Bands these days. Always rushing about, apropos of nothing. Always frantically playing stuff. With their songs that go du-du-du-du-du-du-du. Singing about nothing. Thinking about nothing. Empty, vacuous, pointless, self-obsessed preening posers.
Not I Like Trains. I Like Trains waft through the ages with the stately presence of a monarch. Poised. With a regal air of indifference and an impenetrably calm sense of self-confidence. Imperceptibly changing with the epochs. Never so much that they look like they’re trying to be on the crest of anything as common as fashion, but just enough to ensure they aren’t left looking bewildered by their surroundings.
The Shallows, their third album, is a record that wants to pause and consider everything before addressing the world on the chosen subject. It’s tempting to call it old-fashioned, but that’s not quite right. It’s more that they’re moving along a totally different timeline to everything else.
The subject here is man’s relationship with machine, and specifically how digital technology has changed the way we think. For a band who’ve previously referenced assassinated 18th Century Prime Ministers, failed Victorian polar expeditions and the Great Fire of London, it’s quite a shift into modernity.
Musically, that shift is also noticeable, if a little more subtle. A brave new world of processed and synthesised odds and sods, of electronic pulses and blips awaits. But it’s blended startlingly well with the expected I Like Trains staples – the elegantly echoing riffs, Dave Martin’s ever soothing baritone murmur – to make something that really works.
None more so then We Used To Talk, which for 30 seconds fools you into thinking it’s House Of Jealous Lovers by The Rapture before settling down into something a little more refined – House Of Inscrutable Suitors, perhaps.
The glorious Reykjavik could be the ancient grandparent of a lost Interpol song. Also, the malevolently innocent way Martin deadpans “I had reason enough to believe this witch would float” suggests should he be called to the Leveson enquiry you’d actually believe he couldn’t recall anything of the past five years.
But while it’s fair to say there aren’t vast shifts of mood and tone on The Shallows, when I Like Trains settle into their groove it’s so enveloping and entrancing it’s hard to criticise. The Shallows is baroque and orchestral, rich, languid, thoughtful and wrapped in gloomy darkness. Although there’s always a wry and very English sense of gallows humour underlying it all.
It’s a desert island sort of record. The kind of album you could imagine being piped into a flotation tank to keep you occupied for hours. In fact, it’s the most ironically titled album since the Stereophonics released their ‘Best Of’. The Shallows is a remarkably deep thing.