Animal Kingdom - Signs and Wonders
Disappointing, genuinely. Animal Kingdom’s debut arrives minus the dynamism and absolute physicality the four piece manage to harness onstage and that really is a crying shame, for I had high hopes. Signs and Wonders has many things in its favour – dextrous playing, refreshing lack of empty bombast, a real sense of identity and self-assurance – but it seems that ticking those boxes left no room for certain other key ingredients. For a band compared to the likes of Coldplay, Radiohead and Mercury Rev, the lack of a real four to the floor anthem seems like an error of the glaring kind.
It’s the songs that let it down, truth be told. Opener ‘Good Morning Mr Magpie’ jingle jangles in a vaguely Smiths-ian way but, unless my ear for tone has let me down, is disconcertingly upbeat. Live favourite ‘Tin Man’ makes similar faces and, I have to say, the “Tell me if it’s love, cos baby I’m a tin man” chorus is a bit icky. The title track reminds me of Al Stewart and that’s never a good thing. Overall there’s too much emphasis on jaunty and not enough on dark introspection. Maybe that’s my problem and I shouldn’t make it theirs but every time they slow it down and point the drill down towards the sediment, my hopes raise for a moment but it never comes. There’s no electrifying wig-out, no race to the stars.
The playing, no doubt, is sure-footed and producer Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses) keeps it pleasingly uncluttered. Singer Richard Sauberlich’s genuinely distinctive vocal is worthy of credit and the album at least closes on something of a high. ‘Dollar Signs’ is fantastic - its drawn out slow-burn makes you wish that Animal Kingdom had displayed more predilection for drama earlier on. The disquieting closer ‘Chalk Stars’ puts piano to the fore and its poised hyper-balladeering suggests what might have been. I don’t know. I so wanted this to be brilliant. It needed a generous dosing of space dust and a barrel load of abandon. Ultimately, Signs and Wonders plays safer than it needed to and is rarely compelling. A genuine shame.