Review Summary: "All I want is nothing more," to hear your album from before.
To co-opt from a certain Irish alternative quartet that might
have its name featured above, I had “high hopes” for Kodaline on this second foray into the studio. The group’s debut, In a Perfect World
, is a quaint gem of a record. Not forgetting the great ditties such as romantically optimistic “Brand New Day” or the plaintive “Talk,” tracks like “One Day,” “All I Want” and “High Hopes” show a band with an excellent handle on dynamics, building within its songs gradually to climax at low roars instead of bursting into overblown arena rock. From start to finish, it’s just a solid collection of restrained anthems, a la Coldplay meets Snow Patrol.
Like I wrote: “high hopes”; and not to borrow again too shamelessly from the Dubliners (or James Joyce for all you 20th-century British literature aficionados), Coming Up for Air
, unfortunately, “takes me back to when we started.” Although this usage, of course, is not what the outfit intended, nevertheless, it’s not too common for a band’s lyrics to be oddly prophetic in how it predicts its artist’s future mishaps. Alas, it summarizes this fan’s pining for those august days when our little courtship began, Kodaline, and I would sneak you into the shower with me unbeknownst to my three roommates, who were then going steady with Megadeth, Five Finger Death Punch and “Let It Go” from Frozen
Anyway, moving past references to musical winter-themed fun, “Snowplay” gets colder with less flurries on Coming Up For Air
. In other words, Kodaline decides to follow in one of its parent’s footsteps over the other, namely Coldplay at the expense of its Snow Patrol influences. From the inception, the synthetic muscles out much of the organic, as epitomized in opener “Honest”. Not to say the drums and guitar aren’t there, but they’re noticeably diminished for electronic beats and synth. By the time that first chord of the chorus strikes as lead vocalist Steve Garrigan exclaims “Saaaay!” it’s just garishly underwhelming. Following is single, “The One,” which is just the first of many attempts at cloning Coldplay. From a youthful choir in “Unclear” to those annoying synthesized notes that proliferate in the choruses and breakdowns of many hip-hop hits that molest “Lost,” Coming Up for Air
is a bit of a mess when it comes to experimenting with production and trying new things. Of course, “mess” translates to “tiny disaster,” “experimenting” means “lab accident that results in super villain” and “trying new things” is polite code for “imitating Coldplay.” So, although it’s not a cardinal sin to frequently draw from one of the paramount musical groups of the last decade, what we get is an album that often takes the worst of Coldplay – especially their newer stuff – and runs with it.
It also certainly doesn’t help that Garrigan’s voice is so similar to Chris Martin’s and as such, hemorrhages into what is the tepid and static ether that pervades a mediocre record. Kodaline is not doing itself any favors when it’s clear they don’t have Coldplay’s killer instinct when it comes to writing songs designed to be performed at sold-out stadiums. They are not arena rock assassins – at least not yet – but small club commandos, and often just don’t get nearly big enough in sonic scope, retaining their knack for restrained, slower melodies. Moreover, atmospheric tones in the constant background are not exactly conducive for dynamic buildups. Overall, it results in an unimpressionable midsection that starts early at “Autopilot” and ends after “Lost,” with tracks being difficult to distinguish from one another. Neither do the “upbeat” “Human Again” nor the badly named “Coming Alive” serves to invigorate what fast become dull and uninspired proceedings.
Pummeling aside, very little on Coming Up for Air
can be called unbearable or flat-out poor – maybe with the exception of the headache-inducing chorus of “Lost.” The final third actually reverts a bit back to vintage Kodaline except for what is the unsuccessful “Play the Game,” which brings to mind Rob Thomas and Moby. Although repetitive, “Ready” is the best offering here, though it might be the beneficiary of following a cluster of lackluster tracks. Up-tempo, it actually feels likes it’s doing something
as opposed to the drudgery that preceded it. The respite continues with “Better,” which sounds like it could have come off of In a Perfect World
. Piano ballads “Everything Works Out in the End” and closer “Love Will Set You Free” aren’t great, but at least they’re steps in a positive direction.
As a whole, however, Kodaline is not moving in a promising vector. Instead, Coming Up for Air
is more like drowning in the wash of the synthetics-production craze that has held the greater alternative genre prisoner for the last several years. Every bit a sophomore slump, it takes me back to when I first started listening to music in the 90s when drums and guitar were allowed a meaningful role in popular music. Although its influences come from the early 2000s, Kodaline previously reminded me of that halcyon era. Consider my “high hopes” dashed.