Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther
Celebrity endorsement is a double edged sword. On the one hand it can help boost your profile and increase your awareness with people who might not normally hear your music. On the other hand, it can sound naff and insincere... Take Jason Lee's (Almost Famous, My Name Is Earl) backing of Midlake; "The Trials of Van Occupanther is now one of the most important modern records I own." Hmmm, perhaps a bit over the top, eh Jase?
This is a record deeply rooted in the past. After their first album of lo-fi keyboard orientated indie, they've completely changed for their sophomore effort which is drenched in sunshine rock from the 70's. Even the production has a retro feel to it, everything is exceedingly laid back and genteel. I was completely mesmerised the first time I heard Roscoe on a Bella Union label sampler a couple of months ago; it's a perfect blend of retro and contempory rock with fuzzed guitars and piano that sounded like something Neil Young could have written in his West Coast prime. The vocals perfectly pitched, certainly not like Young, and blissed out, the lyrics dealing with returning to simpler times, avoiding the rat race and just chilling out. It reminded me of The Eagles in their prime.
Unfortunately with the Trials of Van Occupanther starting with, by far, their best track things can only go downhill. It's not that the song writing is bad, it's to a very high standard, it's just that the record is very one paced and so smooth and polished that I find the music just washing over me. After playing the album I find it very hard to pick anything discernable out of it, each song nicely progresses into the next and your none the wiser. The only other highlight is the recent single Young Bride which ups the tempo a bit and bounces along with an urgency sadly lacking elsewhere on the album. I can't stress enough how retro this album sounds, it just almost as if they travelled back to the 70's, recorded the album and brought it back. They must have used original recording material from then; the drum sound, piano and guitars could all come from The Eagles Hotel California or a Crosby, Stills & Nash album.
This, for me, is one of the great disappointments of 2006 so far (after the Red Hot Chilli Peppers bloated effort), they promised so much and, in the end, have got sucked into being a retro-rock tribute band. I'm sorry Jason Lee but I own plenty more "important modern records" than this... The hint is in modern.