I wanted to love this album. I certainly expected to, given that I was dazzled by single ‘Trains To Brazil’ after hearing it a few months ago. Retitled in tribute to Jean Charles De Menezes, the Brazilian mistakenly shot by police in London after the terrorist bombings last July, the song is beautiful – a meditation on the fragility of human life, with a horn section. Like ‘Sixteen Military Wives’, the Decemberists’ critique of the Iraq War, it’s easy to hum along to absent-mindedly despite the weightiness of the subject matter.
The rest of the album, though, bears very little resemblance to ‘Trains To Brazil’, and no other track matches it for quality. Two or three do come close, though, and ‘Who Left The Lights Off, Baby?’ is one such. Once again there’s a rich variety of instruments and sampled sounds, including what sounds like the whistles and pops of an old crystal radio appearing at intervals. The lyrics, too, are unconventional but again very effective (“I could love you baby till the cows came home/What’s that noise? Yeah, it’s the cows knocking on our door”). However, the xylophone-led intro, bursts of strings, and a (perhaps overlong) saxophone-led ending could easily have been performed by a completely different band. For a band to sound like no one else is an impressive achievement. For a band to not even sound like themselves is frankly confusing.
This eclecticism is probably From The Cliffs’ main weakness. A compilation of tracks from previous releases, it doesn’t quite fit together – the whole is if anything slightly less than the sum of its parts. It has a cobbled-together feel, as if little attention was paid to the order of the tracks. Thus ‘Trains To Brazil’ is followed by ‘Made Up Lovesong #43′, which would sound a bit like Generation Terrorists-era Manic Street Preachers if it didn’t open with the line “I love you through sparks and shining dragons, I do”. That in turn is succeeded by nine minutes of dreamlike meanderings that goes by the title of ‘Over The Stairs’. The closing track, ‘My Chosen One’, manages the singular feat of sounding even less like the rest of the album than most of the preceding tracks. Unfortunately, it’s a piano-driven ballad, with vocalist Fyfe Dangerfield apparently angling for a contract as a James Blunt tribute act. Worth a listen if you suffer from chronic insomnia, but otherwise there are surely better things you could do with your life in those three minutes.
I enjoyed listening to this, but for anyone who was sensible enough to acquire previous singles and EPs, it’s probably not worth bothering. The only new track, opener ‘Sake’, is forty seconds long and passes by barely noticed before ‘Trains To Brazil’ begins. The Guillemots’ “proper” debut album is due out later this year. If it manages to maintain this level of originality it should be pretty good. If it has a true identity of its own, rather than sounding like a hurried mixtape, it could be wonderful.