Saturday, February 06, 2010

Endless treads like waves of regret

Heck, I’ve been playing the new Midlake album to death. A quick glance at my iTunes facility (wi’ a grateful tap of the forelock) informs me that I’ve spun The Courage of Others a dozen times and each listen has been intense and focussed. It’s that kind of record – it demands attention and concentration. This is the embodiment of the long-awaited follow-up. Midlake’s last collection The Trials of Van Occupanther proved to be one the few classic albums of the past decade and wooed this consumer with its evocative and atmospheric songs and tales. Could the earnest and bearded collective pull it off once more? I am delighted to report in the affirmative. The Courage of Others is ambitious, thoughtful and successful.

Essentially, this is a lovingly crafted homage to these shores’ folk-rock to the extent that vocalist Tim Smith appears to these ears to be singing in a studied English voice. The musicianship is tremendous; not a note is wasted from guitar solo to drum fill and the arrangements are absolutely splendid. It sounds beautiful and especially wondrous on headphones. There’s a melancholic feel to proceedings though. Eleven of the twelve tracks are in minor keys and I’m guessing (no expert here) that this adds to a fairly dark ambience. The songs are of a similar tempo too, mid paced but all possessing subtly different melodic structures and striking harmonisations. Lyrically – and this reminds me of Van Occupanther – we are taken far away from the mundanity of modernity and transported to some undesignated point in history. Personally, the songs’ wearisome and bleak themes and frequent references to the mysteries of the earth and to fertility lead me to consider they are being sung from the point of view of a thoughtful, troubled and tremendously articulate medieval serf. Perhaps it’s just me. Anyhow, I’m aware that fans of the last Midlake LP occasionally pass by these pages and I’m happy to answer the unasked question, ‘I loved The Trials of Van Occupnther but would I dig the follow-up?’ My answer is unequivocal. This is an utterly sumptuous recording and a shining treasure. You’ll have to spin the blighter in the knowledge that it’s no bundle of laughs but the textures, the intellect, the precision, the haunting and soaring music all more than compensate. Who needs giddy pop thrills all the time?

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