Flashes of brilliance amid repetitive sameness
In only a few years, Glasvegas, the Indie Rock band from Glasgow, Scotland, has done some amazing things. The band has released two top ten albums which sold millions of copies and attained either overwhelming critical praise or generally favorable reviews. After being dropped from Sony Music, the band was picked up by Sony’s former joint-venture partner, BMG and have released Later… When the TV Turns to Static, their third album (not counting their 2008 Christmas EP).
The new album is technically proficient and features more than its fair share of impassioned crooning by lead vocalist James Allan and driving walls of indie-rock sound. However, the album overall fails to retain the interest of the listener. This is, in part, due to the fact that with a few sonic exceptions, the songs largely sound the same, with Allan crying out (often impressively) over his cousin Rab Allan’s driving lead guitar work or light, light piano on track after track after track with not much variation to make Later… When the TV Turns to Static a terribly challenging or engaging listen.
The sound of the album was exemplified in the pre-release single “I’d Rather Be Dead (Than Be With You)”, a piano-driven break-up ballad that repeats its title in a pained Scottish accent over and over. The song’s keyboard lead is enticing and attractive, but the depressing chorus is made slightly more trite when the piano acts as an echo in that same chorus’ second turnaround. Sadly, this song seems to be a sincere and heart-felt song of heartbreak that many of us have been through, but when Allan stops singing and starts to mumble an angry diatribe about the one who left him, “I’d Rather Be Dead” starts to sound less like a serious ballad and more like something Flight of the Conchords might boil up as a spoof of tortured break up songs. “I huffed and I puffed and I BLEW IT!”, Allan says. I sympathize, but I do so while holding back a snicker at this poetry.
The album’s opening song is the title track of this album and sounds more like the indie sound (mixed with just a bit of Cranberries) that Glasvegas is known for. With soaring backing vocals and a murky sonic texture that creates an impressive wall of sound, “Later… When The TV Turns To Static” is a good introduction to the album of the same name, but the question is does the depressed crooning also make for an invitation within this introduction to continue?
The second song, “Youngblood” is a remarkably repetitive tune that is half-comprised of the statement “I’ll do what I can, Youngblood”, echoed over and over throughout the song. When the driving (if distant-sounding) guitar fades in favor of some cool sound effects, the song is over and “Choices” takes its place. This third cut is essentially a sad poem that consists of a litany of depressing situations that the singer has no control over. However, the sameness is broken when the piano lead morphs into a series of interesting arpeggios and interwoven melodies that bring the entire piece together.
The mood shifts quickly into the heavier “All I Want Is My Baby”, a reverb-heavy commentary on society with the refrain of “All I Want Is My Baby” continuously breaking up Allan’s list of real-world frustrations. However, is this refrain a happy refrain of love or the singer’s reason for being unable to care about the rest of the world’s problems? The anger and hurt of this song manifests itself in musical diversity, loud guitars and insightful lyrics, all of which combine to form probably the best song on the entire album. This fourth track is a great indie rock song more than worth a download. Unfortunately, this doesn’t quite carry through to the rest of the record.
Much of this does, however, carry over to the fifth song, “Secret Truth”, which starts out much like the light ballads on the album, but explodes into a multi-layered sonic tapestry as Allan’s vocals burst with emotion. Even as Reb Allan’s guitar settles into a feedback-heavy solo, the song rediscovers its softer side with a near-New Age underlying track with echoing drums that lead directly into “I’d Rather Be Dead”.
After the aforementioned piano ballad single, “Magazine” takes over with its synthesized orchestral sound broken by some beautiful leads by Reb Allan, all surrounding the heavy Scots accent of James Allan. Lyrically, “Magazine” is just as sorrowful as the rest of the album and even delves into the trite and selfish, but musically this seventh song would form a triumphant triumvirate of music with “Secret Truth” and “All I Want is my Baby” if the trio hadn’t been interrupted by the silly single “I’d Rather Be Dead”. For all the lovely sounds in “Magazine”, a refreshing relief from the single that precedes it, repeat listens to the song reveal something of a two trick pony with one repeated sonic surprise and one beautiful, but equally repetitive guitar lead holding together James Allan’s familiar voice and lyrics.
The next song, “If”, echoes Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere” as the multi-layered tapestry of sound breaks to make way for Allan’s “I’m on the road to somewhere… You’re on the road to somewhere… We’re on the road to somewhere…” before his croon turns to a scream of frustration. Still, this is one of the better songs on the album and shows that when Glasvegas’ members get really excited they can create some infectious sounds, as opposed to the lighter tracks, which mostly feel dull and lackluster. “Neon Bedroom” falls into that latter category with more piano, synthesizer and crooning that feels like much of the rest of the album with very little of the inventive layers to keep this track going.
The final track on the album is a near eight and a half minute song called “Finished Sympathy”. If the title reminds you of the words “unfinished symphony”, that seems to be the intent. While not quite a reach for the “epic”, this sprawling song does employ many movements and instruments to fill its length (nearly double that of the other songs on the album). The final of these movements is something of a hidden track weird sci-fi sounds which make for an interesting if, again, repetitive listen. If this is a part of the symphony of “Sympathy”, it’s hard to see how this quite fits unless the characters in the song were suddenly abducted by aliens, however this fits with much of the album in that as soon as the music gets really surprising and entrancing, the song (and in this case, the album) is pretty well over.
There are moments of excitement and even flashes of brilliance on Later… When The TV Turns To Static, especially when Glasvegas allow themselves to experiment, add multiple layers and not sink down into the quagmire of heart-bleeding ballads. While each of these ballads (and the emotion shared between them and the remaining tracks) all have their place, their collection here constitutes an album rife with sameness with the keyword for the entire album being “repetitive”. To be sure, Glasvegas is a talented band and they show this talent in flashes here. But when they settle into their niche, the overall feel is rather boring.