Review Summary: The Poets finally come out of their shells.
I have to hand it to Poets of the Fall--there’s no band quite like them. Their basis is a mainstream-oriented, pop-rock sound, yes, but if there’s one thing the Finnish sextet appear to hate more than anything, it’s being labeled. Their debut, Signs of Life
, was an impressive collection of acoustic pop a la Guster’s deranged, foreign twin of sorts, and granted them a fair amount of notoriety in their homeland. However, frontman Marko Saaresto and company refused to pigeonhole themselves, following it up with an artsy, one-level-short-of-insanity pop rock album (Carnival of Rust
) and returning as an electric-guitar-oriented rockier version of themselves on 2008’s Revolution Roulette
. Even with the band’s constant metamorphoses, it appeared that the latter direction was bound to be permanent--for one, the record contained some of their best songs to date, but also displayed a maddening sense of consistency. It appeared the Poets were stuck in a sweet spot, satisfied to be an above-the-cut pop-rock band churning out hits for Finnish radio without too much effort.
When the lead single for the band’s latest effort, Twilight Theater
, was released, it did little to dispel this notion. “Dreaming Wide Awake” was a dreamy (surprise!), midtempo cut that found a niche somewhere in between the Poets’ last two albums. It had just enough spark, as always, to keep the band soaring above their contemporaries, but it seemed as if TT
would be yet another dose of typical Poets.
Thankfully, Twilight Theater
is basically the textbook definition of a band building upon their potential. The band describes the record as “cinematic rock,” and that’s as accurate of a description as one can offer. “War” is the first sign of the Poets’ maturity, an emotional five-minute track that epically builds up to heights previously left untouched by the band. Saaresto gives one of his best vocal performances of his career as the song alternates between an acoustic, crooning verse and a grand, explosive chorus in which he belts “When I thought that I fought this war alone/you were there by my side on the front line.” The band’s flair for the dramatic continues with the equally incendiary and orchestral “15 Min Flame,” resulting in two of the most creative, if not best songs they’ve written.
The Poets haven’t lost their acoustic and pop sensibilities either--“Change” is a delightfully optimistic waltz, and Saaresto’s soothing baritone vocals combine with piano fuel the low-key “Given and Denied.” While the midsection of the record tends to drag a bit once the tempo begins to slow, the poppy, riff paradise of “Dying to Live” snaps the band out of their slump almost instantly. “Smoke and Mirrors” is equally engaging, playing true to its title as it operates on serpentine guitar lines from Olli Tuklainen.
It's too often we write off a band's potential after a few albums in which they fail to live up to it, but it's rare that we're ever proven wrong in making such an assumption. This is what makes Twilight Theater
such a refreshing listen--Poets of the Fall have made the largest creative leap of their career, finally living up to the vast potential they displayed throughout their first three releases. Twilight Theater
is without a doubt one of the catchiest, hook-filled records you'll hear in 2010, as as far as pop rock goes, it may even be one of the best.