Review Summary: ‘Second-album syndrome’ strikes again. There’s not a lot wrong with ‘the music’ as such; it’s the songwriting and direction that need work
How far can sheer ambition alone get you in the music world today? Every generation has its heroes that are frequently emulated and built upon. If you were a kid in the 1965 you wanted to be like the Beatles, or Dylan. In 1975, you would have killed to be just like Bowie. 1985...um, skip that one. Of course, it’s all a question of personal taste, but for a young, impressionable person in mid-90s England, your gods may very well have been of the Stone Roses, Blur, and Oasis ilk.
The Music (not much effort there) hail from Leeds, England, and started getting noticed on the indie/rock scene around the turn of the century. Championed by the NME in particular (a warning sign if ever you saw one), they produced some promising EPs before delivering their eponymous debut album. Though flawed, its most striking characteristic was an ambition and rawness that positively seeped
out of the speakers. Comparisons to the Stone Roses were rife. Confident live performances heralded a distinctively north-of-England sound. So Welcome To The North
was the mast that should have held The Music’s colours aloft and proud. Indeed, the first three songs here seem to exude self-confidence. The title track shows off some competent guitar riffage, complete with an Eastern-inspired effect over the middle-eight, while 'Freedom Fighters'
takes a pretty standard rock song and gifts it with enough energy to almost demand some electronics and go the whole hog into a rave song. Catchy chorus, screeching guitars, stompy beat; wow, this album’s going to be great! 'Bleed From Within'
does nothing to assuage this hope; flexible rhythms abound on this extremely more-ish track, and it finishes in fine style with a tribal-esque drum solo.
And that’s it, really. The listeners’ love affair with the album stops there. What follows is eight more tracks of frustratingly samey stadium songs. Shout-it-from-the-rooftops choruses, pretentious lyrics, and bland, pseudo-sentimental torch songs abound. The real problem is that they sound far too similar to tracks one, two and three. There are
attempts to develop these ideas and go off on a tangent; this album is thrusting optimism and ambition in music form; but it’s not successful. Listening to the countless riffs that pervade this high-energy album, you realise that, even after several listens, you don’t remember a single one of them. They try to hide this lack of substance by covering their work with noise; these guys sure like their amps. Paying attention to Robert Harvey’s vocals, the potential of his distinctive, high-pitched voice (he's basically a poor-mans' Perry Farrell) gets lost in his over-enthusiastic delivery, and you start to think that maybe an instrumental version of the album would suit your eardrums better (this is particularly noticeable by his best vocal being on the album's sole ballad, 'Fight The Feeling'
, a mid-album attempt to get back on course that almost succeeds). 'Guide'
offers a faint glimmer of hope in having a nicely sentimental chorus, but by this point on the album the repetitiveness has mounted up so much that it's hard to pay attention to it anymore.
It's a real shame that The Music can’t seem to pin their own sound down. Welcome To The North
is a sorry case of a band trying far too hard. A hefty dose of up-tempo energy and a veritable military bombardment of riffs is nothing compared to genuine passion and memorable songs. Their debut album can be forgiven for being a first attempt, and possessing an inescapable rawness that seems to suit them better than this more polished work. But despite such promise and rhythmic competence, you can only hope that their next album will be a far more focused effort. Three good tracks out of eleven doesn't make a great album.