After sampling the promise shown by their A Guidance From Colour EP, their so-called “mini-album”, Vivarium, hit me like a shockwave; 8 songs, 33 minutes of heart-racing genius. It was almost long-enough and was most definitely meaty enough to qualify for a full-length so I, naturally, always considered it to be their debut. That was until a short while ago when the band announced that they weren’t really happy with it, worrying that in making it they had strayed from the ethos of why they got into music, and that this new album, Free, would be their debut. “This band was meant to be based on integrity,” said vocalist/guitarist Sam McTrusty cryptically. “We wanted there to be a brutal honesty in the lyrics. I think we’ve done that.” Intriguing, no? Well, they’ve got 13 songs and 46 minutes to prove their point.
First things first, if you’re one of our readers who hated the regional accent of Mike Duce (Lower Than Atlantis), then you’re going to absolutely despise the Glaswegian brogue of McTrusty. To me, the guttural intonation and complex drawl doubles the effectiveness of the words, to others it may sound like Simon Neil (Biffy Clyro) is being fed through a mincer. The bad news is that producer Gil Norton (Foo Fighters, Jimmy Eat World, Feeder) appears not to agree with me and has moved his vocal back in the mix and smothered it with layer after layer of harmonies and guitar squall. The result? Their opening big-hitters don’t grab you; they slide across your lugholes in one big long smear. “Time For You To Stand Up”, in particular, is just a song that wanders in, picks its nose and walks out. Sure, it threatens to ignite, yet never quite does. Every time McTrusty goes to scream out the chorus the music is beating him into the background. Likewise, the braids and buckles of tracks like “Apocalyptic Renegade”, “Dreamember” and “Eight Days”, all catchy in their own ways, sound dulled – they’re being throttled, smothered, suffocated from being overworked.
“Yes, I Was Drunk” and “Wonder Sleeps Here” manage to wriggle through Norton’s clutches, escaping with just minor scratches, but then you get to these destructively crass statements like the paint-by-numbers grunge of “Ghost Of Eddie” and the forced post-rock noodling of “Serious Underground Dance Vibes” – these are the songs that will make fans want to tear their hair out. You’ll get to the point where “Edit Me” will suddenly sound more like an invite; an Alice In Wonderland moment where you’ll imagine drinking the bottle and editing the whole damn shebang yourself. And titling their final track “We Want Better, Man”? – they’ve been reading my mind.
If you do listen to one song, listen to “Crash Land”. Actually, considering it’s bookmarked by a rare quality combo of songwriting and delivery, also listen to the enigmatic title-track (“Where’s your passion? Where’s your fire tonight?”) and the heart-breaking “Make A Beast Of Myself” (“You know, you know it’s the end of our sweet universe”). In fact, when they hit you with a trio like this it’s hard not to stand back and applaud. Really though it’s “Crash Land” that is the key to accessing this album – a paired down, acoustic slow dance that proves just how much quality the band have truly got in their locker. The frugal nature of it allows the strength of the vocal to soar, supplemented beautifully by Barry McKenna’s impeccably-reserved cello.
Let me cut to the chase. On one hand, you’ve got Vivarium and in the other you’ve got Free. The former has ingenuity, impetuosity, hooks, jagged edges, a damaged quality. In other words, a raw punk demeanour that has allowed it to strut its way into our minds and hearts. The latter feels like a misnomer. It feels constricted by design, regressively smooth and suave. Rather than spit in your face, this punk kisses you and runs. The pinged strings and ear-scraping feedback that so perfectly marked out the pitch changes and shifts in emotion are gone, replaced with a steady, monotonous muffled hammering. The incredibly cute songwriting and McTrusty’s passionate delivery are still all present but all around him the music has been diluted to supposedly make it more accessible, poppy, radio-friendly, mainstream, bland.
I witnessed the sad demise of Manic Street Preachers and, then, Biffy Clyro, as both bands slowly, steadily sold out on us. I stared in anguish as they set about wringing all the life and passion out of their music. Twin Atlantic… no, let me rephrase that… my Twin Atlantic weren’t supposed to go down this road, especially since Vivarium recalled the edgy, tenacious quality that so marked out Biffy’s early work. This is why listening to this “alternative” debut is so galling on a personal level. Free is just about solid enough to throw these Weedgies into the limelight as planned, but it could and should have been so much more. It seems no amount of polish can get the shine back on this particular golden nugget.
Also online @ The New Review (with samples) = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/twin-atlantic-free