fine track on the previous Cosmograf album, When Age Has Done Its Duty.

    Two excellent albums.

  7. #7
    Was a pleasure to play on this excellent album and Robin is a top bloke

  8. #8
    Progstreaming-webmaster Sunhillow's Avatar
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    This album is now at Progstreaming, for those curious.

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