History rarely forgives a band that breaks up. Obviously, it hasn’t been too kind to the Rolling Stones – but think of The Velvet Underground, or The Stone Roses, or, most of all, The Beatles. For all the 10 years between The Beatles’ break up and his death, John Lennon is known principally for Imagine; Paul McCartney for Band On the Run. Reputations transform – McCartney post-Beatles is known as an innane grinner; Lennon as selfish and self-righteous.
The refusal to forget must be excruciating – and all the worse because it measures you less against your past than against your old bandmates. McCartney and Lennon fall to George Harrison; John Cale – for some forgotten sin – yields to Lou Reed. The 70s records of Cale and Reed form a kind of grim, bitter dialogue – the musicians who rarely spoke or met that decade trading punches in their work.
Azure Ray have not split up – they are simply on hold. They seem, though, to accept that this summer’s solo albums will be pitted against each other. This is no Speakerboxxx/The Love Below – but Invisible Ones has appeared only three months and four Saddle Creek serial numbers after Maria Taylor‘s 11:11. In mentioning a lighthouse on Blind Asylum, Fink seems positively to invite comparison with Taylor – whose Light House is one of her record’s highlights.
I’m not sure it was a good idea: 11:11 is an album of the year, and Invisible Ones isn’t. Fink stays close to the sonic templates of both Now It’s Overhead and Azure Ray, but has less impact than either. The record is built around gothic soundscapes, coloured by heavy rhythms and soaring vocals – but these are less affecting than they should be, and in quantity a great deal more irritating. There is less of the rhythmical variation that marks NIO, and fewer of Azure Ray’s strong melodies.
Maybe it’s the production’s fault: Fink co-produces with Andy LeMaster, and there is a sense that he couldn’t unleash the full magic, as he did solo with Maria Taylor. The sound should be spare, but it feels unfinished – it lacks weight. Maybe it’s just that the songs themselves are rather slight. Occasionally, it comes together: Miracle Worker is a kind of chamber music via laptop, cutting its fragile melody with odd pulsating slides, less like Country than whale song. As such, it sounds most like Maria Taylor.
But for every song that’s good, for every haunting harmony, there are two minutes’ meander. Points are great, but it all could have been better. And it all suffers by comparison: even on its own – but especially after 11:11 – this is a disappointment.