Review Summary: An album that maintains the Scots glowing reputation, yet one that disappoints in equal measure.
We’ve all seen it before, the music press latching onto an up and coming band like an excited leech, instantly hailing their tiny body of work as genius and declaring the band themselves as the future of music. Given the unfounded hysteria surrounding their every move, it perhaps should come as no surprise that the majority of these acts disappoint, but there are nevertheless a select few who do actually live up to their billing and end up delivering something special. This was the case in 2008 when, amid a hurricane of hype, Glasvegas unleashed their self titled debut album to almost universal acclaim from UK fans and critics alike. It wasn’t a perfect record – a handful of weaker tracks in the latter half prevented it from being the classic it could, and possibly should, have been – but it was one that captured countless hearts with it’s wounded tales of love, loss and dispair, which virtually anyone who has lived can relate to. Moreover, in a nation that is fiercly proud of it’s musical heritage, it catapulted them so far that some even suggested that they were destined to be Britain’s next great band, and subsequent releases would only prove as much.
The three years since haven’t exactly been plain sailing; they lost drummer Caroline McKay, and frontman James Allan endured a tough time following an addiction to animal tranquilisers, but the expectations of many that they will conquer greatness have been left unmarked. And second time around, they’ve again done enough to justify such lauding... but this time only just.
The first, and perhaps most important thing to say about the perplexingly titled 'EUPHORIC /// HEARTBREAK \' is that it is not an album to convert doubters. All of the band’s trademark turn-offs remain, from the arguably overwrought wall of sound to James Allan’s gratuitously Scottish drawl, and all of them have been magnified in a way that will delight fans and rile haters. This heightened scale is shown on 'Eurphoria, Take My Hand,' which effectively recalls the magic that their debut had in abundance. That’s not to say that it’s all more of the same, though, as new drummer Jonna Löfgren undoubtedly adds a new dimension to their sound with her prowess behind the kit, which relative to the hapless McKay seems positively superhuman. Bonham she is not, but her presence nevertheless brings a sense of urgency which culminates wonderfully on 'The World Is Yours' and 'Shine Like Stars,' where the band up the tempo in a manner previously unseen from them.
But while these moments are undoubtedly special, 'EUPHORIC…' all too often lacks the golden touch of its predecessor, and that at times is its undoing. At their best, Glasvegas shine in spite of their flaws, not because of them, and this shows in the album’s monotonous mid-section, where the magic that had previously plastered over the cracks is all but absent. That’s not to say that the songs which constitute it are unlistenable – they’re certainly no worse than 'Ice Cream Van' from the last album – but they’re tedious in the extreme, meandering on and on without ever threatening to take an exciting turn. The record starts well, and thankfully picks up towards its conclusion, but by that time the damage has already been done, and the painfully pretentious spoken word closer which features Allan’s mother ensures that the record departs on a similarly sour note.
It’s a shame, really, because the best moments on 'EUPHORIC…' are more than enough to justify the band’s glowing reputation, and alone should repute any claims that they’ve lost their zest. Despite this, it’s a record that’s more likely to bring about a backlash than see them elected as legends and with the British media’s cut-throat tendencies their stock may well fall. Luckily for them, though, this album provides a safety net that is just about strong enough to break the fall. It mightn’t be the masterpiece many had hoped for, but it does at least prove that Glasvegas are capable of raising sparks, and that given enough fuel in the future their fire may yet ignite fully.