CD, A Different Drum, 2008
It’s sometimes curious how success eludes certain bands operating in relatively commercial musical areas. Essex’s Blue October are now up to their third full-length album, and, with their light and catchy synthpop, would be expected to attract quite a wide audience, if only for the two facts that this style is still not so fashionable and there are always a few more accomplished bands around. Technically, all aspects of Blue October’s performance are above average, perhaps not far enough, but for me personally I find a certain pervasive mood and attitude in their recordings quite unattractive. It might be a bold hypothesis, but this could well have put the wider synthpop audience off, and MySpace descriptions making extravagant and slightly embarrassing claims about “electronic wizardry”, “wild guitar”, “cool dance grooves” and “unique style of dream pop” seem to exemplify a certain disagreeable arrogance.
“The Miracle’s Gone” is definitely a strong opening song, with indie rock guitar over a driving beat, achieving the aim of any good pop song by sticking in the listener’s head, possibly aided by rather clichéd lyrics such as “searching high and low” in the falsetto chorus. Proceedings immediately drop to a more subdued feeling with “City Lights”, with gentle synth lines and sensitive vocals, and “Let Me See” continues the softer tone, but with a melody a little too sweet for my liking, though admittedly some of the strongest singing. “All Is Said And Done” comes in with a good moody guitar tune and upbeat pacing, another album highlight pitched almost at the right level, although the cheesy backing vocals are a little uncomfortable. “Tears Of Silvery Rain”, another dubious title, is quite a pleasant listen, bringing to mind some of the more recent Depeche Mode songs on which Martin Gore sings, before “Taking On This Love” recalls that legendary band’s most drug-addled mid-90’s period of funky guitars and sleazy atmospheres.
The extended opening of “Ascension” is rather quality material, as are the two completely instrumental tracks “The Girl From Ohio”, with a darker electro sound, and “Non Compos Mentis”, a minimal techno piece with disturbingly processed vocal samples. In between these instrumentals is the unfortunate low point of the album, the pairing of “What’s On Your Mind?”, with a very smug funky house feel, then “Spinning On The Fullstop”, with its awkward mix of cock rock guitars and comedy vocoder effects. In the final part of the album, “People Are Strange” (no, not a Doors cover) has well composed electropop music, but the vocals sound just a bit too self-satisfied, then “Beautiful Skin” is a rather engaging closer, with melancholic vocals harmonies announcing “she’s gone” and lovely delicate synth melodies.
The album is quite a mixed bag of tunes, with a range of different sounds covered, some more successfully than others, but most of my complaints might be more about taste than objective criticism, so do check Blue October out if you like your synthpop.
— Nathan Clemence