They Walk Among Us: Mathematics, Art in Progress

[22 January 2004]

By Mark Desrosiers

Ignore the title. This is not a math-rock album; it is an artless and regressive chump-counseling sandbox filled with majestic overproduced songs. They Walk Among Us are a quintet of Welsh boys led by one Richard Procter, and the fact that they’ve chosen to release this album in the U.S. before they promote it in the UK suggests that they’re fishing for dollars, not compliments. So I must perform my critical duty and inform you that this album might (might) work as sonic therapy for unpopular teenage boys who have trouble getting dates. Otherwise, it’s pretty bad.

What do they sound like? Imagine the warbling homo profundo vocals of Ian McCullough atop those majestic Mission UK soundscapes, and you’ll get the idea. Or better yet, imagine Radiohead’s The Bends recast as unintentional comedy. Really, every single tune on here is about how Richard Proctor’s unrequited love is forcing him to write ghastly lyrics and sculpt tedious and plodding soundscapes (multitracked vocals, chimey-echoing guitars, fake cello sounds). Take, for example, the opening track, “Telescopes”, which begins with Jetsons electro noises and then bursts forth into clean guitars and a reverberating dude at the mike. He sings about a window (with the curtains closed) and a telescope which he wants you to believe is “aimed at the stars” (but they “don’t shine for” him). Then comes the bizarre chorus (which is repeated several times throughout the song): “I’m alive like anyone else / I give love like anyone else”. Is Richard Proctor some sort of deformed freak of nature? Even if you are, Richard, that’s no excuse for shoveling that sort of lyrical mulch onto our collective cochlea.

Things don’t get much better after that dubious opening. Lots of slick angstscapes and silly lyrics, though the sped-up “melody” of the closing track (“Getting Us Nowhere”) bears an eerie resemblance to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. (n.b. Proctor does reveal his motives in “Say My Name”, when he croons “If we didn’t write these songs we’d have nothing to promote.”)

Two of the songs are not bad, though. “It Goes On” is the only song here where Proctor acknowledges humanoids other than himself and his love interest. He’s apparently observing the characters around him in a juke joint of some sort, and repeatedly asks the question, “Will the jukebox play my favorite song?” (well, yeah, if you put in a quarter and select it!). Still, it survives on its poignant two-note hook and a very hilarious come-on, which proceeds as follows: “Did you just sneak a look at me? / If so pull up a chair and sit by me / We could talk about the news and weather”.

Slightly better is “Girl on a Wire”, which features a bouncy melody and an altogether lusty atmosphere. “Lifting me up, or bringing me down”, shouts Proctor, and wait a minute, it seems this heart-on-sleeve poetaster is ready to hang out his stained sheets! If They Walk Among Us record another album, please let it be filled with girls on wires, rather than “aeroplanes” or “sitting ducks”.

I don’t recommend this album. It’s a chore to listen through to the end, and the lyrics are just awful. Maybe when Proctor’s love life gets sorted out, he’ll turn to writing tunes about differential equations or singing in Welsh or something. Until then, buy some old Echo & the Bunnymen LPs and listen to some quality source materials for this genre.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/theywalkamongus-mathematics/