Review Summary: When is an EP not an EP? When it's this long, and this good.Charlie Simpson was in Busted. Fightstar are not Busted.
EPs make a lot of sense. Granted, they made more sense back before CDs were invented and became the single most effective way of packaging music, but they still have their uses now. They're a way for up-and-coming bands to give people an idea of what they're in for - a taste of the future, if you like. And yes, to return for a second to that most banal of topics, given Fightstar's embarrassing beginnings their first offering was undoubtedly more crucial than most bands'. Having said all this, it's impossible to ignore that They Liked You Better When You Were Dead
is 40 minutes long, and therefore far less of an appetiser than a main course itself. Not only is it one of the longest debut EPs ever released, its unique brand of passionate pop-hardcore is also one of the most surprising first impressions I've ever heard.
For starters, Amethyst is the best thing they've ever written. Its soft verses float between ambience and beautifully-picked guitars; the chorus, out of nowhere, pummels you with twenty seconds of desperate vocals and breathless drumming. It's a hook like so many present on this record, instantly memorable and confidently executed. Simpson, at the fore of almost everything, sounds raw, passionate and in his comfort zone; Alex Westaway 's vocals, usually secondary, bang on the foreboding wall of crashing guitars that accompany every chorus. The occasional interplay between the two, like near the end of Lost Like Tears In Rain, is immensely effective. The record's best breakdowns and interludes owe their force and quality to a tight rhythm section, particularly Omar Abidi's drums, which consistently propel songs where they would otherwise be in danger of drifting.
It's fair to say there was a severe danger of over-compensating on this record, and placing too much emphasis on the heavier side of things with total disregard for subtlety. While it's certainly true that some of the crushing guitar sections feel slightly forced, though, there's not a single track on When You Were Dead
that doesn't benefit from some sort of emotional outpouring; lyrically, it's superb, with lines like "You stumble, through questions, that you could never answer / That barrel, is loaded, so go and paint your target"
dotted throughout, and the acoustic, mellow introductions to Cross Out The Stars, Mono and Amethyst help to slow things down in places too. Most of these gentler moments, usually brought about by softer, picked guitars or light cymbal work, are eventually corrected, of course, but they still provide the diversity needed for this record not to become one massive "We're not Busted, honest"-fest.
So how well does When You Were Dead
manage to separate itself from what will often be the first point of reference for Fightstar? Well, there's obviously enough to suggest that Simpson was in the wrong place for half a decade, as is evidenced by the harsher vocals he provides and the heavy riffs scattered all over, especially on Speak Up and Palahniuk's Laughter. It almost manages to throw off the Busted shadow completely, but the fact is that it doesn't entirely want
to. What makes this album such a breath of fresh air is its poppy side - the catchy choruses, the energetic melodies and the accessibility of a great deal of the material. The combination of grit and beauty is most prominent on Until Then, which morphs from an all-out rocker to a softly crooned middle section and back again, and it's this duality which lends itself to multiple listens. To say that Fightstar's debut EP showed promise or potential would be a disservice - They Liked You Better When You Were Dead
is in and of itself a release well worthy of a place on any discerning music-lover's bedroom shelf.