A second album which never dips beneath beguiling.
Matthew Horton 2012-02-24
Goodness knows whether there's still an appetite for bombastic baroque-rock – even Arcade Fire softened into something more pop on The Suburbs – but Fanfarlo are willing to wave it under our noses one more time. A dangerous three years after their not-bad debut Reservoir, the London-anchored (but Swede-led) band have barely changed their formula, fighting for the big crescendo in every bar and striving for something mysterious and romantic in every key change. Crucially though, this time, everything's one louder. And the songs are stronger.
What this means is any residual folkiness has been shed as Fanfarlo take the Noah and the Whale route to radio ubiquity. Yes, there's some muted violin on Dig, a stroked harp on Tightrope, but by and large Rooms Filled With Light hits the big fantastical rock accelerator, packing tracks with synths, mounting strings and celestial brass. It's Disney enough to give you toothrot, but the sugar highs are offset by the odd sour low.
And the highs are dizzying. Lenslife is the repeat player, all big brass and euphoria with a chorus that's unexpected every time you hear it – it sounds like Eno and Byrne have parachuted into The Maccabees. But it's nearly matched by Tightrope, which is a bit of an indie skiffle all told, only with drunken Beirut horns and discordant piano giving it some welcome weirdness. By its end, it's hurtling towards Dexys-patented amphetamine soul.
Shiny Things does intriguing things too, coming on like dour-period OMD covering Bee Gees' You Win Again before pummelling away into another of those brassy finishes. There's little doubt Fanfarlo want to be big – that's Big Music rather than Coldplay-massive, although the cash probably won't hurt – but they have their limitations. Singer Simon Balthazar is from the 80s indie school of mannered vocals, always a barrier to leaping out of your speakers, and Fanfarlo can't shake that lingering temptation to skip off into twee. Still, one man's limitations are another fellow's charms, and Rooms Filled With Light never dips beneath beguiling. Most of the time it's really quite grand.