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Athlete Black Swan Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

More emotion-laden, life-affirming, FM-friendly stadium rock.

Chris Jones 2009

Two years after Beyond the Neighbourhood, Deptford quartet Athlete return with some more emotion-laden, life-affirming, FM-friendly stadium rock. This time round it's far less low-key than its predecessor, and far more likely to appeal to their most avid fans. If one word were to sum up the sound, it's 'huge'.

While nobody's going to hand Athlete an award for innovation, their potent mixture of chiming, echo-driven guitars, rumbling bass and orchestral synth-assisted grandeur is nothing if not bracing. There's nothing as heartbreakingly affecting as Wires here, said song from 2005’s Tourist album evidence enough that Joel Pott's voice suits quieter moments rather than the more grandiose material now on offer. It's on the closing ace-up-the-sleeve Rubik's Cube, and the acoustic swing of Love Come Rescue, that he convinces the listener. However, when the sound grows large – as on opening single Superhuman Touch – the focus that lyrically sensitive material such as this requires is lost.

Tom Rothrock's production skills replace the band's own efforts on Beyond..., and along with their move to the Fiction label this is obviously a ploy to break past the invisible barrier that's so far impeded them joining the really big league. It's interesting to note that Rothrock's CV, featuring as it does James Blunt's last album, also includes Elbow, a band that few seem unwilling to put in the same league of uplifting stuff. But what really marks a difference between, say, the Bury band’s One Day Like This and Athlete’s rather lovely Black Swan Song? The divisions seem meaningless.

It would be crass to bang on about how, well... Coldplay-like Athlete are. Perhaps the trouble is that no-one's actually come up with a genre name for this kind of music. It oozes with emotion, with earnestness and with an uncanny knack for the grand, empty gesture. On one level it's soundtrack music, designed by committee for accompanying the significant 'moment' on some TV series. On the other it's a spark of hope in a world that sneers at such a contemptible lack of cynicism. The choice, dear reader, is yours.

It's far from even vaguely original, but it's undeniably successful. Now, what do we call it?

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