A strange one this; TAO is essentially a vehicle for Karen Fell, sometime backing vocalist for UK pomp rock stalwarts Ten. Ms. Fell also happens to be the partner of Gary Hughes, Ten’s Major Domo, and Hughes has written and produced all ten tracks on this new album, Prophecy. Throughout the record his influence hangs heavy. Some of the more florid lyrics that he offers up, lyrics which would raise a resigned smirk when coming out of the Hughes word hole, seem a little weird in this new context, a little jarring perhaps. But maybe that’s just me…
As with pretty much all the latterday Ten releases, Prophecy is an exasperating mix of the sublime and the frankly ridiculous. When it’s good – Angels and Clandestine Fools and the superb Might Just Break Your Heart are among the best things Hughes has ever written – it’s stunningly good. Fell, whose voice sits somewhere between T’Pau‘s Carol Decker and Vixen‘s Janet Gardner, is a never less than capable vocalist who thrives on strong material such as this, material which allows her to stamp her authority on the song. However when the album is bad – and Nazarene is up there with being as bad as things get in the Gary Hughes multiverse – things do tend to fall apart a little.
Fell is ably backed by guitarist Chris Gould and another member of Ten – Dan Rosingana – on bass; Gould revels in his job as Vinny Burns to Fell’s Hughes, delivering some sparkling lead work throughout. The presence of this pair on the project, especially in the band’s videos helps to give the whole thing a band feel, and if they stay with TAO moving forward it might be interesting to see what they could contribute to the songwriting side of things. The bedrock here is obviously very stable, not to mention able. It would be great to see Karen able to move away a little from the Ten brand stylistically at least.
Females are at the forefront of the melodic hard rock scene in the UK right now, with Chez Kane and the excellent Space Elevator leading the charge; On Prophecy Karen Fell does enough to suggest she might be in with a shot at the title in the not-too distant future with a few tweaks to the formula.
Prophecy is out now.