Professor and the Madman are not a band you could accuse of lacking ambition.
Seance, their fourth album and second to feature the much vaunted Damned rhythm section of Paul Gray and Rat Scabies, is essentially a play set to music.
As co-writer and singer Sean Elliott told EP in an interview in September – it’s an attempt to recreate the immersive concept albums of the ’60s and ’70s.
Elliott and collaborator Alfie Agnew take the listener on a picaresque journey, encompassing a plethora of musical styles and genres from sci-fi to music hall.
Albums like this shouldn’t really work in this impatient age of streaming, when audiences can simply download the tracks they want and discard the rest.
But Seance demands your attention because of the strength of the songwriting and the absolute commitment of all four members.
For make no mistake, while they may not be involved in the writing, Scabies and Gray make a massive contribution to the songs.
Indeed, Gray in particular really comes ot the fore on this album, his bass dominating proceedings on tracks like A Child’s Eyes while Agnew and Elliott create a wash of jangling guitars in the background.
Like their rhythm section, Elliott and Agnew started out as punk musicians, first meeting as guitarists with West Coast speed merchants DI.
But just as The Damned evolved into more than just a punk band, PATM are fearless when it comes to musical exploration.
Opener All The Lonely Souls kicks things off with Beatles-esque psychedelia, So Long is high tempo melodic rock, while Real Me ventures heavily into Kinks territory – and that’s just the first three tracks.
Having two songwriters on board is clearly an advantage, taking the band in very different directions.
This is most evident on the intermingled tracks Time Machine and Nothing To Lose. where Agnew becomes a scientist experimenting with time travel, while Elliott assumes the role of the down-at-heel loser seeking a second chance by nabbing a seat for the ride of a lifetime.
Standout track Two Tickets For The Afterlife is pure high camp Alice Cooper with a touch of Black Sabbath thrown in.
It’s a ghoulish gameshow hosted by – spoiler alert – the man downstairs, you know, the one with the horns.
It’s loud, bonkers and downright hilarious.
“We got thrills, we got pills, we got million dollar bills,” Elliott screams. “We got weed, we got speed, we got everything you need.”
Council of Purgatory sounds like a cross between an old music hall number and the title track to a US ’60s light comedy show.
There’s more Fab Four inspired melodies on All the Lonely Souls/Greetings From the Other Side but this time mood is darker, more cynical.
The brief (58 secs) candy-coated New World brings us to a hopeful, if enigmatic climax with a warning to the protagonists to make a better job of things, “because if you don’t, maybe we’ll see you again”.
With Seance PATM have created an album which is old-fashioned, but in a good way.
In this age of Playstations and Xboxes, they’ve even quaintly included a board game on the back of the record you can play while listening along. A boxed version of the game, with full accessories, is also available.
By stripping prog-rock of its hideous excesses – mindnumbing, indulgent solos and pompous lyrics – they’ve managed to deliver a record that holds together as a genuine concept album.
A considerable achievement and worth investing in should you fancy a bit of time travelling of your own.
- Séance is out now on various formats on the band’s own Fullertone Records label. Order here
- For more about Professor and the Madman visit them on Facebook, Twitter or their website