Review Summary: Could I laugh again?
Archive are an interesting band. They started as out as nothing more than a huge Massive Attack wannabe, but their sound changed with every new singer. You All Look the Same to Me
is the London-based collective’s third studio album, and it was their first with vocalist Craig Walker, who himself was the third lead singer to release an album with the band. By 2002, Archive had began to abandon their trip-hop beginnings in favor of a more progressive and post rock-influenced sound, much like Walker’s favorite bands, Pink Floyd and Mogwai. This lineup would only last for three records before becoming a full-fledged collective, but it firmly cemented Archive’s sound for the near future.
Legend has it that the band’s songwriter Darius Keeler had written the track “Again” prior to Craig Walker began his tenure, but it feels as if that song was written specifically [i[for him[/i]. Standing at a monumental sixteen minutes and twenty seconds long, “Again” is the pinnacle of Archive’s career, a feat that they are unlikely to ever top. Everything about it is simply perfect, from its lush atmosphere to its touching strings to its magnificent guitar solo that weaves together all of the emotions of the epic, progressive track. Walker’s vocals flawlessly detail the range of feelings produced by the toll of heartache; he’s simply despondent by minute one, irate at minute eight and completely tortured after thirteen. Yet as all the rage subsides, and the pounding of the drums fade into the background, it almost feels too good to be true. “Again” is such a monumental accomplishment that it somehow feels larger than the rest of the album, like a standalone song on an EP of its own.
However, there are still nine other songs on You All Look the Same to Me
not titled “Again”. The album marks a departure from Archive’s first two, focusing primarily around creating luscious soundscapes rather than the trip-hoppy beats of their debut or the female-fronted alternative rock of their sophomore effort. A downtempo mood is created through the use of methodical percussion, slow, high piano notes, sweeping orchestral strings and sparing use of instruments such as the flute and harmonica to wistfully tie together the emotions resonated through the album. Walker’s vocals are always melancholic, filled with a sense of longing and despair. The main themes of this album are loneliness and heartache, which is complemented by its atmospheric quality and strong vocal work.
Repetition is key to You All Look the Same to Me
. This is not a dynamic album by any means; rather, it continues the same mood throughout the entire duration of its song, and the mood often carries over to the next anyway. Lyrically, repetition bolsters the sentiments of the record, and beating in that same line over and over again conveys more emotion rather than wear it out. Take “Fool”, for example – half of the words in the song consist of “It’s never sure / it’s never pure / it always hurts”, but the constant hammering in of that thought refuses to let the listener forget about the hurt that Walker is singing about. “Meon” works in the same way – the depressing organs and violins are layered on top of the repeated “thoughtless baby”s, and as the song grows in volume, the agony that is protruding from the corners culminates in one last defeated gasp of “If I’m the only one, I’d rather die.”
Archive would later go on and explore a louder sound on their followup Noise
, but for a brief moment, they had control of a bleak sound that worked so well for them. Even if their utilization of repetition failed badly in some aspects (“Numb” is awful with its repetitive riff and irritating beat, while “Finding It So Hard” gets old five minutes into its fifteen-minute runtime), they dominated the atmosphere when they were on. Walker could pass as more than a poor man’s Thom Yorke on here, with his higher register bearing striking similarities to the Radiohead frontman. While it may not be a classic, You All Look the Same to Me
is an hour-long exercise in melancholy that never holds up in its despondency.