Review Summary: Bitterly disappointing.
On Through The Windowpane
, their 2006 debut, the Guillemots constructed their own sound world in a way few bands manage at such an early stage. It was wide-eyed, upbeat, but built upon layers of melancholy; songs like "Trains to Brazil" and "Made-Up Love Song #43" were instantly appealing, but they revealed extra depths as time went by. The knowledge that the Guillemots managed to do this makes Red
all the more confusing; having built a unique that worked so well for them, why are they trying so hard to dismantle it?
The problem with the majority of the songs on here is not so much that the Guillemots aren't doing what they're doing well, but more the fact that you can't realy make out what it is that they're trying to do. They haven't changed their sound enough for this to count as a reinvention, but they haven't kept enough of their original sound for this to be a continuation of their earlier material. The production and attention to detail on these songs makes it clear that they weren't throwaways, but the lackluster songwriting and lack of any distinguishing features makes you wonder just how much the band members care about their music or their careers. But then, at no point here do the band fall squarely into the most obvious trap of bands who don't care about their music - nothing here is a straight inferior rewrite of any of the stronger moments from their debut. It's not even offensively bad enough for it to be clear that the band are commiting career suicide. So what exactly is going on? For 9 of the 11 songs here, it's as if they set out to be as mediocre and unremarkable as possible. Red
is almost impossible to either review or enjoy.
"Falling Out Of Reach" sounds like an album track from The Format's debut album, and not a particularly good one at that. "Get Over It" is half-hearted at best, despite vocalist Fyfe Dangerfield giving it his all - the song simply can't help being devoid of any energy. The Eastern influences that crop up on the otherwise instantly forgettable "Clarion" are entirely tiresome, having already made an appearance on "Kriss Kross" and "Big Dog" (see also "Cockateels", a song with an intro lifted from an advert for holidays to India). "Last Kiss" is led by female vocals, in what is a transparent attempt to divert attention towards a song that sounds like a dumping ground for all the ideas the band couldn't fit anywhere else. And "Wings" is somehow both reminiscent of Wings and The Bee Gees. Honestly, I could go bullet-point on every song like this.
Compunding the mediocrity of these songs is the fact that the band are still offering up hints of what they're capable of, just in very small doses. In less diinterested hands, "Standing On The Last Star" could have been a really special song. The chorus melody of "Falling Out Of Reach" is memorable enough to deserve a more developed song surrounding it. And "Get Over It" still has that crucial sense of catharsis that makes "Trains to Brazil" arguably the best single released all decade, it's just buried so deep it has no impact, like a shot of vodka at the bottom of a pint of water.
The disappointment of 90% of this album almost makes "Kriss Kross" a flaw. Its Indian motif, muscular bassline, and energetic performance promise so much from this album, and putting it at the front of the record just makes everything that follows that much more deflating. Fyfe Dangerfield can still pull off a promising melody, and at best his voice is still a thing of quivering, barely-restrained majesty, but "Kriss Kross" aside, he never gets a chance to show off what he can really do, and with lyrics like 'Since Cinderlla sold her soul/here's no such thing a rock'n'roll' it's no wonder. Nor do the rest of the band get their chance - the compositions on here simply don't deserve the treatment that these guys are capable of dishing out to a song like "Made Up Lovesong No. 43" or "Who Left The Light Off, Baby?", and you get the feeling that they know as much, too. There's a minor detail to enjoy in almost every song on here, but the whole is average to the point of being physically sickening for anybody who fell in love with their magical debut. Surely - hopefully - Red
is the biggest disappointment of 2008.