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'Whole New World – The Virgin Albums 1986 – 1991' (4CD)

Joe Geesin

joe geesin

it bites

While much of the original progressive rock scene petered out with the rise of punk, there was a revival in the early 80s. The rejuvenated scene, with a more modern sound, was led (certainly success wise) by Marillion, and also included Pallas and IQ. And there was It Bites, who had a hit with the single 'Calling All The Heroes' in 1986.

Formed in Cumbria, northern England in the early 80s the band featured guitarist/vocalist Francis Dunnery, drummer Bob Dalton, bassist Dick Nolan and keyboard player John Beck.

Relocating to London, the band signed to Virgin and that's where this box set starts. The band's debut, 'The Big Lad In The Windmill', made the UK top 40 and kicks off with the powerful 'I Got You Eating Out Of My Hand'. Tight and solid, it typifies the album in mixing pop and power balladry with a modern progressive rock.

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Musical styles (including occasional funk) are often mixed into segments within each song. 'All In Red' features some vocal harmonies and a funky guitar while 'Whole New World' is more soulful with its brass section.

When the tracks take a rock direction they seem more cohesive and the top ten single 'Calling All The Heroes' is a stand out. There's quite a mainstream and pop edge to the album, and here bolstered by five bonus cuts, including two live cuts.

After touring with Marillion and Robert Plant, It Bites recorded their second album 'Once Around The World', released in 1988. Featuring producer Steve Hillage (Gong), the album kicks off in a polished commercial direction. The virtuosity is clear and at times the guitar and keyboard work does stand out.

'Rose Marie' is a strong rock number, nodding to the more commercial Marillion of the era while 'Old Man And The Angel' runs to over nine minutes and takes you on quite an adventure; even more so does the 15 minute title track. There is a Buggles touch mid song before it moves towards some of the finest progressive pop parp you'll hear. Again this album features some extra tracks.

1989s 'Eat Me In St Louis' (not to be confused with the compilation of the same name) was a much harder album, and less progressive. The rock is quite upfront here, as opener 'Positively Animal' shows. Still a modern sound, but tracks like 'Let Us All Go' are quite raw in comparison to the earlier albums.

The opening guitar on 'Still Too Young To Remember' is quite searing. This is a strong album and stands well on its own, but is a little at odds with the first two albums. And while there is a bonus or two, oddly the album doesn't feature the original CD bonus track 'Till The End Of Time'.

During rehearsals for the fourth album, a direction intended more for the American market, tensions came to a head and Francis Dunnery left the band. A new line-up continued for a year or two before It Bites split. In 1991 Virgin issued 'Thank You' And 'Good Night', a live album recorded on the previous tour. This ten track set is a fine mix of the band's career and is probably the best and most full sounding of the four Virgin albums.

An enthusiastic crowd are up in the mix and from the opening 'Kiss Like Judas' there's a solid hint of Marillion and Genesis. A good mix of prog and hard rock, the balance of guitar and keyboards is spot on, and the rhythm section is driving. Many of the songs are slightly extended too, and the classic 'Calling All The Heroes' has the crowd singing along.

Individually I'd have to plump for the live set – it would be interesting to see if there's more live material of this quality in the vaults.

Overall an excellent set that brings all the Virgin era It Bites together. There have been subsequent reformations and recordings but this is what fans will remember.

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