When is the last time that I gave an album a 10/10 score? I cannot remember exactly, but I know it has been more than two years. I do not like to give that score out lightly, I think you know. Well, with all the weight of my heart, I could not with any good conscience deprive Pendragon’s “Love Over Fear” of that honor. This album, which can be purchased now but the release date is officially “mid-February”, has captured the majesty, emotion, and humanity that makes Pendragon so very important to me.
Yes, I am a Pendragon fan boy. They are in my top 3 bands, and there is just something fiercely expressive about their music that transfixes me. Pendragon has been making music for 40 years now, but they only seem to be getting better. Yes, albums like The Window of Life, Not of This World, The Masquerade Overture, and Believe represent some of my all-time favorite albums. Over the last decade, the band seemed to set their sights on a heavier style (which I like), but some of the color and wonder left their sound as result. Still, they’ve never made an album that I would even call “mediocre”.
But here we are with “Love Over Fear”. As soon as I saw the glorious artwork and saw the concise title, I knew that inspiration had flooded their minds. The current lineup for this UK band is Nick Barrett on lead vocals and guitar; Clive Nolan on keys; Peter Gee on bass and keys; and Jan-Vincent Velazco on drums. You will also hear Zoe Devenish on violin and backing vocals, which both play an important role on this album, as well as Julian Baker on saxophone.
I need to take a moment here. You may not understand just how much I love this band. Nick is, in my opinion, one of the greatest guitarists ever. I would rank him above even David Gilmour. Clive, similarly, is one of the greatest keyboardists prog has ever seen. One step further: Pete is one of my favorite bassists, laying down some of my absolute favorite bass lines. And, even though I do miss Scott Higham on drums, Jan-Vincent has truly proven himself with his tasteful and powerful beats here. So, you might say I love this band. There might honestly be a different word for how I feel about their music.
“Love Over Fear” meets my obviously hefty expectations. It is like a tapestry of light, laughter, and love. Just thinking about the sheer beauty, care, and skill that went into this album, I get a tear in my eye. Everything here feels perfect, carefully planned, and evocatively executed. Yes, the album returns somewhat to the classic Pendragon sound, being more keyboard-forward and more lusciously melodic than the last few albums, throwing in hints of folk and jazz, as well. Personally, I hear The Window of Life and Believe the most here, though I think there are specific callbacks to multiple albums, such as Not of This World. Long story short, if you loved their 90s and early 00s output, you will instantly be in love with this album.
This wouldn’t be a Pendragon album without pensive lyrics. Nick has really been thinking lately, it seems, and I think this album wears its feelings on its sleeve. This is an album about all the beauty in our world. It is a record that rejoices in truth and goodness: that opines about the connection we have with each other and with our earthly home. Ultimately, Nick is asking us to find wonder, curiosity, and adventure again. He hopes that, in a world that can often be a drain on our collective life force, we can find youth and imagination once more. And that fabled “eternal life” that so many are seeking, Nick is saying we can find it here and now with the ones we love and with this dazzling world right outside our doors. Nick’s love for his partner, Rachel, as well as for the ocean and surfing the waves, all make their way into the lyrics, and so this universal message somehow feels intensely personal, too.
“Love Over Fear” is more than just a message, strong as it is. Nick’s vocals might be his best ever, achieving levels of melody and musicality that I don’t think he even had in the 80s-90s. He sounds whimsical and nostalgic. His guitars, too, soar with the birds and dive with the dolphins. You will hear plenty of fantastic riffs and licks; but, wow, there are moments, such as on “Soul and the Sea”, where he breaks out and shivers instantly shoot up my spine. Clive, too, seems like he has returned after being away for some time. On the last few albums, he was more in the background since the sound was heavier. Here, Clive is front and center once again. His lush waves of melody soak every inch of this album, and you will get lost in the brilliance.
It is absolutely impossible to choose favorite songs here, but there are some tracks I need to discuss. Firstly, “Starfish and the Moon” is a delicate little ballad that grants such whimsy and wisdom that I melt every time I hear it. Let me skip forward to the end right here: “Afraid of Everything” ends the album with all kinds of hopes and dreams, prophecies of a life that could be possible. In some ways, it mirrors “Starfish and the Moon” with its vision of warmth and courage. It is a grand finale, one that I wish could last forever.
Okay, let’s jump back to an earlier part of the album. Tracks 3-6 might be some of the best songs I’ve ever heard on any album from any band. This four-track marathon of “Truth and Lies”, “360 Degrees”, “Soul and the Sea”, and “Eternal Light” are exquisite works of art, lush and life-giving in every way. “Truth and Lies” is a bit of a slow burn, but then Nick’s glorious sustains come sweeping in, and the sound launches into something truly special. “360 Degrees” is something different for the band. It feels rooted in folk music, whether English or American (they seem to overlap in my view), and so creates such human quaintness with its violin passages and ukulele rhythms that you cannot help but smile. “Soul and the Sea”, wow, what a song. It comes across as almost ambient and cinematic at times, and Nick’s voice is as smooth as butter. The song builds and builds with keyboard-soaked anticipation until Nick’s guitars come busting in to flatten my heart.
With all of that, you would wonder what my favorite song on the album is. Currently and subject to change, that song is “Eternal Light”. This song starts with more of a rock vibe, but it slowly moves into something truly transcendent. Clive’s keys are full of choirs and wonder, and Nick’s chorus is pure introspective gravy. The last half features a guitar rhythm that reminds me so very much of “Am I Really Losing You?” from The Window of Life, and so the song not only feels rich and inspired, but also feels nostalgic and familiar. I am in love with it, yes, but also with every single song on this album.
“Love Over Fear” sees Pendragon at the top of their career. This is genre and decade-defining music here. With all the heavy hitters in Pendragon’s discography, this album even rivals my favorite one, Not of This World. In fact, it may best it eventually. Pendragon has never been better, and this album is their superlative gift to all of us. Please buy it directly from the band.
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