This time around, Starsailor have created an album that’s the musical equivalent of wearing a “Kick Me” sign through a crowded high school hallway. No matter what you think of the group’s sophomore effort, Silence Is Easy is just not a smart album title. It’s just begging for cheeky comebacks (“Oh yeah? Then shut the hell up!”), asshole interrogations (“if silence is so easy, why is listening to the album so hard?”), and assorted other wisecracks, puns, and jokes. An article of musical output hasn’t been titled so unfortunately (and sacrificially) since Pete Townshend’s kiddie porn charges had DJs from Leeds to Los Angeles reinterpreting the lyrics to “Rough Boys”.
As if Starsailor didn’t have it hard enough. Once considered (even by this reviewer) to be heirs to the throne of Britpop’s version of easy listening — a subgenre made curiously popular by the unexpected success of Coldplay — Starsailor have been mostly forgotten in the two years since Love Is Here. Though the group’s debut remains a nugget of emotional rawness and innocent power, the moment where that and that alone commands attention is long since over. In this changed landscape, expressive songwriting requires a different set of qualities — needs not only to move you, but to kick you in the pants to matter.
Potshots aside and hype nonexistent, there’s little nothing wrong per se with Starsailor’s second go. But it is also to say, minus the buzz and novelty and the dearth of super-earnest music that made their first album such a welcome joy, there’s nothing particularly compelling about Silence Is Easy either. Instead of feeling necessary, vital, or hungry, Silence moves through you like a diuretic — fast, clean, and completely extracting the piss out of music.
Starsailor got their fare share of hype, no doubt, but Silence Is Easy is still not the gem that Love Is Here was. Though James Walsh’s voice is by nature a dragging, crackly one, it’s been cleaned up some here, less prone to breaking, tear-evoking warbles. The echo of melancholy piano and stark, lovesick production are mostly gone too, replaced by shimmery bounce, generally faster paces, and ornate string arrangements. The album’s opener, “Music Was Saved” (by the way, another slightly dimwitted, easily mocked song title) is a chief example of Starsailor 2004, sprinting up to top volume on a jumpy march of guitars, bass and drums, puffed and padded to double-size by no-mess, poofy production. It’s an odd choice for an opening number, since it’s by far the most peppy, poppy, and happy song on the album. Maybe its placement is an attempt to convince wary listeners that Starsailor is more than frowner pop, but instead its crushing pace, naively thumbs-up lyrics, and Walsh’s manic cooing near the song’s close make this one sound more like Starsailor on Prozac than Starsailor revitalized.
Footloose ‘n’ fancy-free has never been the band’s strength, so “Fidelity”, slowing things down and sobering the mood significantly, fares a far more solid track for the band. Still, though the requisite strong points of the band are there (theme of love, contemplative pacing, Walsh’s none-too-easy singing), the total remains sub-par. Something about the song is too stuffed — too many instruments going, too much fuss — and there’s too little believability to make up for it. Walsh’s singing is stymied by its hygiene; even the topic, faithfulness, is less interesting than the loved and lost character of others of their songs.
When these alterations add up to a more maturity without sacrificing heart — the drenching “Some of Us”, “Telling Them”‘s poignant minuet, the haunting “White Dove” — Starsailor seem to at least lived up to the caliber of past output, if not exceeded it. But it still is simply not enough. Because they take so few risks (and when they do, fall flat) the overall result is pat and average. Often pretty, but never vital. Sometimes touching, but never changing.
Those folks out there waiting for Starsailor to do something earth-shattering on their second album are best advised to pull out Love is Here again, remember what gave them chills, and file the band under Those Who Could Have, But Didn’t (And Ain’t It a Shame). Silence is easy, and apparently being boring is, too. (Oops, sorry. I couldn’t resist.)