Review Summary: Nine Black Alps have succeeded in writing some great rock songs, but the album sorely misses the ‘power of guitar’ that made their original so exciting.1 of 1 thought this review was well writtenLove/Hate
Nine Black Alps:
Sam Forrest - Guitar & Vocals
David Jones - Guitar & Bass
Martin Cohen - Bass & Guitar
James Galley - Drums & Vocals
"On this album it's more about the song writing. It was more interesting to me than the power of guitar." – Sam Forrest
Mainstream success is something that a lot of bands (often heavily influenced by record labels) strive to achieve, but in doing so they walk a thin line that can often backfire. This is especially true of bands whose original sound wasn’t a commercially successful one; they have to choose between sticking to their guns and fan base or risking what they have already built up in order to change. On their second album, Love/Hate
, Nine Black Alps have opted for something of a compromise.
While debut album Everything Is
(2005) garnered much critical praise, it wasn’t the Kaiser Chiefs
style of guitar-based indie that the mainstream was looking for. The chart peak of 51 in the UK proved that for all the pop sensibilities that album had post-grunge guitars were a major turn-off. This is the most obvious difference with ‘Love/Hate’.
Album opener Bitter End
starts with a single acoustic guitar riff, before opening up into a catchy built-for-the-radio pop-rock song. With distorted guitars nowhere in sight, the band has proved that they can write more subtle, poppy songs without turning completely into The Feeling
. This approach is repeated later on in the album with Happiness and Satisfaction
, although to a much lower level of success. The song just seems to be missing that extra bit of conviction, perhaps due to the amount of production it’s been given (in fact, the band have recently stated that the song landed wide of the mark in terms of how they intended it to sound).
Unfortunately this tale of over-production is one that dogs the rest of the album throughout, especially the more aggressive and rock-orientated songs. Lead single Burn Faster
is a great example of this; a new listener to the band would be fairly impressed, as the song is catchy and has that radio-rock feel that Feeder
do so well. But compare it to Not Everyone
from the first album and the differences in sound, production and attitude are evident. The guitars feel less aggressive, with one too many coats of gloss smothering any distortion completely, a far cry from the opening fuzz of the previously mentioned track. Luckily the largely great self-depreciating lyrics remain; meaning some form of consistency is present.
This trend continues for the next 5 tracks, up to the would-be-brilliant Heavier Than Water
, in which the band try something new but are again let down by the production. The quietly whispered vocals of the bridge should create a haunting atmosphere and build up to a massive final chorus, but quite simply it doesn’t work due to the under powered feeling of the guitars. The final casualty is So In Love
, a short song that aims to be this album’s Just Friends
but on the whole fails due to the lack of explosive energy coming from the guitars and vocals.
The album does have one, well, two saving graces in the form of closing couple Forget My Name
and Under the Sun
. The former is what fans of the first album have been waiting for, as the band seem to charge through the production barriers and in the process create the album’s most rocking, and best, track. On the other hand, ‘Under the Sun’ uses the p-word to its advantage and at the same time triumphs where ‘Heavier Than Water’ didn’t: atmosphere. It starts off as a fairly simple acoustic ballad before building up to a hugely atmospheric and epic ending to the album, although not in the hard-rocking manner you may expect. Whether these two brilliant songs manage to salvage the rest of the album is debatable, but it certainly proves that Nine Black Alps can still hit the heights of their debut effort.
For me the best place to end this review is by look at the quote that started it. Nine Black Alps have succeeded in writing some great rock songs, but the album sorely misses the ‘power of guitar’ that made their original so exciting. The final irony lies with the charts: in trying to make a more accessible and mainstream album, ‘Love/Hate’ actually peaked 18 places lower than its predecessor.