Review Summary: Summaries are a cop-out.
For the (shamefully) uninitiated, Desert Island Discs
is a long-running BBC Radio 4 show in which well-known (and normally intelligent) guests are invited to choose, first and foremost, the eight pieces of music they would want with them were they stranded on a remote island indefinitely. Certain musical ventures lend themselves to this exercise effortlessly; consider that one of the rules of the island is that each castaway receives the complete works of Shakespeare, for example, and it's clear to see that certain works of art are considered part of the creative canon, absolute cornerstones of the medium or genre.
We have a tendency, though, to only apply this sort of frame to works that have gathered dust over an arbitrary period of time. Every once in a while, though, a record emerges which it is difficult to deny possesses at least a morsel of the totalising sensation and atmosphere held by those classic
works, like Shakespeare's collection, even if in this moment they lack the same profound influence. Were The Dear Hunter's The Color Spectrum
- in its glorious entirety - the first album which you heard in your lifetime, it is hard to imagine that you would leave it on the shelf in the knowledge that you would wake the following morning marooned in the Pacific with no hope of escape.
Even as concept records go, The Color Spectrum
raises an awful lot of interesting questions about the way we listen to music and what we expect from it. There are thirty-six songs here in total, giving the entire collection a relentless 144-minute runtime, divided into 9 EPs representing different colours which are portrayed sonically as opposed to lyrically. But this is where the first of a few contentions arises: find a song here that isn't, in isolation, excellent, and you will find a beautifully huge number of people that disagree. Dipping in and out of The Color Spectrum
is the easiest thing in the world to do without risk of being disappointed. Every listener's bound to have their favourites, but it seems, remarkably, impossible to imagine any one EP being universally considered the worst.
But if The Color Spectrum
seems at times built for the Shuffle button, we should ask ourselves why, and challenge ourselves to break that taboo. 144 minutes is an awful lot of music to find time for, of course - but does that really forgive our temptation to flit around and ignore the enormity of the record as intended by its writers and producers? The issue here isn't one of The Dear Hunter failing to keep anyone's attention - even the slowest of the EPs (probably Blue
) is enthralling in and out of context. The question is simply whether an artistic creation can be too overbearing. Ambition is rarely excessive unless it goes unfulfilled, so here, it's purely a debate about length, not about repetition or any kind of lull. There are thirty-six diverse, honest and passionate songs here, and not a single one of them is poor, predictable or anonymous.
What that means is that fans of 'glitchy' rock will be enamoured by Black
and listeners of Hellogoodbye-style pop won't be able to drag themselves away from Yellow
? Angry. Blue
? Reverb and introspection. Violet
? Theatrical indie-pop. But The Color Spectrum
is just that - a scale, a panorama, a continuum. Because Red
's anger drifts into Orange
's less frustrated passion, which in turn morphs into Yellow
's unbridled joy - try and find me someone who didn't smirk the first time Casey sang you're never gonna need him - that's why you're in my room tonight
So the album doesn't jolt and jar like one might expect of something so colossal; instead, it grows and shrinks from schizophrenia through anthems to relaxation and peace. But one strange thing to note about the conceptual dynamic of The Color Spectrum
is that a song's context tends to dictate which of its features are accentuated. The collection's closer, for example, 'Lost But Not All Gone', could just as easily fit as only a slight anomaly on Red
, but in its position on White
it sounds optimistic, almost serene; were it instead surrounded by more aggressive tracks like Deny It All
there is a good chance it would sound considerably more wound-up.
But that's almost the beauty and brilliance of The Color Spectrum
in a nutshell; it's everything that you need it to be. Lazy critics say that all the time, but they rarely mean everything
in the same way as this record does. Whether you skip to how you want to feel, inhale the entire work from start to finish, or re-arrange the songs contained on these 9 EPs into something with a different effect or runtime, you can come back and do the very same thing the next day, and still not have found your way around. Its depth is more than its length, more than its explicit ambition; losing yourself completely in an album has never been this easy.