There is a weight of truth present in Roddy Woomble’s voice. Whether it is, or indeed is not, it considers itself to be right – which may have no immediate grounding in fact but stands tall nonetheless. He is all the things he presumes for himself – a compassionate soul, a poet, an enigma – he truly believes he is. Thing is, we’re beginning to believe him too, more than ever. On this, their fourth album, there are many things they are not, that they have been previously – impulsive, ardent, reactionary, immediate. But there are many examples of what he is and has become.
His words have grown legs, joining his furrowed voice in pacing round in large jagged circles with great purpose, perhaps more convoluted, certainly more complete. Basically more Stipean, edging their obvious REM metamorphosis a step closer to actually upping sticks, moving to Georgia and finding a game plastic surgeon.
In some respects it’s a question of whether the band are keeping up with him. And on first impressions the answer would be that they’re not, they seem tired, less closely knit, barely bothered. Their weakest lead-off single to date in ‘Love Steals Us From Loneliness’ (like ‘You Held The World In Your Arms’ with dud batteries) only invited your disappointment to wait in the wings, and beginning the album with it was an easily remedied mistake. So you write it off as a casualty of recent personnel shifts and accept that a good album could have been better under more favourable conditions.
But repeat listens reveal much richer returns than that flirt with disappointment. The quality is really as high on this album as it ever has been. The thing it’s missing are those cannonball moments, the kind that propelled them forward at staggered points in the past – the ‘When I Argue I See Shapes’ moments, ‘Little Discourage’ moments, ‘American English’ moments. The sound is more bleak than barbarous this time, the sound of a more considered band, but a sound that will weave around you if you’ll let it. ‘As If I Hadn’t Slept’ for instance has some especially beautiful Peter Buck-esque kinks of guitar, in a creeping Lemonheads shade. It’s not the kind of thing that’s going to trip you up, but it makes an impression in time.
At the thicker end of the album ‘I Want A Warning’ displays the remnants of their dalliance with Sonic Youth’s mid 90s sound, and the fabulous ‘I Understand It’ bridges the gap between early REM and post-punk U2 with some fine cutting melodies. ‘Too Long Awake’ meanwhile evokes a stoned hazy Sonic Youth and Teenage Fanclub daydream, ‘The Space Between All Things’ a squeezed-sprawling Pearl Jam epic, and the wonderful elated ‘El Captain’ could be the work of Ben Gibbard, recalling the air of both his bands, Death Cab For Cutie and Postal Service.
This won’t be remembered as their finest hour, but it contains a number of smaller victories in their move towards an older age. They want to be a band you can live with, they don’t just want to be there to be kicked around. They’ve succeeded.share this: