Keyboardist/vocalist/composer/producer Dick Witts was the Passage, regardless of lineup shifts (at first a quartet, later a trio). A former percussionist with a noted classical orchestra, Witts and his fellow Mancunians made records that defy pigeonholing, evoking comparisons to Keith Emerson and Weather Report on one hand and Wire, Gang of Four and Joy Division on the other. The reviewer who sat them smack between early Soft Machine and the Fall may have come the closest of all.
Unlike the Softs, Witts uses a goodly assortment of keyboards — strictly for delivering and coloring the music, without obligatory solos. And while the Passage can boast no brilliant Robert Wyatt parallel at the traps, the drums are also an effective part of the music (as when fluttering like a heartbeat). Witts is no strident caterwauler like Mark E. Smith, and if his sociopolitically oriented lyrics do reduce complexities to catch phrases, they also promptly expand upon them — generally avoiding egregious didacticism or exhortation — articulately and strikingly. Witts frequently uses sensationalism, but as an effective device, not just for shock value.
The songs are often surprisingly memorable. The later work shows improved clarity and cogency, and tracks like “XOYO” (from Degenerates) couple the usual unlikely lyrics with surprisingly conventional, even commercial, hooks.
Through the Passage is, sadly, a disappointing compilation. It does include “Devils and Angels” and “Taboos,” two worthy 45s never before on LP, but the other selections haven’t got the collective intensity of any of the original albums.