In the second half of the 1980s, British band It Bites caused quite a stir with their clever mix of prog and pop. On their three studio albums from that time you can clearly hear the amount of creativity in which neo-prog, hard rock and retro are peppered with ingenious breaks, interesting harmony vocals and amazing Holdsworth-like guitar riffs. In 1991 the live album “Thank You And Goodnight” was released, featuring material from their last tour. It was actually intended that a fourth studio album should be released, but because the band had almost ceased to exist, instead said live album was released. More than 15 years later, the band reunites, albeit with John Mitchell as singer/guitarist replacing Francis Dunnery.
“Once Around The World”, their sophomore album, dates from 1988 and therefore has the classic line-up with mr. Dunnery as frontman. I say this explicitly because I think his contribution to the album is truly brilliant. Okay, the album can be listened to as a group product. Yet it is Francis Dunnery who, with his expressive voice and his virtuoso guitar playing, enters my heart at lightning speed. Of course, don’t rule out the other young guns. John Beck chases his keyboard parts through the songs superbly and bassist Dick Nolan and drummer Bob Dalton constantly keep the momentum alive. The harmony vocals are a different story since they often vary in composition as opposed to the lead vocals. Beck’s high pitched background vocals are not to be sneezed at. Definitely a special band, this It Bites.
To emphasize the poppy side of the band sound a bit more, Steve Hillage had been recruited to produce a few songs on the advice of Virgin (their record company). His efforts can be heard during the first five songs. These are the least complex parts of the album. They are nice and catchy, take opener Midnight and the driven Kiss Like Judas where the unmistakable 80s sound collides wonderfully with the rhythm. The subsequent Yellow Christian is a special song that, like the entire album, reflects the Catholic background of the band members. Lyrically it is about the star of Bethlehem (Francis Dunnery is a Christmas child himself), musically we hear a rippling song with a delightful interlude, full of strange rhythms and other genius discoveries. This piece is in line with many songs after that. For the sake of completeness, Rose Marie and Black December complete the Hillage section, aka side A.
The band continue with Old Man And The Angel. Every time I hear this song I am as happy as a little kid as the CD version has been extended by over five minutes from the drastically shortened single-edit on the LP. In this full length version you can hear atmospheric keyboard parts, a few great guitar solos and a twittering Moog.
An extra song has also been added to the CD, Hunting The Whale. It’s a bit less distinctive than the average It Bites song, but no less attractive. On two occasions there are contrasting sections, especially the sailor’s song part is very striking.
But there’s more. With Plastic Dreamer it was love at first sight. The stunning vocal arrangements did it for me and still do to this day. The song is somewhat reminiscent of a band like Moon Safari in terms of atmosphere. A short guitar solo and a triumphant keyboard melody complete this song.
And then It Bites outdoes itself. The almost 15 minutes long title track is a true epic. The song is packed with tempo and mood changes. These are so skillfully put together they simply take your breath away. The band switches effortlessly between quiet Genesis moments, heavy guitar riffs, ragtime and slapstick sections, keyboard extravaganza, Dixieland and a Yes-style finale with goosebumps-inducing guitar melody. The song is so beautiful, almost too good to be true.
“Once Around The World” is a bizarre album whereas the first five songs with their accessibility neatly pave the way for the more complex sequel of the album. It Bites has more than once shown its high testosterone levels, full of bravado, talent and urgency.
© Dick van der Heijde 2023