Give Iain Archer a pat on the back for persistence. He’s beentrying to be a recognised solo artist in his own right since the1990s. He seemed to have all but given up by the turn of themillennium. But a brief stint with Snow Patrol, during which he wasawarded the Ivor Novello Award for songwriting, apparently convincedhim to give it all another crack.
His 21st century albums have, to date, not been particularlywell-received either. Flood The Tanks and Magnetic North were mostlygreeted with indifferent shrugs, even with the latter album’s Canal Song featuring on girly-girl hospital drama Grey’s Anatomy.
The problem is that Archer is determined, in the face of allcriticism, to pursue a sound that is folk-esque and ‘ethereal’. Toquote his press release, To The Pine Roots is all about: “Thewhisper of instantly recalled melodies, the burring of an age-oldharmonium, the ghostly reverb…” You get the idea.
What it’s actually like is the thousand other male artists outthere who spent too much time listening to Nick Drake growingup, have witnessed the recent success of Sufjan Stevens et al,and have decided to get folky with it.
For Archer, it’s an outfit that just doesn’t fit. At the lowerrange and at low volumes his voice becomes a warbling, out of tunemess. Lyrically, he’s trying too hard, as is evident on opener TheAcrobat, where he speculates that Newton would be confused by theeponymous tumbler. Unless it was a tumbler of absinthe, it’s notlikely to cause the legend too many problems.
It’s a shame, because when he takes a few steps into country,pairing plink-plonk guitar with bluesy harmonica, particularly oneight-minute epic Avalanche, Archer actually gets some pretty goodresults. After all, this is close to what he did with Snow Patrol:guitar music with fairly good riffs and a dash of heartache.
It’s obviously not a formula that Archer is content with, however.On To The Pine Roots he seems instead to respond to moments when things workwell with a blindly panicked move against type. So Everest is followedby Frozen Lake, on which he seems to be doing his best ChadVanGaalen impression. It’s not very good – VanGaalen’s voice soarsin the upper register, while Archer’s is as full of cracks as thatdamn lake.
All in all, To The Pine Roots is a bit of a sad affair, if nottragic in a certain way. If Archer just stuck to what he is reallygood at, he could make a record that, if not hugely distinctive, wouldat least be fairly enjoyable. The irony is that in trying so hard towork against his natural abilities he makes himself depressinglyaverage.