Guillemots - Walk The River
To understand what is wrong with Guillemots' third album, it is best to reacquaint oneself with their debut. Through The Windowpane, packed with ambitious and vibrant arrangements, classic pop writing and emotional wallop, still sounds good five years on. It’s a shame that the best that can be said about Walk The River is that it’s an improvement on their misfiring second LP and is never as blatantly housewifey as – cough - the Billy Joel track singer Fyfe Dangerfield covered for that John Lewis ad. Only pimping your reputation by advertising some not-quite-buttery spread could be less rock 'n' roll. Oh, wait.
Anyway, Walk The River opens promisingly enough with the hauntingly melancholic title song, Dangerfield’s unmistakable vocal introduced over a steady beat. There's a near subliminal echo to the production and a classic Merseybeat jangle to the guitar playing. No wonder this track was used to promote the LP way upfront. Track two 'Vermillion' is of similar quality and by this point you may be thinking you’re listening to a return to form.
Unfortunately, there’s a long section in the middle where tracks fail to excite or distinguish themselves from their neighbours. The problems begin with 'I Don't Feel Amazing Now'; a quick burst of steel drums, perhaps an attempt at a quirk, isn't enough to rescue a dull ballad. So where's the equivalent of the Motown stomp, brass and life-affirming engagement of 'Trains to Brazil'? The trust in subtle arrangement and Dangerfield's vocal of 'Little Bear'? The distillation of the rush of love into a four minute pop song of 'Made-up Love Song #43'? The answer is nowhere. There's a resigned, workmanlike quality to 'I Must Be A Lover' and 'Slow Train', tracks that if released as singles could nudge their way onto bland daytime radio but might leave you wondering who would actually go out of their way to own or press play on them.
Walk The River picks up a little towards the end. Current single 'The Basket' has a surge reminiscent of 'We’re Here', only with added fuzzy bass. In addition, they pull off a couple of epics: effects drenched 'Sometimes I Remember Wrong' feels adrift and lost, but in a good way; 'Yesterday Is Dead' closes the album on a euphoric note.
It’s because we know what Guillemots are capable of that they here disappoint. At least on record, they now sound just like an ordinary, proficient guitar band, albeit one with a distinctive vocalist. To hear Walk The River is like witnessing a magician being decloaked and stripped of his spells.