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Everything Everything and the One Day Like This effect

Maybe it was the decision to release it on 14th January, a traditionally quiet time for releases, but there was a palpable sense that people were waiting for Everything Everything’s second album, Arc.  Press coverage was pretty comprehensive, Kemosabe was never off the radio, and given that Man Alive was one of the most exciting and original debut albums in recent memory, expectations were high. And when you preview an album with singles of the quality of Cough Cough and Kemosabe, well, people are going to be waiting to hear what you have to say.

So, then, how has Arc fared? Well by all accounts – it landed in the top five. Torso of the Week is one of their best efforts to date, and the moment in Radiant when Jonathan Higgs’ furious shredded howl “it’s all I ever had” collapses into a crystalline chiming guitar is absolutely sublime, but there’s something wrong, and that can be summed up in one word: Duet. It is, said Higgs in an interview with the BBC, “one of the few proper songs I’ve written“. What it is is a massive string soaked concession of the heartbreaking proportions of Elbow’s One Day Like This: Duet was, in the week of release, already soundtracking montages on Match of the Day. It’s a pleasant enough song, nicely put together, but it doesn’t feel like an Everything Everything song. It feels like someone’s idea of what a band is meant to do to sound sincere, to mean anything to anyone, and from a band like this, it stings a little. Like One Day Like This, it feels out of character, and while of a higher quality than the likes of Coldplay’s Fix You, there’s no doubt it’s a stadium filler, the end of the encore, the money song.

In the same interview, Higgs deems Man Alive annoying, and other interviews around Arc’s release have seen the band say that they have made a conscious effort to write songs that the audience can sing along to. With this in mind, listen to Arc. The sheer volume of repeated lyrics is striking – not repeated choruses, choruses and verses made up almost entirely of the same line over and over. Ok, maybe it’s easier to make out the words on this album, but when you have a range like Higgs, accurate singalongs are still mostly out of the question. And it’s not like anyone went to see Jeff Buckley to sing along, is it? It’s hard not to sound a bit “oh, I liked their earlier stuff” on the subject, and the frustrating thing is that Arc is perilously close to being brilliant, but when the band have openly said that they’ve made concessions so that people like them better, it’s hard not to object. If they hadn’t been so conscious of people being able to sing along, there’s no telling what this album could have been.

 

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The Mercury isn’t Everything (Everything)

Everything Everything

Tonight we find out who has won the Mercury out of Adele, Elbow, Katy B, the jazz man and a few others. The odds are on for one of the more left-field albums to scoop it this time, but chances are it may well go to Adele. Who can say? As long as it doesn’t go to Elbow (sorry, but Build A Rocket, Boys is just not good enough) or Tinie Tempah who, as part of 6Music’s excellent Complete Mercury’s season, revealed that he had been inspired to make music by So Solid Crew’s 21 Seconds.

On this year’s list, Everything Everything’s Man Alive outshines everything. The Mercury Music Prize is meant to represent an album of unparalleled craft, and that can be said of few other contenders this year, perhaps with the exception of PJ Harvey (who has already won). Man Alive, however, is a study in invention, an exploration in sound, particularly rhythm. At no point on that album does any one member of the band do what you expect, and if that’s not worthy of a prize…

Take, for example, Schoolin and its baffling final minutes. Around 2 mins 50, everything drops out, and a frantic, rippling, impossibly intricate guitar riff starts (not a sample, incidentally – guitarist Alex Robertshaw plays it live). Jonathan Higgs howls something. Then the drums kick in, battered, off-beat, almost Caribbean in feel, and on top of this, a syncopated bassline. All going on at the same time, all fitting around each other like this makes perfect sense. The months of practice that must have gone in to managing to play it live, and this is two minutes’ worth of music. This is before mentioning the glorious Qwerty Finger (the breathless, towering chorus collapsing into the half-speed breakdown is one of the finest musical moments of the past year, and it’s a satisfying title to type too), Nasa Is On Your Side’s ping-ponging melody or the beautifully deployed trumpets on Come Alive Diana. This is a genuinely outstanding band who have created a surpassing album. Is it better than Metronomy, than Elbow, than  James Blake? Infinitely. It’s so good, in fact, that you almost don’t want it to win. It doesn’t need the accolade: it’s already far more than any of the other shortlisted albums could ever hope to be.

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