The chamber-rock/folk Londoners’ latest LP lacks life, passion and imagination.
Mark Beaumont 2011-11-21
He who steps into the arena of alternative chamber rock treads a closely-packed minefield. Too whiskey drenched and ‘starving poet’ and you risk floundering in the shadow of Tindersticks’ seminal debut. Too emotional and piano-wrought and you’ll suffer by comparison to Nick Cave’s finer moments. Too Bavarian and you’re likely to come up short against Beirut; too romantic and expect to be crushed beneath the legendary weight of The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs. And if you’re foolhardy enough to venture down the cheesy pop route… well, nobody covets the sure-fire kiss of death that is to be dubbed the new Divine Comedy.
Unsure, unassertive and undaring, London’s Fireworks Night muddle around the safe ground between all of these possibilities, hoping to accidentally stumble across some of The National’s moody folk-rock kudos. It’s a bland, homogenised version of art folk they make, lacking life, passion and imagination, eager to please via familiarity or simple lack of offence. One Winter, One Spring, as a result, is a bit like being pitifully nuzzled by a mangy three-legged kitten.
Ten tracks; a catalogue of lost opportunities and half-hearted flaps at greatness. Across the Sea finds an amateurish middle-ground between The Maccabees and Stornoway without ever threatening to match the rampant melodicism of either. Here the Roses aims at the glowering turret poetry of early Tindersticks or Lambchop and hits roughshod cabaret akin to karaoke night round Billy Smart’s gaff. The title-track has a Kinks-like psychedelic twist but sadly follows it down the thread of novelty, while the pompous beerhall ballast of God’s Luck could be – oh Lord – the new Divine Comedy. James Lesslie’s vocals strive for the emotiveness of Bill Callahan or Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam, but lack all import, worldliness or romance, settling instead somewhere between an Orlando Weeks warble and the plain folk mundanity of an open mic night down the 12 Bar.
The charm and power of such stripped-bare bouts of stylistic classicism – of records by Lambchop, Sparklehorse, Antony & The Johnsons, Regina Spektor, Nick Cave, Bright Eyes or Sufjan Stevens, to name a bare few – usually emanate from an act’s ability to create a landscape and mythology around a record worth immersing yourself in. Despite some half-arsed sea-faring imagery dotted about like Moby Dick footnotes and some hilariously bad falsetto yodelling from Lesslie on That Easy Way, Fireworks Night have neither the character, the melodic clout, the wit nor the wisdom to make you want to live in their wafer-thin world. Our tip for seekers of the diaphanous pop thrill: go drown in Lanterns on the Lake instead.