For Blake – your suitably dapper classical crossover quartet – there’s the vague sense that this album was on the cards right from the start. Not long after they formed, the ‘band’ were quickly covering tracks by the likes of U2, Katie Melua and Snow Patrol – at first mixed in with a palate of classical standards, but increasingly hinting toward a full evolution into bonafide pop group.
Start Over – their fourth LP to date – stands as the fruits of that transformation; and in terms of a definite move away from the band’s classical roots, it succeeds. As to whether the new direction is strong enough to stand on its own two feet… well, that’s another question entirely, and the answer largely depends on what the listener expects from the record.
The group’s vocals feel confident in their new climes, at ease; and for the most part, avoid coming across as overly stagey or stuffy – as so commonly afflicts others who have attempted the classical/pop transition. Diane Warren-penned What Do I Do With The Love impresses; originally recorded by R&B troupe Dru Hill in the late 90s, Blake’s take on the track sees it transposed into a classy bit of Spandau Ballet-esque blue-eyed soul. And if there’s one real highlight to be taken from the album, the band’s reworking of Paul McCartney’s 1997 hit Beautiful Night is probably it – achieving a more involved sense of poignancy than the majority of the oh-so genteel offerings that make up the bulk of the record’s latter half.
Likewise, released whilst Adele’s version is no doubt still fresh in the public’s mind, Blake’s cover of Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love emerges as another of the stronger cuts here – a shimmering camp-fire moment of pitch-perfect harmonies and finger-picked acoustic guitar. It’s tender, heartfelt – and as an album of love songs, it’s this fundamental emotional connection that Start Over feels honour bound to focus on. It’s unfortunate then that so many of the other tracks here feel like they’re simply going through the motions – paper thin Valentine’s platitudes that grasp at but largely fail to achieve real lingering resonance.
In the hands of an Olly Murs type, the likes of Living On Sunshine would probably be an assured Top 10 hit, but lacking his cocked-eyebrow cheekiness, it descends into the realms of lightweight wedding disco. There’s a veneer of Take That stamped across the entire album too, ranging through their various eras – from the upbeat youths of the early 90s to the statelier, more grandiose Barlow epics produced post-reunion. But whereas Take That emerged phoenix like from their own reinvention to offer a revitalised, smarter, distinctly more mature brand, Blake’s effort ends up falling back on cover versions and mild-mannered grins.
We caught the band playing live late last year at a launch event, and truth be told, they were a lot more impressive then than they are on CD. Perhaps through virtue of Blake being a vocal group through and through, reduced here to the two-dimensional confines of an album, the songs feel compressed, shallower – lacking the bombast and depth inherent in a great live performance.
It’s all perfectly serviceable in terms of something you’d pick up from a Sainsbury’s shelf along with a bottle of plonk and meal for two, but there’s very little here – musically speaking – that ever really befits the group’s evident vocal talents. Maybe we’re looking for too much, but it starts to feel like a bit of a hollow victory when a formerly classical act like Blake re-invents themselves into a pop troupe only to deliver a very staid, safe kind of pop. For their target audience, Start Over ticks all the boxes – but the album is marred by a constant sense that it could have offered a great deal more. The title track sets the right kind of template, only for it to never be matched – as the chorus itself offers: “Where do we go to now…?”