Klaxons - Surfing the Void
There's difficult second album syndrome, and then there's Klaxons. It's been three and a half years since indie went gooey for glowsticks and Klaxons released debut album Myths of the Near Future in January 2007. Six months later, the wide-eyed bunch walked off with the Mercury Prize and, rather than investing in studio time, seemingly spent the cash getting more wide-eyed. After they had their fun, they tried out various new songs live and even delivered an album that was dismissed by studio heads as being too 'experimental'. Fast forward failed studio sessions with Myths producer and all-round indie fave James Ford, and it seemed Klaxons were cast adrift on whatever planet or substance state they were inhabiting. However, earlier this year it was announced: Klaxons were back! With an album produced by Ross Robinson, no less (the heavyweight 'Godfather of New Metal' who has worked with Limp Bizkit, Slipknot, Vanilla Ice - y'know, all the greats). This time, with the 'nu rave' tag shed and three years distance between them and the Mercury, they have everything to play for and a fanbase who are positively drooling for new material. As a fan who championed Myths on this very site back then, all that's to ask is this: what the hell happened?
Opener and taster single Echoes was promising upon first listen last month and, although unremarkable, it's a grower and its chorus has the same knack for a melody that made Golden Skans such a treasure; it's a shame then that, upon closer inspection, it's main hook reveals itself as a slowed-down variant on Gravity's Rainbow's 'Come with me, come with me' refrain. And that's the album's underlying problem - and it's a big one. After three-plus years, no huge forward strides have been made, no huge surprises lay in store, and it appears the Magick has gone. Surfing the Void basically sounds like Myths of the Near Future Version 2.0 - worse, at some points it almost sounds like a pastiche - and, if that doesn't deserve a promotion to 'toppling over and falling headfirst into the void', I don't know what does.
Don't get me wrong, it's not like anything is offensively bad but the end result is simply a small step to the left rather than a leap to a new sonic plane. If this had been released eighteen months after the debut, it would have been frustrating but excusable, as most rush releases rest on laurels. However, talk of a 'heavier' new sound are tosh with only the title track rivalling Myth's breathless, apocalyptic finale Four Horseman of 2012, and the whole venture is so slight, clocking in at just over half an hour, that it just left me dispirited and shaking my head. Throughout, the vocals are Marmite-flavoured, with high-pitched harmonies again the order of the day and the likeable James Reynolds' solo takes sadly falling flat. Lyrically, Ballard and Burroughs still loom tall but one of the very things that made them stand out among the glut of Razorlites before becomes here a tiresome exercise in lyrical drudgery. By the last track, you'll have had enough of voids, myriads and all things 'celestial' for a whole millennia. You might even long for some standard 'baby I love you' declarations shoe-horned in to give you a break from the sci-fi leanings.
There is some respite at the outer regions of the Void, with Robinson's production creating a slightly denser, more spacious playground and the promotion of live drummer Steffan Halperin into full-time band member ensuring a strong rhythmic base throughout. Track-wise, Venusia's disco beat and stardust-powered guitar chugs help it shimmy along as this album's standout pop moment. Twin Flames might be lyrically ridiculous but at least attempts some emotional resonance while Valley of the Calm Trees clips along at a decent pace, instilling a pretentious pop song with the cinematic sense of urgent drama it needs to stand aloft. However good Flashover and Cypherspeed's climaxes are though, it's just too little too late and the remainder of the tracks fail to make any lasting impression on a listener who once used to long to hear As Above, So Below at his local indie disco.
MGMT may have rushed it and fudged it (according to the masses anyway - I think Congratulations is pretty good, shhh) but at least they didn't take three years to deliver their much-derided second outing, meaning they can recoup and potentially make good on album number three. I don't see many people waiting until 2013/14 for a third trip into the Klaxons galaxy, unless that is they move around some constellations and truly start traversing the progressive route they haven't quite grasped here. Of course, no-one's going to listen to me anyway. The fluoro kids will lap it up and NME are already falling over adjectives to lavish love upon it. So, it's not over yet. Right?