Midlake’s response to losing their front-man Tim Smith has been to release a new album. Have the band excelled under their new guise or are they yet to break the shackles of their earlier work? Chris Duffy listens to Antiphon.
Rewind three and a half years and Midlake had just released their third album The Courage Of Others to generally positive reviews, but it seems now that discontent lay beneath the surface. In August of this year an announcement on the band’s website made it apparent that lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Tim Smith had left the band. In the interviews that followed, guitarist and new front man Eric Pulido made it clearer why the change had to be made, saying “Antiphon is the most honest representation of the band as a whole, as opposed to one person’s vision that we were trying to facilitate.”
With new members Jesse Chandler (keyboards, piano, flute) and Joey McClellan (guitars) bought in to fill the gaps left by Smith’s departure, Antiphon is the sound of a band of great experience looking to sound new and fresh. Midlake themselves have noted how the music they are playing was now “less folk and more rock” and change is noticeable in parts of their new release – but it feels like Midlake are holding something back.
The album’s title track feels like an introduction to the new Midlake. It kicks in with some psychedelic guitar work akin to The Faces and is backed by some nifty Doors-style keyboards. Its a style that works for the new line up – at times the keyboard and organ work of Chandler is good enough that the late, great Ray Manzarek himself would have be proud of it. It’s a true highlight of the album.
‘The Old and The Young’ stomps along at a fine pace backed by a bass line plucked straight from Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’ and a chorus that indicates that the song may become a highlight of the band’s live shows. Five tracks in and you feel like Midlake have been born again; a new rocky sound, a 60’s throwback with soaring keyboards and harmonious strings resonate. Instrumental track ‘Vale’ is a sleek showcase of the bands work away from the mic. It works, despite not being as grandiose as full-time instrumental bands such as Explosion’s In The Sky. So far, Antiphon sounds like a winner.
Yet the album hits a lull in the shape of ‘Aurora’s Gone’ and ‘Ages’; uninspired songs which disappointingly slam the brakes on. Antiphon regains it’s sense of purpose slightly thereafter with 80s pop-styled ‘This Weight’ and the piano heavy ‘Corruption’, but by this stage it feels as if we have gone from riding a motorcycle to continually falling off a unicycle in slow motion. Album closer ‘Provider (Reprise)’ does little to leave us on a high note. Its peters out to leave you feeling slightly underwhelmed.
Although lyrically Antiphon doesn’t hold any gems, musically the band pull off their new sound rather well, for a while. The first half is a ode to influences such as Pink Floyd (‘It’s Going Down’), The Faces (‘Provider’) and The Doors (‘Antiphon’) but never do Midlake threaten to make that style their own, rarely taking any risks. Like a child who has wondered too far from home, too far from their comfort zone; Midlake turn back to what they know is safe.
Maybe though, safety is what was required for the time being. Had the band changed their name and started afresh following Smith’s departure, Antiphon would be regarded as an decent debut album with plenty of promise. Alas that’s not the case and it becomes apparent that it may take more than just Antiphon for the new line-up to shake the shackles of the past. For the time being, Midlake sound like a band with all the ability in the world, who need to dare to stray out of their comfort zone to fulfil their potential of making a truly great album.
Picture from thelineofbestfit.com