IQ - Subterranea

Year of Release: 1997
Label: Giant Electric Pea
Catalog Number: GEPCD 1021
Format: CD
Total Time: 102:31:00

I have tried to review IQ's Subterranea on a number of occasions for the past couple of issues, but it has been tough to write. I feel somewhat guilty about this, because I have liked IQ in the past and so much wanted to like this album. In some ways, I wonder if I am not somehow missing something about this album, some keen insight that will make it all click, that Aha! moment when I realize that maybe it is a work of art.

Meanwhile, I found instead that my interest waned before the end of the first disk, and I haven't quite figured out why. It's certainly not a "selling point" to tell you that I fell asleep the first time I tried to review it. Sure, it's an album you want to just listen to (having listened to it once, lyrics in hand), but after a while, there isn't enough musical diversity to hold one's attention.

However, Subterranea opens with a bright, energetic, dramatic overture - such is the nature of overtures - promising something epic. That should clue you in that Subterranea is a concept album, that being the trend in 1997-1998. The difficulty here is not in the music so much, as it is lushly composed and well played and it contains some variety of textures. Unfortunately, not nearly enough, where everything tends to blur together, that everything is played at one plodding pace.

Where I think Subterranea also falls short is in the concept, ironic given the wide scope. If I read it right, what have here is the story of one man who has lost his job, thus becoming homeless and disconnected. Perhaps so disconnected that the struggle to survive becomes an epic battle between good and evil - where he is both. And yet, is that where he ends up by the end of disc two?

A reviewer shouldn't question their assessment - though if I said its a retelling of Alice In Wonderland, perhaps some self examination would be necessary. Anyway, by the time you get to the second disk, that whole idea seems too much a literal reading of just the first few tracks. And maybe it's not just one person, but vignettes of a group, which would fit in with the wider concept of subterranea - those living beneath the surface of life, the forgotten, neglected, ignored.

However, the Alice comment isn't so farfetched for only one single reason - between tracks 2 and 3, there is clearly the sound of a manhole cover sliding open (presumably open) and we are in Subterranea - but, are we going up to Subterranea (a contradiction) or down? And why down, if down? Is this a "manhole" in the sky? Are their religious overtones? A fallen angel? Didn't Alice go down a rabbit hole?

Alright, but never mind the Alice analogy. Why I think Subterranea falls short is that takes too long to get there - the entire album is over 100 minutes. Certainly, progressive music allows for extended timings, and the length of time it takes to say what needs to be said is the the length of time it takes to say what needs to be said. However, it also true that often what is said is more than needs to be said and a track is overlong to allow such things as a guitar solo, keyboard solo, that favoured bit of interplay that doesn't quite make sense in the context of things. [Or perhaps an overlong sentence to illustrate the point? - ed.]

There are some nice moments; I find I do like "Speak My Name" - a track that, taken on it's own, might seem out of place, but as a part of a whole takes on resonance later in the album, with "Capricorn." Where in the former his sole point of solace is hearing the voice of a loved one - girlfriend or wife, presumably - speaking his name, his last tie to reality and sanity. But, by disc two's "Capricorn" this voice becomes part of his psychosis. There isn't any explanation as to why this is only a voice and not an actual presence, leaving things open to conjecture.

As I said, the music itself is good and I want to like this album, as I've liked IQ in the past. Perhaps with further listening I will, I will find that connection that makes everything click into place. The promise in that is that I've grown a little more fond of the album in writing this review.

It's worth tracking down, however, for this reason: Length considerations aside, this isn't a bad album by any means. It some ways, its challenging. It doesn't reveal itself in one listen, requiring repeated playing. If you are new to IQ, I wouldn't start with this, but with their earlier albums (Ever is a good place to start for where IQ are now).

Disc One - Overture (4:38) / Provider (1:36) / Subterranea (5:53) / Sleepless Incidental (6:23) / Failsafe (8:57) / Speak My Name (3:34) / Tunnel Vision (7:24) / Infernal Chorus (5:09) / King of Fools (2:02) / The Sense of Sanity (4:47) / State of Mine (1:59)

Disc Two - Laid Low (1:29) / Breathtaker (6:04) / Capricorn (5:16) / The Other Side (2:22) / Unsolid Ground (5:04) / Somewhere In Time (7:11) / High Waters (2:43) / The Narrow Margin (20:00)

Peter Nicholls - lead vocals, backing vocals
Mike Holmes - guitar, guitar synth
John Jowitt - bass, backing vocals
Martin Orford - keyboards, backing vocals
Paul Cook - drums, percussion


Tony Wright - saxophone

Tales From The Lush Attic (1983)
The Wake (1985)
Nine In A Pond Is Here (1985)
Living Proof (1986)
Nomzamo (1987)
Are You Sitting Comfortably? (1989)
J'ai Pollette D'arnu (1991)
Ever (1994)
Forever Live (1996)
Subterranea (1997)
Seven Stories Into 98 (1998)
The Lost Attic (1998)
Subterranea: The Concert (2000)
The Seventh House (2001)
The Archive Collection - IQ20 (2003)
Dark Matter (2004)
Frequency Tour CD 1 (2008)
Frequency Tour CD 2 (2008)
Frequency (2009)
The Wake: Live At De Boerderij (2010)
The Wake (Deluxe Edition) (2010)
Re:Mixed (2011)
The Archive Collection - IQ30 (2012)
Tales From The Lush Attic 2013 Remix (2013)
The Road Of Bones (2014)
Live On The Road Of Bones (2016)

Subterranea: The Concert Video (VHS) (2000)
Subterranea: The Concert DVD (DVD) (2002)
IQ20 - The Twentieth Anniversary Show (DVD) (2004)
Live From London (DVD) (2005)
Stage (DVD) (2006)
Forever Live (DVD) (2007)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: April 10th 1999
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1771
Language: english


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