TWISTED ILLUSION – Upstairs To Optimism (2023)

TWISTED ILLUSION - Upstairs To Optimism (2023) - full

I like a good album cover. It catches the eye and sparks the interest. When I was a teenager in the 1980s, many an album was purchased because of what I saw rather than what I heard. Time moves on, and in the digital age, the album cover doesn’t always get the viewing that maybe they deserve.
I ramble on here because the cover art of ”Upstairs To Optimism”, the new album from UK progressive rockers TWISTED ILLUSION, leapt out at me when this package arrived for review.
On this album, TWISTED ILLUSION’s music is an intriguing mix of guitar interplay and some quite powerful performances. They pay homage to their influences, and while I’m unsure whether Styx is one of them, their harmonised opening vocals on ‘Stay Your Course’ suggests they’re extremely reminiscent of the classy vocals of Styx.
However, the songwriting influences all over here are much more expansive, ranging from the hard rock of Thin Lizzy to the progressive side of Kansas: British and American ascendancy.

Opening track ‘Analyse And Incentivise’ lets those vocals hit you quickly whilst the song builds rapidly, the gentle start with delicate guitar movements and laid-back rhythm easing into some luscious Rush riffs circa 1982 playing underneath. Tell me you don’t hear parts of Moving Pictures and Signals in this song. And that, my friends, is always a good thing. It’s a brave move, opening with a nine-minute plus song, but Twisted Illusion don’t care, their blend of melodies combined with a hard rock edge working in harmony. The result is pretty darn good.

Things get a bit weird next with the up-tempo ‘Gone Tomorrow (Crash Bandicoot’s Lament)’. Now I’m old enough to know the name, but the PlayStation character isn’t one that I’d expected to see on this album. The song is full of references to the Crash, and although it’ll mean a lot to some gamers, I’m focused on the rousing anthemic nature, the soaring guitars, and the tight interplay of the band. It all adds up to another song that sits nicely here.

‘Spotlight (Not Limelight)’ features a great chugging riff that cements the entire song. It’s one of the pacier numbers, and you can’t help but nod along. Another Rush flavour seeps through, and I’d have been happy with the Canadian legends having this in their catalogue. The dual guitar work also brings Thin Lizzy to mind. The intricate, technical quality is fabulous with each musician committing to their part, enhanced by a spotless production which makes it a stellar listen. Energetic, integrally structured, Twisted Illusion bring everything to this song. It’s a shining example on an album full of quality, replicated on the next song, ‘Stay Your Course’.

‘Tired’, a quiet ballad with its acoustic intro and good use of vocals, showcases other side of the band. The vocals are tinged with Styx meets Crosby, Stills and Nash territory. The harmonies are cleverly woven to create a gentle, delicate track.
That leads to ‘Totality’, the concluding track, which opens with a ripping guitar solo that segues into a pulsing groove which soars before dropping into a comfortable beat. The vocals are slightly jarring at points, but overall, it’s another song that fits into the collection.

If success in rock music was all about musical merit, technical ability and good arrangement then TWISTED ILLUSION would already be huge.
Confident and positive are words I’d use to describe this fine album, and it lives a progressive ethos too – not in the pixies and wizards conceptual way, but in the true musical sense of the word. The ideas, the changes of key, the interesting segues make this a veritable rock n’ rock magical mystery tour, as you’re taken on a journey which is both immersive and exciting.
If this music had an aura around it, this album would be brimming with bright colours – the same you see on the cover art.
Highly Recommended


01 – Analyse and Incentivise
02 – Gone Tomorrow (Crash Bandicoot’s Lament)
03 – We Tried To Make It
04 – Identity
05 – Spotlight (Not Limelight)
06 – Stay Your Course
07 – Tired
08 – Totality

Matt Jones – Guitars/Vocals
Saxon Davids – Guitars/Vocals
Chris Jones – Bass/Vocals
Andy Gotteri – Keys
Alex Lacey – Drums



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