When you’re from Ireland, and dealing in alternative rock sounds, there’s always going to be comparisons to U2. The brothers Colin and Peter Devlin have been dealing with that type of expectation for years. While their previous three releases have been respectable, none has caused a clamor on par with Bono and company. Yet as U2 has returned with a highly touted album (and a flurry of marketing that trumps the music), The Devlins now follow suit with their best release yet. If there was justice in the musical world, The Devlins would be afforded the same coverage as their globe-trotting compatriots. Yet The Devlins will have no single featured on any Ipod commercial. They’ve got to hope this music, their most immediate and accessible effort yet, finds its own way to a receptive public.
With Waves, the brothers set out to treat the studio more as though it were a live show. With engineer Danton Supple at the helm (The Doves, Coldplay, Starsailor), there was a better dynamic, an ability to make things sound epic and a greater chance to capture the energy and swirling moods behind the songs. The results are great—upbeat and surprising. Singer/guitarist Colin Devlin and bassist brother Peter Devlin are in rare form, and Guy Rickarby’s drumming brings additional power to the tracks. While always known for their ability to create compelling musical gems, there’s new oomph behind The Devlins’ 10 songs on Waves.
The CD opens with dark, swirling guitar loops and feedback that herald “Everything Comes Around”. This is a brooding piece of infectious rock, suggesting an inevitability beyond the fact that life goes on and on: “In the crystal night I knew my tears were inside you / I could see it in your eyes / In the space between the words I thought that I had heard / Something I could recognize / And the touch of her skin / like a needle going in / Like another secret I can’t hide / The voice of experience, the times that make no sense / Something I could recognize / Oh, but everything comes around, everything comes around, everything comes around / sooner or later.”
The album’s first single is the uptempo, bass-driven “Sunrise”, which should appeal to fans of the Pernice Brothers. It’s catchy and reflective. The lyrics, however, are much darker, suggesting suicidal notions for the sake of love amidst summer fun: “Won’t you let me stay / Underneath the waves / It’s the bright new face / and forever is a life thrown away / It’s alright.”
The simple strains of guitar that open “Careless Love” reflect the simple disappointments discussed in the lyrics. Here is a man who, in his search for truth, got something else: “Nothing hurts more than a heart that’s ready to break / When you’ve given all you’ve got and you’ve taken as much as you can take / Nobody had to win or lose / nobody had to make it last / All I wanted, all I wanted was the truth, not a careless love.”
The Devlins have a way with rhythm here that only adds to the overall melodic appeal of these songs. “Someday” has lots of subtle nuances that win you over in a song that mixes reflection with advice, reminding another that “someday you’ll find your place in time” while espousing such thoughts as “you’ve got to be strong, forget and move on.”
There’s more quiet philosophy at work in the song “Lazarus”. The drums beat beneath the song, haunting and yet reassuring as heartbeat, as we are told to make the best of the time we have here, to turn things around, make a new start, and “live the life you want / ‘cause you won’t make a sound / when you are in the ground / and Lazarus is still walking.”
Another strong song here (and they all seem very solid) is “Don’t Let It Break Your Heart.” This is a message of consolation, of understanding another’s plight in love and ultimately, of hope and reassurance: “Don’t let it break your heart / Don’t let it tear you apart / ‘cause bruises and scars ain’t good / Some of these guys they want to paint a target on your head / Love you all up, then leave you dying, left for dead / But then somebody will play the right song and you’ll dance again.”
Colin Devlin has a very expressive voice that can veer into falsetto range when necessary. That’s the case with “Feel It When You’re Gone”, where the vocal delivery does indeed convince the listener of the pain of a relationship lost, admitting he was wrong: “It hits me when you leave, when I get but don’t receive.”
Perhaps my favorite song here is the wonderful “Coming Alive”, where a funky feel, soft organ accompaniment, and a guest female vocal enhance the overall atmosphere. This is a song arising from torpor, of lust and hot desire unleashed and burning in the night: “In time, we’ll be replaced, you and I / so pick it up, move over here, I want you now / In the moment, forever yours, forever mine / The day is over, I feel myself come alive.” The idea of lust as life is well-served here.
In “Headstrong” a woman is chided and admired all at once for her willful attitude: “See the lovers fight in the street at night / see the traffic march in the evening light / Did he break your heart so it could no fix / did he phase you out, lose you in the mix?” He admits he wants to shake her all night, and remind her that “all the things that hurt, you know, they’re just a part of living.”
A tribal drum serves as the driving backbone of the title song. “Waves” is yet another song with optimistic sentiments, remaining hopeful even amid hard work and tough lives and providing a poignant closer to this very strong collection: “Somewhere in the dead of night / Our memories remain in light / You beat these things, you ride these waves / And someday soon our luck will change.”
With this very strong collection of new music, one can only hope that The Devlins’ luck will change. Waves comes forth with a new urgency and power that gives their music a wider scope, one that better matches the sweeping poetic reflections of the lyrics, and one that will be well served by touring this music in live performance in support of the disc.
While some of the music here is accessible, all of it gets rewarded with repeated listening. One thing I really enjoy about Waves is that it’s not only good pop/rock music, it’s meaningful. The basic gist of all this music is that life is a finite experience, that we should do what we want, enjoy ourselves, and live and love the best we can in these fleeting moments. The Devlins (along with Danton Supple) have created a fine album, full of melodic rock that weds a sound that’s halfway between U2 and the Pernice Brothers, and does so with messages of import that arrive in a clever yet unassuming manner. Waves deserves to make big waves - here’s hoping it will.
// Notes from the Road
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