Album: Midlake, The Courage of Others (Bella Union)
A bonfire of the vanities of the digital revolution
Sunday 31 January 2010
Noticed how the present has started to resemble what we used to think of as the future?
While there's no denying the unquestionable beauty of some of the benefits of the digital revolution (Sky+, iPhones, the internet), there have been casualties along the way, not least in the way we listen to and consume music.
In our endless quest for new sounds and surprises (see everyone from Lady Gaga to Delphic), it's difficult not to spare the occasional thought for the baby thrown out with the bathwater. Midlake, more than any other band currently at work, understand this – their last record, 2006's The Trials of Van Occupanther, was a soft-rock paean to the late 19th century that merged the past and the present in a way only a bunch of beardy former jazz students from Denton, Texas, ever could.
Tim Smith, Midlake's creative force (playing the flute in photo), has always declared an equal love of Jethro Tull and Radiohead and nowhere is that conflict more apparent than in The Courage of Others. Here is another shock-of-the-old dose of musical magic; a slow-building, minor-chord madrigal that, in a little under 40 minutes, transports the listener back to a time when albums had the power to strengthen and heal.
Much has been made of Smith's immersion into British folk music, and certainly the addition of Fairport Convention to his record collection has played its part here. But there are other forces at work – Scorpions, Journey, CSNY, Television, Trick of the Tale-era Genesis – and through it all, an analogue warmth that wraps you in a Dark Side of the Moon-like duvet.
It is, as far as one can tell and as much as these things matter, an album about humans' relationship to the natural world. The opening track gently pleads "When the acts of man cause the ground to break open/ Oh, let me inside/ Let me inside, not to wait", while the closer promises that "After long winter is gone/ Seems that all is well, all is well". What happens between is melancholy, inspiring and hopeful, as pure and sweet-natured as the original hippie dream.
Is TCOO a classic? If that means modern and timeless simultaneously, then no one who hears it can be in any doubt. Me, I've listened to little else in months.
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