We all remember Watching Xanadu from a few years back, right? It would seem that Watching Xanadu remains Mull Historical Society’s high point to this day, despite the presence of two full length releases. One imagines that the latest album, This Is Hope, is at once the best way of shaking the “nearly man” tag as well as being an outlet of creative expression.
Believe it or not, the album’s sound reflects this exactly: Compared to Colin’s other LP’s (Loss and Us respectively), This Is Hope is infinitely more coherent and consistent. While Loss was a love/hate ride of peaks and troughs, and Us was unerringly obtuse at times, This Is Hope is far more positive and assertive in style, allowing it to run through eleven varied tracks whilst never losing the thread. Colin, it would seem, has learned from his mistakes.
“I am hope, you are hope, we are hope, this is hope” states the 10-second introductory track, before making way for Peculiar’s kick drum and two-chord progression. Taking the simple structure and lyrical quirks into consideration, it’s very tempting to label Colin as the Scottish Stephen Malkmus (imagine a blend between Malkmus songs Fractions & Feelings, Dynamic Calories and Old Jerry and you have Peculiar). High praise indeed, but it is far from unwarranted: As far as opening tracks go, Peculiar is a great effort. Moreover, it would seem that Colin’s ability for creating a catchy vocal melody has gone from good to better, beginning here and continuing throughout.
Thanks to your beloved musicOMH, you already know how lovely How ‘Bout I Love You More is. Even that, however, pales in comparison to Treescavenger, which is, to all intents and purposes, more suitable to finish proceedings – it’s a melancholic, minor-chord mini-masterpiece, gradually growing from piano to orchestra with a verse-chorus juxtaposition to die for. We’ve heard Mull reach these heights before; the remarkable thing this time around is that Treescavengers is the third great song in three tracks. That is something new to Mull Historical Society fans, and the good news doesn’t end there.
At this point, Colin finds the confidence to drill out an anti-America rant in the form of This Is The Hebrides, once again blending a spendlidly angry acoustic guitar and crashing drum verse with melodic piano chorus to scintilating effect. The strength of songwriting is utterly refreshing, and it’s hard not to cringe when a track ends, as was the case with MHS albums of old.
Tobermory Zoo carries the middle distance of the album with pace and enthusiam, exhitibing a smart, upbeat approach that could have conceivably been written by a Neil Hannon/Ben Folds hybrid (Neil Folds? Ben Hannon?). Following track Death O� A Scienti$t injects some regret, standing out as the albums lyrical high (“I took emotional decay to another plain” sings Colin, and there is no reason to doubt his sincerity).
Both Your Love, My Gain and Casanova At The Weekend display the classic Mull sound, harking back to the hit/miss years in the semi-wilderness. The latter even dares to break out the electric guitars and tread into anthem territory. It’ll probably soundtrack a romantic comedy soon, but that’s not to say that it is little more than cheesy pop… because it isnt… honest.
This Is Hope is wrapped up in the same confident manner that characterises the preceding half an hour – My Friend The Addict is languid yet soaring; Len swaggers like a stripped-down lounge act and In The Next Life (A Requiem) piles on the credibility with eight minutes of sample-layered progression over a carpet of repeated riff and sentiment.
Without trying to sound patronising, This Is Hope is a coming of age for Colin MacIntyre. Whilst not being a sea change as such, it can boast a tracklisting as strong as anything seen this year, and is a stark improvement on old Mull albums. Colin has eventually tapped the magic substance that brought us the likes of Watching Xanadu and spread it generously over the duration of this delightful long player. Well done, that man: We always hoped you could do it, and you have.