Hot on the heels of an ambitious debut, instead of resting comfortably on this achievement IQ carved out their own identity on their second record, "The Wake". Everything is updated: the production values are improved; Peter Nicholls sounds more assured as a singer; Mike Holmes guitar is so much richer; the variety of sounds from the keyboard is better. This was a real step forward, in terms of musicianship, songwriting, and production. Everything just seems to have that bit more depth, and maturity.
"The Wake" features three absolute IQ classics, in the form of "Outer Limits", "The Magic Roundabout" and "Headlong" (Some people would say "Widow's Peak" too, but I would place that slightly below these three).
All three of these songs progress really well and contain a lot of dramatic and memorable passages. "Outer Limits" starts the album off with some ominous pounding bass before exploding into life with a very appealing and energetic 5/4 keyboard intro from Martin Orford. This immediately gets things going on a high. In fact when I went to see IQ live, this was their opener. The song is very dynamic and moves effectively between different moods - the loud parts dramatic, the quieter parts full of ominous tension - right up to the end.
This song also really highlights the widening of musical options that came from IQ broadening their sound, especially Martin Orford's keyboards. He offers us some really fun solos in "Outer Limits", as well as now being a lot more effective at creating atmospheres for the rest of the band to utilise, such as the beautiful synth laden opening passage of "The Magic Roundabout". I consider this the best song on the album, the keyboards give a really epic feel to parts of it, the guitar is great, (especially the stunning ending solo of the song), and both play off each other really effectively. Peter Nicholls also moves from very pure vocals over lush keyboards to a compelling feeling of anguish. IQ really do have a Genesis-like knack for making 10-ish minute songs feel truly epic.
"The Magic Roundabout" also features a variation on the first bass riff from "Outer Limits" near the end. I generally like it when bands do this, it helps to make albums feel like a cohesive whole. There are a few more example of this on "The Wake" (such as near the end of "Headlong"), and they are actually done quite subtly, so that I did not spot them straight away. "Headlong" is a great example of how to build to an emotional climax. It starts off low key with Peter Nicholls melancholic vocals only accompanied by a minimal amount of keyboard backing. Slowly things build in intensity, the vocal performance gaining in power with the instruments, to a cresendo of organ and guitar solo. Nicholls then delivers some of the most passionate vocals of the album before we are left with a sweet piece 6/8 guitar from Mike Holmes to end.
The other tracks are good (maybe corners a little questionable, though easily worth it for the vocals), but the 3 that I have mentioned above are the highlights. With some very memorable melodies, highly passionate vocals, a complex rhythm section (with Paul Cook on drums and Tim Essau on bass) delivering a good supply of odd time sigs, and the guitar and keyboards feeling really powerful, IQ outdid their excellent debut. One of the best developments from "Tales From The Lush Attic" is that whilst the songs are not necessarily downbeat, there is often a sense of darkness that adds depth to a lot of the songs. Every band member plays their part in this, but it is really Peter Nicholls vocals that lift this record above the rest, whether soaring or agonised, he is always really evocative.
I didn't realise at first, but reading some reviews it seems this is a concept album, exploring the thoughts of someone passing into the afterlife. It's not as dominantly concept based as "Subterranea", but thinking about some of the lyrics, and the way the album works as a whole this actually makes a lot of sense. Just considering the individual songs, I'm hovering between 4 and 5 stars, but on the basis of how well "The Wake" flows as an album (i.e. viewing the album as a whole) I think 5 is the most fitting.
Sadly Peter Nicholls left IQ after this album to form the alternative rock group Niadem's Ghost, and it would be 8 long years before he would record with IQ again. Such a shame after a triumph such as this, but I guess we should just all feel lucky he came back in the end.