As it was in the ‘90s, the beginning of the new century has seen the United Kingdom harvesting a bounty of promising yet largely generic-sounding guitar bands. These bands are frustrating in that they all have vaguely interchangeable names and images, and would thus remain interchangeable and irrelevant had they not a gimmick or secret weapon. Think the Cribs snagging Johnny Marr, the Wombats sharing their name with a particularly cute mammal and churning out a pretty great cover of Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love,” and the Kaiser Chiefs being blessed with the fact that a lot of people really like mediocrity.
Delays may possess the purest, and in turn most frustrating, gimmick of all. Lead singer Greg Gilbert has the most stupefying voice of the scene, and on the band’s fourth release, Star Tiger, Star Ariel, it’s more stunning than ever. This is particularly evident on opener “Find a Home (New Forest Shaker)”, in which Gilbert unleashes a falsetto that skims the same heights as Sparks’ helium behemoth, Russell Mael. Paired with the song’s twinkling and slightly Eastern-sounding backdrop, the result is somewhat dizzying and wholly bewitching.
The remainder of Star Tiger, Star Ariel never quite tops those opening promises, but it does bristle with harmonic Brit-rock decadence throughout. It is sometimes futile to resist a big, stomping chorus, generic or not. Delays have lent their dedicated ears to Manic Street Preachers’ post-Holy Bible discography and learned well in the process. “Rhapsody”, “Hold Fire”, and first single “Unsung” are delivered from lyrical schmaltziness by sturdy hooks and Gilbert’s endearingly ridiculous falsetto. Other times, not even a triumphant chorus can temper the heavy, in-concentrate syrupy-ness of Star Tiger‘s lyrics. Manic Street Preachers, who Delays have cited directly as an influence, at least have the lyrical heft and maturity to counterbalance their more indulgent forays into the anthem. Delays, with such lines as, “We’re like soldiers in disguise / we’ll run a mission for your smile,” rarely go beyond knight-in-shining-armor ruminations.
When not tugging the heart-strings at an attic-high pitch, Star Tiger, Star Ariel stumbles with speedier yet far less memorable rockers such as “May 45” and “Shanghaied”. Aaron Gilbert, brother of Greg, takes over eight tracks in, with the altogether different “In Brilliant Sunshine”. Although possessing a far more conventional set of vocal chords, his soft, unremarkable voice manages to be the perfect accompaniment for the song, which careens from slow mainstream rock into a subtle rave-out chorus. It is an exhilarating moment and a more worthy closer than the album’s ho-hum title track, which follows four tracks later.
Delays are clearly not without talent, and, four albums in, are showing signs of definite progression from their lovely if innocuous debut, Faded Seaside Glamour. If the Gilberts and company can marry a more intriguing lyrical vision to stronger hooks, then they may have something worth swooning over. If that doesn’t work, there is always the odd pop cover to fall back on.