What’s this then? Eleven years after mutuallycalling it a day, Mark King and his gang ofwhiter than white funkateers return, an addition tothe long list of bands you thought would never reform.Not the most fashionable of groups even in theirheyday, you could be forgiven for thinking the goingwill be tough for them second time around. On theupside their return conveniently coincides with a softrock revival of sorts, headed by bands like TheFeeling. So could they be on the verge of a returnto public consciousness once again?
On the music offered by Retroglide, the answer hasto be no. Mark King and Boon Gould haveco-written an album that offers little in comparisonto what’s gone before, and comes across as melodicallyuninspired. No Running In The Family here more aslow, heavy walk.
Initial signs are misleading. To start with themusic seems less obviously geared towards themainstream, and that’s clear from the extended solosafforded in the fired up opener, which promises muchwith a surprisingly funky approach. Sadly cause foroptimism proves misguided.
At least King’s voice has aged well, retaining thefull, mellow tone that gave the band its distinctivesound. His famed bass playing doesn’t get enough of anouting here though, so while the slap makes itselfheard on Sleep Talking it only occasionally prods itsway through.
That’s because there’s too much going on up top.Guitar textures are stodgy, while some of the innerparts add unnecessary weight to the sound. A leaner,funkier approach, briefly glimpsed but never realised,would surely have brought the songs forward more andadded more of an edge.
In addition, everything’s too long. When an eleventrack album clocks in at just under an hour the reasonis usually a nod to the progressive, or more than afew instrumental indulgences. Unfortunately here it’shard to detect either of these, and songs like thesemi-ballad The Way Back Home cling to the middle ofthe carriageway for their entire duration, flat anduninspired. Likewise the title track, its pleasantmelody given little place to go over a leaden beat.All Around takes all of five minutes before the firstprofound statement, King’s “I don’t recognise you anymore” unexpectedly moving when left alone at the endof the song.
The implications from this are that the package isfor fans only, but even they must be more than alittle alarmed at the lack of direction in a song likeWhen Your Ship Comes In, an overextended guitar solopreceding a limp chorus that fails to secure theuplifting qualities it aspires to.
It sums up the whole album rather aptly, and ratherthan feel like a fresh return to form, Level 42′sreturn is curiously without event.