Sometimes it’s a dangerous path to tread when reviewing music. Do you play it safe, and assess an album in light of what the majority of people will expect of it, picking at the contents like a vulture would a corpse? Or do you take a bit of a risk and leave all your stereotypes and opinions of the band at the door? It’s a question that a lot of writers will agonise over, and never has it been more relevant for me than when this dropped through the letterbox.
Unless you’re over thirty and work in an office environment, I’d say we’re all aware of Enter Shikari. For those who don’t know, they’re a group of St. Albans lads who managed to take the music landscape by storm in 2007, clocking up a number four chart position with their debut album Take to the Skies, and became only the second band to sell out the London Astoria without the help of a major record label backing them. That first album was a fairly impressive piece of work, managing to combine hard rock anthems with the alternate universe of dance and synths, whilst wrapping it all up in a thought out concept that even Roger Waters might have raised an eyebrow at. Whilst it was, and still is, easy to write them off as a novelty band for the kids (and indeed, with those godawful flashing rings in mind, some of their promotional campaigns only add to such concerns) the hard work and aggressively D.I.Y approach to their music is something that can only be admired and encouraged.
But that was then, and this is now. Two years later and Common Dreads is an album tackling the serious subjects of a world gone tits up. Things are somewhat stale, with the only real change here being the relevance of the references. The band seem to have struggled for new ideas, recycling familiar synth lines and even going so far as to repeat lyrics that dominated TTTS (“And still we will be here/standing like statues” as ‘Solidarity’ concludes in operatic flamboyancy). I suppose you can take that one of two ways: either a charming hark back to their back catalogue and its message, or a disappointing inability to move on to new pastures. I’ll side with the latter.
Moving on, other tracks seem to be stuck in bizarre moments of cross-pollination. ‘Juggernaughts’ has singer Rou Reynolds doing his best Mike Skinner impression, something that doesn’t sit too comfortably with the absolute barrage of synths going off like a Chinese fireworks display in an Acme factory. ‘Step Up’ goes like a Linkin Park cast off, albeit one with a loud and proud British accent and the two parts of ‘Havoc’ take cues from the land of dub, with glimmering basslines and a slightly more chilled out atmosphere.
It’s a mixed bag, ultimately. When the band resists the urge to bang keyboards with their fists they turn out with quite the anthem. ‘Gap in the Fence’ starts with nothing more than an acoustic guitar vocals, before bringing in the heavier guitars and screams that hit with so much more power for the build up they are given.
The biggest change prevalent on here is the attitude. TTTS had a fairly humorous vibe, attributed to the rather goofy lyrics and their delivery. Here though the band is just so caught up in appearing serious and revolutionary that something is completely lost. Sure, it’s good to see a band attempting to take the mantle of being an inspiration to the youth (having said that, Enter Shikari are just another in the long list of young bands having an elaborate paddy over the state of the country) but it’s delivered with such monotonous regularity that halfway through the album I was hoping they’d just sing a song about dumping a girl or something, anything not to feel as if I was being lectured to by some kids with a rather frail grasp on the political, economical and social worlds.
Common Dreads was always going to be a difficult one for the band, the musical equivalent of the class clown (or perhaps James from The Apprentice) wanting to grow up to be a hardnosed politician. But what’s most important to remember is that the band is still young. Whilst Common Dreads misses a lot more than it hits, it’s still a positive sign that the band want to explore challenging thematic areas, even if their lyrical prowess is found lacking. If you found yourself enjoying their debut then there’s no doubt you’ll find something equally enjoyable here. But those who found the novelty wore off pretty quickly would be wise to look elsewhere, as musically little has really changed.
Originally published at The Line of Best Fit.