[7 January 2008]
UK rockers Haven may have received a world of aid from iconic countryman Johnny Marr (Marr gave the group help early in their career, and has produced much of their material), but don’t expect the band to produce anywhere near the level of intensity or glorious gloom Marr’s former outfit the Smiths were famous for. Instead, Haven is a band that steadily and skillfully toes the line between pop and rock, and seems to have a deft sense of how to craft melodic, radio-ready songs without pandering or sacrificing artistic value.
Marr produced eight of the eleven tracks on the band’s sophomore effort, All for a Reason, which, though originally released in the spring of 2004 by EMI, is seeing new light with its 2007 release by Michigan-based The First Time Records. The newest version of the album features a revamped tracklisting, with previous offering “Getaway” trimmed in favor of the tracks “Tell Me” and “No Way to Fade”, and the bulk of the tracks which survived the re-issue have been reordered. The result is a tight, well-sequenced record with the appeal to attract new listeners.
The band’s sound is a combination of the new and the relatively new. The influence of British artists who peaked in the ‘90s is evident (Oasis, The Verve), while the group’s melodic, guitar-driven brand of rock should appeal to fans of currently reigning pop stars like Coldplay, Snow Patrol, and Aqualung. Throughout the course of the album, Haven’s strengths are quite clear. Frontman Gary Briggs is a confident and charismatic presence, and does a quality job of guiding the listener through the album, and the interplay between Briggs and Nat Watson’s guitars alternately add heft and sensitivity to the well-written songs (credited, with an exception or two, to the entire band), marked by engaging verses, huge, hooky choruses, and dynamic range. Marr (and Dave Eringa, who produces the album’s other three tracks) frames the band’s material well and enables Haven to play to these strengths.
The album’s early tracks establish an overall tone which is reinforced throughout All for a Reason. Opening with the title cut, Haven quickly floods the listener with melodic guitar passages and a strong vocal performance from Briggs, all set to the shuffling rhythms marked out by drummer Jack Mitchell and bassist Iwan Gronow. The track’s successor, “Have No Fear”, is one of the album’s strongest moments and is a real treat for those who appreciate the bands who guided the trajectory of British pop/rock over the past two decades or so. With a beautiful tune, complimentary background vocals, and a gentle momentum, the cut shines.
Also of note are such standout tracks as the countrified “Change Direction”, the shimmering guitar pop of “Wouldn’t Change a Thing”, and “Tell Me”, which evokes the mid-‘90s alternative rock sounds of bands like Dishwalla and Goo Goo Dolls.
All for a Reason is one of those rare albums that doesn’t really contain a bad track (the first minute or so of closing cut “Don’t Say a Word” seems like it might contradict this notion, but by the time the song’s hook is established, it proves worthy of inclusion). Granted, there is not a whole lot of innovation or daring here; the album is fairly conventional in its pop/rock sound. However, what the members of Haven do, they do well, and there is something extremely rich and welcoming about the album they have delivered.
Hopefully, this project will not be passed over or get lost in the shuffle just because it’s being re-released. Those hearing All for a Reason for the first time should appreciate the skill with which the project was put together. Listeners being reminded of their first experience with the album may well find that the material has stood up over the past couple of years and grows with each successive listen.