Wednesday, 28 January 2009
The Soundtrack of Our Lives - Communion
released 3 March 2009 on Yep Roc
Back in 2002, The Soundtrack of Our Lives were very nearly the “next big thing.” They were hotly tipped by the music press, endorsed by Noel Gallagher (they toured the USA with Oasis) and were Grammy-nominated for their album, Behind the Music. Unfortunately for them, the breakthrough alternative acts from that year were either grunge revivalists (The Vines), arty and with self-conscious cool to spare (The Strokes) or served up their rock drenched in blues (The White Stripes, Kings of Leon). The Soundtrack of Our Lives joined that all-too-long list of bands who didn‘t convert media attention and hype into popularity and sales.
They’ve been plugging away ever since though, and after abandoning their Origin Vol. 2 project (the proposed follow-up to 2004’s Origin Vol. 1), they return with Communion; their first double-album, consisting of 24 tracks which span two CDs. The opening few bars of the first track are oddly reminiscent of Sigur Rós, but that proves to be a red herring and it becomes apparent that TSOOL have spent the last four of five years doing their homework and learning their trade.
The first disc recalls many of the best-loved and biggest-selling rock artists of the last fifty years. Shades of The Who, Oasis, Jane’s Addiction and Primal Scream pervade every track, yet it rarely sounds derivative, as it has enough imagination and invention to be greater than the sum of its parts. In a similar way to The Hold Steady, TSOOL manage to create something which draws on a myriad of ideas whilst maintaining its own unique and unmistakeable identity.
Opening track, Babel On, is about as clear a statement of intent with which an album can begin; a six and a half minute towering rock behemoth, where booming drums collide with a crunching wall of guitars. It demands your attention and it demands to be played loud. The theme continues with Universal Stalker, before a couple of insubstantial, forgettable tracks creep in which veer dangerously close to ‘landfill indie’ territory. However, Ra 88 soon picks up the pace again, with drummer Fredrik Sandsten maintaining skill and precision whilst displaying the energy of a hyperactive child denied adequate Ritalin.
Lead single, Thrill Me, deserves to be all over the radio, combining as it does the beat of the Primal Scream classic, Rocks, with Rolling Stones guitars and an irresistible chorus. Radiohead this ain’t. Experimentalism, ambient, minimalism and dubstep all have their place, but this is good, old-fashioned, big, dumb rock which wears an enormous smile on its face and is all the better for it.
As far as the rest of the disc goes, Second Life Replay is a Mediaeval ballad that gradually builds and builds before somehow morphing into an Iron Maiden-style coda. Fly is a rancid version of the Nick Drake song of the same name, which manages to simultaneously sound like it was arranged with the aim of being commissioned for the Guitar Hero series and like it was recorded in 1988. Further tracks are slightly devoid of ideas, and the unique identity which was a positive to begin with, becomes more of a blessing than a curse as time progresses, as songs start to become more indistinguishable.
If the first disc is the in-your-face, good-time party album, then the latter disc is the introspective and maudlin younger brother, jealous at the attention-seeking of its sibling. All twelve tracks are tainted with disappointment, and it’s tricky to get enthused about them when faced with the memory of the previous dozen.
It’s not all bad news though; first track Everything Beautiful Must Die is The Jesus and Mary Chain if they’d discovered a few more instruments, even if the title inadvertently sums up disc two‘s attitude. Every track has redeeming features, but an over-reliance on drone and reverb leaves the listener fairly underwhelmed and nursing a nagging feeling of disappointment.
The longer Communion goes on, the more the ideas dry up. Songs such as Lost Prophets in Vain and Reconnecting the Dots groan under the weight of lazy lyrics, as if Ebbot Lundberg has been reading the book of songwriting clichés. Closing track, The Passover, hints at the excitement of the first disc and is a worthy climax, but in reality it’s too little too late. The chances are that you’ll have given up before then as sadly, listening to the 90-odd minutes of Communion turns out to be more of a test of endurance than an enjoyable experience.
Actually, Communion is a very good album; it’s just a shame it’s been spread out over the space of two albums. It could even be a good idea for the future; a kind of musical mix-and-match, where bands send their fans 25 tracks, and the ones that make up the album are selected by committee.
A little bit more rigorous quality control, and TSOOL could have had something with the potential to finally break them into the mainstream. They’ve recently won Best Group at the Swedish equivalent of The Grammies, so this album won’t be their last, but only time will tell how they’ll fare in comparison with the rest of the Class of 2002. For now; B minus, must try harder.