It seems like these guys were born to give lip! The strong minded, cynical and sarcastic Young Knives try to conjure up their unique brand of eccentric English magic in Superabundance, their second studio album.
Unfortunately the spell falls a little short and rather than being entrancing the album is only mildly entertaining. The overriding issue that the trio from Ashby De La Zouch contends with is the comparison to their first, Mercury-nominated album, Voices Of Animals And Men.
Superabundance struggles to stay as savvy and sharp as that debut. Singer, songwriter and band leader Henry Dartnall has continued to mourn the decaying world with a wink and a smile but somehow the lines don’t cut as deep, nor sound as fresh.
The early numbers heartily mount Brit-rock and take it for a pretty but unexceptional ride. The jangly opener, Fit 4 U, acutely warns us to think twice about motivation and direction: “Follow the signs they are misguiding, despite their design… Hey runner what are you running from?” Perhaps this was a statement of the band’s state of mind?
A self-deprecating streak pervades. The catchy Terra Firma speaks of success: “I looked around at everything I bought and seemed I wanted more, looks like Mother Nature’s got herself a whore”. Additionally, the repetition of “terra firma, terra firma,” tricks the ear to believe ‘I’m terrified’ is the real lyric. Whether it has anything to do with EMI’s new owners, or indeed firm ground, is moot.
The most fun to be had on the album is with Up All Night: “Everyone feels special tonight. It’s a showdown.” It’s not only sassy but it’s danceable. We’re The Counters takes the dark notion of suicide and makes it easy, with shifts from blazing rock to ethereal choral sections bringing it closest to their earlier material.
Turn Tail has the indulgent, seeming necessity for current indie credibility, the addition of strings as a relief. It has great orchestral power. “We’re all slaves on this ship, this ship is sinking… I will turn tail and run” is Dartnell’s oddly prophetic espousal for the future of society. Its gloomy and dire message is given an energetic, anthem-like chorus and it’s worth celebrating for that.
If only we could hear some more of the growing acerbic tone in the voice of our lead singer. His delivery too often fades into the dross of indie wailer territory. But then again so does the formula of the composition. The greatest strain on the band is the conventional and safe indie constructions that constitute much of the first half of the album and the odd turn towards psychedelic touches that make up the second half.
Mummy Light The Fire is haunting, psychedelic work as if suddenly entering a dank and morbid Simon And Garfunkel fantasy: “I lie awake in a silent grave six days deep… I feel fear, I feel fear, I’m in floods of tears.” However, the creepy vignette Flies seems to have no place on the album at all.
In essence Superabundance falls short of being either super or abundant. But the Young Knives’ angular style and wit that have been maintained, and will hopefully evolve and flourish next time.