Review Summary: An album fixated with the intergalactic ironically sees Klaxons crashland back on Earth.
The big story in Klaxonworld since 2007's unexpectedly successful Myths of the Near Future
comes not with the release of Surfing the Void
, despite its status as one of 2010's most anticipated follow-ups - it came with the announcement in 2009 that the band had recorded an entire album for release, and the label had rejected it on the grounds it was 'too weird' and 'too experimental'. Indie fans have a tendency to react to stories like that in a really puerile way ('yeah, stick it to the man, bro!'), but the right way to feel about that story is to be disappointed and deflated; although there are famous exceptions (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
, Kamal the Abstract
), record labels are rarely wrong about these things on the whole, and although Klaxons have always a weird band, the reason Myths of the Near Future
was such a special, attention-grabbing record was because of the hooks. Weirdness, really, had very little to do with it - the quite normal likes of "Two Recievers" and the cover of "It's Not Over Yet" were album highlights, certainly moreso than the self-consciously weird "Magick".
So how could we expect Surfing the Void
to match their debut? The news that not only were they changing, rather than re-writing the failed album, but that they were hiring Rick Robinson as producer, was damning. Robinson's ideas of whipping a band into shape is to remove their guitar solos; most of the music he's been involved with is completely ridiculous and overblown despite his self-hyped 'unpretentious' touch, so any hopes of an Albini-esque demolition job are instantly dashed, even though it's almost certainly what Robinson was hired for. Similarly, the notion that they were hanging on the wreckage rather than abandoning it entirely and starting again was worrying - the band themselves didn't seem especially defiant about their rejected album, with Jamie Reynolds himself hinting in the initial interview that he agreed with their decision ('it isn't right for us as a band').
Surfing the Void
reflects both its troubled genesis and Reynolds' uncertainty - it's a messy, confused, disappointing whimper of an album that is memorable only for how unmemorable it is. Robinson's production can only shoulder some of the blame for that - his major contribution has been to increase the punch and power of their drum and bass attack, which is clearly the strongest aspect of these songs, but he's left the vocals and synths sounding muddy in comparison. Instead, it's the Klaxons themselves who had sabotaged the good work on Myths of the Near Future
, with the problems they've made for themselves running from the smallest details right up to the broadest, most sweeping impressions.
The vocals are shared much more democractically between band members here, which is a poor decision - there's no problem with the band all singing together in woozy unison as they have done on tracks like "Golden Skans" in the past, but none of them can carry a song as a solo lead vocalist as well as Reynolds can, and it seems oddly self-defeating that they're even trying. The synths are scaled back in favour of heavier guitars, but the end result is to remove the precision in the chaos of songs like "Atlantis to Interzone" and muddy the whole arrangement - the guitarists simply aren't rhythmically tight enough to be a suitable substitution for keyboards. The lyrics, too, have their problems - while there was always something charming about their devotion to Crowley and science fiction, the lyrics on here consistently tackle the latter topic with an odd sense of detachment, as if they don't really care about space and time any more.
The real issue, though, is that the hooks that defined them have all but disappeared. Glance over the tracklisting of Myths of the Near Future
three years after hearing it, and songs will still pop out from the tracklisting - you'll probably remember the chorus on "Two Recievers", the intros on "Atlantis to Interzone" and "Golden Skans", and so on. Glance over the tracklisting to this just three minutes after hearing it, though, and you'll struggle with anything but "Echoes". For a band with a remarkable gift for once-heard-never-forgotten moments that sound like nobody else, that's little short of unforgiveable.
It's not all bad news - I'd wager that a few of these songs will sound great live ("Cypherspeed" particularly), and the pure energy and determination often overshadows the lack of real ideas or inspiration. In defence of Surfing the Void
, it's certainly not an album I'd describe as 'bad' per se - it's just a massive disappointment. If you've ever bought into Klaxons as a band, absorbed their mythology and subsequently imagined where future albums might take them, this will bring you down to Earth with a bang - there's obviously a lot of the decade left to play out, but right now, this is the Be Here Now
of the '00s.