Thursday, June 14, 2007

Memory Man by Aqualung

Aqualung (aka Matt Hales with a little help from his brother Ben) have long garnered comparisons with Coldplay, much to the confusion of this writer, with the exception that they're both British and make mid- to slow-tempo heartfelt rock music. That's about it. However, upon hearing the intro to 'Cinderella', the opening track off Aqualung's newest release, Memory Man, with it's chiming guitar strumming, distant piano tinkling and pounding backbeat, I immediately begun to wince. While it is undeniably uplifting stuff, it screams of the weaker, derivative moments from 2006's excerable X&Y.
Then, suddenly, as the opening crescendo drops, what we have is a gentle, slightly disconcerting verse utterly drenched in reverb. And suddenly the loud bits make sense, stop sounding derivative and the whole song clicks into place. And that is what differentiates Aqualung from Messrs Martin and Bono (and the Edge) is the clear individualism of the tunes, and no clear yearning, burning desire to write another smash hit and sell a bucketload of records to 15 year olds and 25 year old bogans and chavs. Because make no mistake, there are moments of clear U2-ish-ness here, be it the gradual fadeout of 'Glimmer' or the Edge-y guitar picking and gut-busting chorus of 'Outside' (I swear he even sounds like Bono on some tracks). But, by record's end, you feel like you can forgive him the indulgence of a lazy pseudo-cover, as the highpoints more than make up for it, both in creativity and quality.
Much as Aqualung try to deny it on this record, it's when the tempo slows, the volume drops and instrumentation step back a little that the band(?) really shine. Gentle verses nestle between booming choruses, giving songs their emotional core ('Pressure Suit', 'Something to Believe In', which, incidentally, is another bit of potential U2-aping), which isn't to say that said choruses lack punch, but when everything slows down and Hales' slightly cracked falsetto comes to the fore, Aqualung find their place.
Importantly, though, is that Aqualung realise that they can't go on making the same slow, emotive tracks forever, so are looking to branch out. While the upbeat numbers aren't quite what it seems they were looking for, the willingness to push into uncharted waters (while tethered to the shore, granted) suggests that when the promised land is located, it will be beautiful indeed.

3 1/2 stars

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