The Polite Force was Egg’s second album and represents a considerable advance on their debut, both in terms of composition and performance. Overall there’s a greater sense of focus, coupled with an attention to detail and a more solid structure both in the individual pieces and across the album as a whole. The result is splendid example of Canterbury style prog that is the equal of slightly later albums by Matching Mole and Hatfield and the North, with which it shares a similar spirit of adventure and fun.
As on their debut, side 1 consists of shorter pieces, though this time there are only three. A Visit To Newport Hospital has autobiographical lyrics about the band’s early days as Uriel and shows Mont Campbell’s flair for writing accessible, melodic songs in daunting time signatures. Contrasong, the shortest piece on the album, is a an extremely tight piece which alternates between 5/8 and 9/8 (so it says in the liner notes) and features a punchy horn arrangement by Campbell (who went on to study French Horn at the Royal College of Music). Campbell’s ability to sing with such insouciance while playing finger breaking bass lines in such unusual rhythms is staggering, while the ability of the trio as a whole to make such complex music swing speaks volumes about the amount of musical talent they had. Boilk is a lengthy piece which veers in to the RIO/Avant prog territory that they had explored on parts of their first album. The incorporation of a theme by Bach is a neat touch, but at 9 minutes it rather outstays its welcome, and despite its strengths it would have benefited from some judicious editing. The second half of the album is taken up with the imaginatively titled Long Piece No.3, a side long Canterbury adventure that ranks alongside 9 Feet Underground, Slightly All The Time and Mumps as a classic of the genre. The four sections of the piece flow naturally into each other and each member of the trio gets a chance to shine without taking a flashy solo. As a whole it’s a finely nuanced piece of ensemble playing, writing and arranging which has great charm and sophistication. There’s nothing extraneous on this piece, and the trio play with a maturity and restraint that was sometimes lacking in their less talented (albeit more commercially successful) contemporaries.
This is an essential album for anybody interested in the Canterbury scene, and indeed for anybody interested in exploring some of the lesser known gems of early prog. If you’re only going to get one Egg album, this is the one to buy. Highly recommended.
Egg-THE POLITE FORCE (1971)