Monday, 27 October 2008

Review - Keane - Perfect Symmetry

Keane. The dirtiest word in modern day indie-rock. Probably. They came out of the blue in 2005 to blow all the little middle of the road Radio 2 listeners away with their piano led haunted chiming and the soaring epic vocal of, finally, a indie singer that can truly sing. It was a revelation. They never quite got the indie crowd behind them, bypassing that and going straight to Snow Patrol stardom. They do the Coldplay thing much better than Coldplay do it.

So their debut album sold millions and I was one of the mugs who bought it – indeed, curiosity mostly, but also because I was in Barcelona and it was cheap. If I can remember where I bought it surely it made some impression. It was a solid record – pant wettingly epic at points, but some of the tracks are pretty much great – Untitled and Sunshine are two of the greatest songs the band have written, hands down. The follow-up was again picked on by my self, this time on holiday in Malta, where it’s swaying epic choruses’ soundtrack going to get a paper in the morning and bottles of water. It was a good album.

But earlier this year we heard rumblings of trouble in camp Keane. A solo record? Cocaine addiction? Trumpets? It was all pointing to a Be Here Now disaster… and incredibly they managed to avoid it.

How? Well, Perfect Symmetry is an album of interesting direction changes but no distance gained. For example, Spiralling, the lead single, is a rather outlandish use of synth, spoken vocals and slap retro-bass, but keeps the structure of a Keane track. Second single, The Lovers Are Losing, is plain sailing for Keane. The use of Guitarish sounding synth or synth sounding guitar on You Haven't Told Me Anything the is a good idea, as hemming into just using instruments set out in the beginning is a sure fire way of failing the next-album test, but again it’s strides into the right point on the experimentation compass but stays rooted firmly on the spot.

The glances in new directions are good. Indeed, another album of samey bland ballads would kill the chances of the band outstaying their welcome, but it won’t appease the hoards of indie shirkers who see Keane as exactly what is wrong with music. The album is good, probably very good, but has a few troubles.

Firstly, the ballads that are present are crap. The title track is simply appalling – Keane doing a bad cover of Keane. The choral flourishes towards the end compound the lack of ideas on this track and to bestow it with the album title gives it clout it should never have, as well as lasting well beyond its allotted time frame.

The album is darker in places but mostly brighter than the “troubled” Under the Iron Sea, and the new look Keane and new sounding Keane are much much much more interesting than their earlier incarnations, but are still the same old band, with the same old problems. The only advantage that they now have is that it will be hard to predict where to go now – and that might be enough to keep everyone interested.


Wednesday, 8 October 2008

One Line Reviews - Deerhunter, TV On the Radio, Oasis, Verve

Just a quick one, as I have been trying to write full write-ups of these albums for a few weeks... and kinda have had to give up. So, here, are short little lines about my feelings for the albums.

Oasis – Dig Out Your Soul
- Okay, so they are past it, and are all grown-up, but this album is a good return to form, with some very good tracks on it, with most wearing their inspiration proudly on display. 5/9

Verve – Forth
- A comeback that is completely wasted, as there is nothing more than a below par Richard Ashcroft solo track on here, with almost nothing carried through from the Verve name; a wasted opportunity. 4/9

Deerhunter – Microcastle
- What to make of this record I don’t know, but it is very good, with some excellent ideas and well executed songs… but it lacks something to make it truly great. 7/9

TV on the Radio – Dear Science
- I have tried to write a full review on this album for the last few weeks, but nothing has worked out – and I can understand why, and it is because I don’t think I “get” it… I like all the different styles, the lyrics, and the music, and I know the impressive praise that the album has got, but I can’t figure it out yet. 6/9

Friday, 3 October 2008

Review - The Dears - Missiles

I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with The Dears over the last few years, much like they have had with themselves. From their awe inspiring indie master piece that is No Cities Left, seeing them live, and then the received coolly by critics Gang of Losers that was played to death by myself and the disappointment that it was not as good as No Cities Left, before realising that it didn’t need to be, I have travelled in peaks and troughs with this band. Seeing them live for the second time in October 2006, which truly feels like an age ago, was a good point to confirm that I really liked this band but they had their flaws.

So, I had my reservations about their fourth album – my third album with the band. Hearing from various sources, then direct from the band, that things were not going too well back stage was confirmed by the departure of four members, leaving two, was disheartening. When coming into contact with the album early last week I have been slowly gathering my thoughts, having played the album many times in my car, in my work and in the quieter moments, I have decided that this is a fantastic record.

It is dark. There are moments of true despair in these10 tracks, mostly wrapped in a dirty production that harks back to their No Cities Left era. The musicianship is of the highest quality, and the little flourishes of guitar and piano that are sprinkled over the record radically affect the tone and style of the band.

Opener Disclaimer is a good pace setter. It starts dark and slow, adding vocals, with Lightburn crooning in his most desolate style. The album readily calls dark winter nights – these are the nights that I associate with the Dears.

On Lights Off the band let things go, unleashing towards the other end of the quiet-riot spectrum, instead unleashing a rasping guitar solo that is not out of place on a true rock record. The length of the song amplifies the journey to get there, and the moment it hits doesn't jar with the slow, more soft approaches on the album.

The rather insipid Meltdown in a Major was the album's preview and it did little to convince me - and in the album setting, I still feel ambivalent towards it. It doesn't resonate with the rest of the record, though it's story, tellingly, is the most terrifying of the album. The simple piano stabs, filled with dread, add to the dark flavour of the album.

The stand out tracks, however, come with quieter moments and more experiment moments. The second track, after epic Disclaimer as previously mentioned, is subdued and calculated - Dream Job is the kind of song missing from Gang of Losers but was in abundance on No Cities Left. "Here comes another Heartbeat/beating like a drum" softly intones Lightburn, gravitating towards a place not ventured into since Lost in the Plot. It is a great rallying call. The other stand out track sees a vocal performance from the other half of The Dears that survived the recording session, Natalia Yanchak, on Crisis 1 & 2, she evokes a warmer vocal line but is joined in a fantastic twist at the end by Lightburn - much in the same way that exchange works in 22: Death of All the Romance on No Cities Left.

However, for me, the greatest song on the record is Demons; starting with a synth loop the guitar and drums kick in pushing the beat to a faster pace than thought before. The vocal melodies, coupled with the bass line that propels the song forward, hidden in front of the rather out of key strings, act out a dramatic scene in a grand mix between the great rock record of Gang of Losers and the epic of No Cities Left.

In comes to the end, and with out wondering why or how, you have realised that the album is a more complete set of songs than both previous records. You feel the heartache and break that it takes to create an album of this type, and the style changes from the earlier to this work add up to a logical conclusion that makes more sense as a continuation of a previous chapter than a brand new instalment. This is the album The Dears needed to make, and it is very exact in it's execution. It is not the best album of the year, that is so far going to either The Walkmen or Elbow, but it a strong candidate, and reaffirms why I fell in love with Lightburn's vocals and the band's songs in the first place. A very solid record.