Saturday, 14 March 2009

Tell Me It's Not Over - Starsailor

Starsailor prospered in the post-Britpop years, with their debut album Love Is Here capitalising on ground laid by the Verve, Doves, Elbow and Travis by selling more than 1 million copies. Pre-conceived wisdom has these years penned as a wasteland, brought to furious life by two enervating and hedonistic early releases from either side of the Atlantic; Is This It by the Strokes and Up The Bracket by the Libertines. While this revisionist appraisal imposes a false genealogy on modern music history, it has to be said that during the period from the end of Britpop (generally considered to be 1997) to those Rough Trade releases in 2001/02 alternative music had become increasingly genre bound, and Starsailor’s music adheres strictly to generic conventions.

Starsailor have always suffered from poor timing. As alternative kids everywhere were getting off to increasingly esoteric and danceable forms of post punk, new wave and mutant disco in indie clubs they released the lumpen “Four to the Floor”. Designed to be their very own “I Am The Resurrection”, it sounds bloated in comparison to the groove heavy Stone Roses song. While a band’s merits should not be assessed on how culturally relevant they are, their audience has more than likely moved on during the interim and it is hard to see how their new release will recapture them.

Their sound is at it was in 2001, preserved in aspic. Minor key piano chords announce the song, at once strident and cowed, while the lack of any sort of tempo change, riff or syncopation and the bland instrumentation hardly inspires. The song is emotionally overwrought while strangely lacking in emotional clarity. The song’s narrator finds his partner in bed with another, providing the track with its narrative thrust, but the situation is too clich├ęd and contrived to convince the listener of its emotive depth. The simple arrangement and limited sonic palette of the song is there to showcase frontman James Walsh’ vocals, which is possessing of its usual quavering baritone. It will surely soundtrack the departure of Premiership managers on Sky Sports News and the end of pubescent relationships on Hollyoaks.

They have always struggled in comparison to those other sons of Wigan the Verve. While the basic elements are the same James Walsh lacks Richard Ashcroft’s shamanistic flair for narrative and vocal phrasing. Starsailor are firmly set within the boundaries of genre, content to exist within their constrictions. While the Verve channel a sense of mystic and epic fervour, Starsailor are limited to the structural demarcations created by themselves. What is strange is that they have lost the atmosphere they created on early tracks such as “Love Is Here”, replacing it with a prosaic and heavy-handed approach to subject matter and timbre.

Striving to depict inner turmoil and anguish they inspire nothing but entropy. While the song is consummately performed, no surprise given that they met at a Music College, the song becomes white noise, an undignified mess of minor chords, misplaced sentiments, hyperbole and hand wringing that leaves you feeling sensory deprivation. Eventually it washes over you, instantly forgettable yet leaving a searing and unmistakeable pain; a fleeting, backwards glimpse at a musical past you thought long consigned to ruin.
This article was originally produced for To read the music review of Tell Me It's Not Over by Starsailor on the site please click on the article title.

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