[8 October 2013]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Kodaline is a four-piece Irish band. They are also a hardly original four-piece Irish band. Already, the group has earned comparisons to the likes of Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Elbow, Mumford and Sons and U2, and I’d be darned if I didn’t hear a little bit of the Waterboys somewhere circa Fisherman’s Blues on their debut disc, In a Perfect World (but maybe that’s just the Mumford copying showing its obvious influence). Your mileage on whether or not this “imitation” is a form of sincere flattery or just plain laziness will vary. Since the album was released in June 2013 in the United Kingdom, the critical response to it has veered all over the map into love it or hate it territory. As of the beginning of September, when I sat down to pen these words, In a Perfect World had a pretty mediocre Metacritic score of 54. On one end of the spectrum, Clash Music gushed that “Kodaline illustrate all the ingredients for greatness, with many a swooning chorus to invoke a thousand festival lighters held aloft.” On the other, Q Magazine trashed the record, giving it a two out of 10 score, and dubbing it “entirely meritless”. So how much you like In a Perfect World pretty much rests on how much you like other contemporary British and Irish bands.
Personally, I wish I could understand what those who really like Kodaline see in them. In a Perfect World, in my estimation, is filled with largely hookless songs, and that’s when singer Steve Garrigan’s very Chris Martin-esque bleat doesn’t totally annoy you and have you reaching to turn down the volume. That said, the regular Joe Smith in Britain seems to like this sort of stuff. On that day in September when these words flowed out, Amazon’s UK site ranked this album at No. 15 in music bestsellers and it was the No. 7 ranked pop album. However, I suppose that people are really starved for something new from Coldplay, so the seeming popularity of Kodaline pretty much rests with filling a void, it seems. But Kodaline’s debut is just full of clichés, musical and otherwise: the song “Big Bad World” actually starts out with the eyebrow-furrowing “Maybe I’m wrong / Or maybe I’m right / Maybe it’s just too late / But this is keeping me awake all night.” Honestly, this is something I would expect from a Katy Perry (and, ironically, I happen to like Perry, but perhaps that’s just sex appeal at work). And that’s when the band isn’t reaching for some kind of faux authenticity. Final song “Way Back When” ends with the sound of band members smirking and laughing, as though they’re just having a loosey goosey time. It hardly feels like an honest emotion, for some reason that is intangible and hard to put a finger on. But if I had to, I’d suggest that the band knows that their obvious copying seems like a knowing recipe for success.
The album is just full of songs that don’t hit and seemingly don’t even try. While “All Comes Down” would be interesting in that it takes a bit of a gospel feel, the plinky plinky piano chords of the song come across as being so manufactured that it doesn’t emote a feeling of honesty. You listen to the song and start calculating in your brain how much money the band might make if it were released as a single. And when Garrigan swoons here that “Love is a battle,” you start to get images of Pat Benatar dancing in your head. Cliché. And follow-up song “Talk” has such a standard chord progression that you know exactly where it is headed without having to guess the next notes. Name That Tune, indeed. And the other exacting problem with the record that is seemingly one big ballad after another. Clash Music did get it right in saying that this is music for arenas, with thousands of Bic lighters held in the air. The problem is, that’s the sole utility of this record. It is so brazen in its sense of calculation, that it’s hard to take Kodaline seriously as an artistic band. Kodaline is simply a cash cow.
That said, there was one moment, and just one moment, on In a Perfect World that I admired. “Brand New Day” has a giddy, optimistic feel to it and it does boast a rousing chorus and memorable melody. However, one song does not an album make. Almost from start to finish, In a Perfect World is built to move units, and only move units. There’s hardly anything that would give Kodaline a branded identity other than being a Coldplay (et al) imitator. Alas, and predictably, people are lapping this pap up, which doesn’t give me very much hope for humanity. And, truthfully, I’m the sort who likes some level of challenge in my music, so I listen to In a Perfect World and count the minutes until I don’t have to listen to this sort of thing ever again in my life. Perhaps that Metacritic score may be accurate. This debut is so middle-of-the-road that it seems as though all it is destined to do is be so average as to be popular. In a Perfect World is perfect music for those who view music as a background soundtrack to their lives and nothing more. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of this wound up as backing music to a hit US TV series, maybe a Grey’s Anatomy. That’s it and that’s all for Kodaline. I think that five or 10 years from now, we’ll be all saying Koda-who? There’s very little on In a Perfect World that distinguishes it from its peers. In the end, and in a perfect world, an album such as this one would have absolutely no reason to exist. That it does says something about the public’s insatiable demand for other bands that are merely between albums. If you can’t get enough of Coldplay, then, and only then, Kodaline might work for you.