MICK MERCER's journal



After the fabulous experiences contained within ‘Different Degrees Of Empty’ last year, I had high hopes of this second album, as I’m sure the band did, as I hope you do. The fact this is still leagues ahead of most bands you’ll find reviewed here isn’t the point. I retain high hopes that it will grow on me more than it seems to be at present, but I see things which perlex me.

Continuity is obvious, including artwork, producers, some unusual lyrical repetitions inside certain songs, and there’s even a song with the title of their debut. What this means I don’t know, as we get the consistency required, but not as many of the high points. There is a set style which seems to mark the FTB sound, and they use this on the first three tracks, to create a strong impact. Vocals and guitar all but insist on a serene embrace, with the drums conveying disguised angst and the bass is practically invisible. These guitars seem lighter this time round, and because Frank rarely employs continuous vocal heat throughout a track, everything is a touch restrained.

The different strokes are first pulled on ‘Faithless Aloysius’ with morose guitar inside a choppier tune, and yet more vocal repetition, which becomes an intrinsic element. Higher, almost carefree vocals lift ‘Eskimos And Butterflies’, and then the bass comes in on ‘Different Degrees Of Empty’, with scabby guitar accompaniment, dramatic breathless vocals and this is nicely off kilter. Slow, meandering guitar, with a prettier one riding shotgun, hits a high during the title track, along with a starker singing style and a great line, “what doesn’t kill us, makes us wish that we were dead”, with a powerfully emphatic end, although even here the vocals do seem to go off on an independent voyage.

And then this album’s equivalent of the mighty ‘Swing The Pendulum’ arrives in ‘Old Hat’ with beautiful vocals, and a sense of pleasant yearning; mellow but muscular guitar stretching it powerfully, and they sound almost optimistic, which is rare. A form of manic post-punk seeps out of the lumpy ‘Visions’ with a grim, yelping demeanour, which must be a rabble-rouser live. ‘Vines Of The Victrola’ is sweet, with more quiet guitar deportment, while the gothiest track, ‘Come Home’, sees the guitar getting a little excitable, and then we close with ‘All The Faces’ which confuses when the music sounds more touching than the vocals.

Frank uses different vocal styles to inject variety into the music, rather than having the instruments do that, which seems risky, and I suspect they’re realising their own limits here, and will decide what to concentrate on next time. They’ve either brought these songs through too quickly, or the production simply hasn’t achieved the sparkling cyanide of the debut.

We rightfully expected sharpness and get a dozen, determined cactii, but they look a little dehydrated.