Is this the most important album of their career?
Records like ‘Lower Than Atlantis’ don’t come around often. Smart, incisive, worryingly addictive and overflowing with character, it was crowned our 2014 Album Of The Year for good reason – confirming the Watford four-piece as some of rock’s most talented songwriters.
Understandably then, expectations are as high as they come for this follow-up. Is this the release that will – after 10 years, countless shows and a comparable number of controversies – finally land them on the world’s biggest stages?
Well, if it doesn’t, that won’t be through any lack of trying. From the swaggering, gargantuan riffs and infectious chorus of opener ‘Had Enough’ onwards, ‘Safe In Sound’ is clearly engineered for the airwaves; almost every song produced and polished to within an inch of its life.
The raw nerves and rough edges that characterised their earlier work are conspicuously absent, replaced by the electronic flourishes of alt-pop curveball ‘Boomerang’ and bittersweet shuffle of ‘Could Be Worse’. Sure, these songs are immaculately constructed and expertly performed, but at times it feels like a little of the soul and feeling has been lost in the process.
That’s not to say that ‘Safe In Sound’ is without its triumphs – there’s still an abundance of riches to enjoy here. ‘Long Time Coming’ collides the band’s past and present to powerful effect; frontman Mike Duce returning to combative form, and launching a chorus that sounds destined for stadiums. ‘I Would’ is a brilliantly compulsive shot of pop-rock, meanwhile, with tongue wedged firmly in cheek (“I would kill a man / just to hold your hand”).
At the other end of the scale, ‘I Don’t Want To Be Here Anymore’ features one of the most vulnerable, unfiltered vocal performances Mike has ever delivered. It’s a heartbreakingly intimate diary entry of a song, capturing the thoughts of someone at their lowest ebb, contemplating ending it all (“But I wish I was never born / and I don’t want to be here anymore”). Emotionally and sonically, the record is all over the place – and while results may vary, they’re never boring.
Anyway, after all the struggles and turmoil that brought them here, it’s impossible to begrudge LTA shooting for the stars. Sure, it would have been great if some of these tracks had a little more weight behind them, and the odd number falls flat – chiefly ‘Money’, which is a fine pop song, but feels disappointingly bland – but this may well be the album they needed to make.
Besides, there are still few bands who capture the poetry and tragedy of everyday life like these guys do (‘Could Be Worse’ features lines about tea stains and sleeping through your alarm, which can’t be said about Linkin Park) and that’s not something to take lightly.
Appropriately, the album ends on a high note, with the soaring, string-laden ‘A Night To Forget’. And if things go to plan over the next 12 months, they won’t have to live through too many more of those.