04 July 2012

Big Wreck: "Albatross"

As I have said before, my youth consisted of an overdose of a few genres of music: dream pop, glam rock, goth rock, (early deep) house, industrial, new wave, (campy and kitschy) pop, post-punk, punk, shoegaze, synthpop, etc… So it should come as no surprise when I say that by 1997 I was becoming disenchanted with music. Just look at was on offer from the veterans: Erasure’s “Cowboy” (1997, a return to the mundane after an amazingly experimental eponymous album), Crane’s “Population 4” (1997, grew on me eventually, but devoid all of the band’s grandiosity), Siouxsie and the Banshee’s “Rapture” (1995, an anti-climatic end to one of the most underrated bands of all time), Ride’s “Tarantula” (1996, a disappointment only overshadowed by the disappointment of the band breaking up), The Cure’s “Wild Mood Swings” (1996, inferior to all their prior albums), Depeche Mode’s “Ultra” (1997, with the obvious exceptions, really….really?) … and the list can go on and on and on. But then I heard “That Song” … How does the cliché go? Hook, line and sinker! Considering that Big Wreck is anything other than those genres mentioned above, it even surprised me back in 1997 that they were one of the bands instrumental in reigniting my passion for music. And, when I decided that I would wait for July to relaunch SlowdiveMusic Blog (since I would be free of all responsibilities other than tanning and spending wasting hours without my feet ever touching the ground), the best place I could think of starting once again from is the reformed Big Wreck and their new release, “Albatross” (6 March 2012).

Another thing I have said before is that I am sucker for literary metaphors. Whether or not Big Wreck intended on bringing up visions of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” it is where the metaphor of the albatross being a psychological and/or spiritual burden comes from. Lyrically, Big Wreck delivers on this theme of tortured souls and restless contemplation. Musically, Big Wreck continues to elude conventional labeling. Are they post-rock? Post-grunge? Progressive rock? Perhaps it is best to acknowledge that Big Wreck brings in all the above references with a slew of others, including the blues, and, after a decade since their last release, they are still able to stir up that sense of anxiety and angst that makes you breathless. But, unlike so many bands that have reformed, they are not relying on old formulas or old monuments … they are creating the next chapter, not wallowing in the last one for the sake of nostalgia. And there is Ian Thornley’s voice. Suffice to say it is one of the most haunting voices in music.

The album opens very subtly with “Head Together,” and then the beat drops: “Those glances ricochet off everybody else, but they’re sticking to me like glue. And if the situation ever was to change, who’s to say what the hell I’d do.” Big instrumentalisation and tight arrangements, this is the kind of song you expect from Big Wreck. The second track, “A Million Days,” with a new-wave-esque opening that repeats, has one hook after the other, endlessly changing it up. Then follows the first “wow” moment, “Wolves.” Musically, the mandolin work is very unexpected. Lyrically, the weight of the words is belied by the levity of the music (“I said bleed out your heart, if it’s still beating for someone else….”). Then the titular track follows: “One last cup of starlight, before I wake and start my day. A past so filled with promise, before I lost, I lost my way. Ah that’s okay, and I’m alright; I guess I’ll be lost again for one more night. Oh and that’s alright, I’m okay; I’ll wear the albatross for one more day.” And even though the song is ripe with bluesy elements, Ian Thornley’s voice is uplifting and oozing more hope than it has ever before.

The rest of the album is as brilliant as the opening four tracks. “Glass Room” demonstrates Big Wreck’s pop sensibility, without compromising their style, while “All Is Fair” is a contemporary (indie?) take on 70s rock. “Control” slows things down (eerily) to ditch out a bit of harsh reality (“It’s the same old world, where we grew up, and there’s no one to blame for why we’re all screwed up. You can bury your head in a great big hole, did you ever believe that you were in control?”), while “Rest of the World” is this big, loud, harsh monster of a song, where all of the metal and post-rock references are running rampant. “You Caught My Eye” is a study in contradictions: musically anti-sultry but seductive, lyrically harsh but coquettish – yet it all works so well when put together. The cacophonous “Do What You Will” plays with your expectations over and over, and then slips into the final track: “Time.” This is the biggest surprise on the album. From all the acoustic elements to the unexpected shifts, Thornley’s is profounder than ever before: “If I could go back in time, what would I change of mine? I wasted way too much of it just wishing I could go back in it. It takes time to figure out why I’m always running out.”

And what have always said if you wanted the job done right? Get a veteran to do it! “Albatross” is an amazing album and a very welcomed return of Big Wreck. Check this album out immediately.

Track Listing:
1. Head Together
2. A Million Days
3. Wolves
4. Albatross
5. Glass Room
6. All Is Fair
7. Control
8. Rest of the World
9. You Caught My Eye
10. Do What You Will
11. Time

Keep up with Big Wreck at their homepage, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here are the videos for “Albatross,” “Control,” and “Wolves” from the bigwreckmusic YouTube Channel.

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