What is it with new bands these days? Is it a reflection on a cutesy-pie society that so many promising acts pop up with little to say other than to reminisce about lovelorn teenage romance experiences? Where has all the anger of youth gone? Where are all the disgruntled anarchists wanting to change the world? There’s no fight, no challenging of hierarchy, no restlessness, no protests and less to distinguish artists from one another. So it is with Amber Run, five young lads who met at Nottingham University. That they have previously stated that they aspired “to be where Bastille and Kodaline are” says it all, really.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Amber Run – except for their name, until they added ‘Run’ after legal issues. They knock out some decent tunes on their accomplished – if generic – debut and they have one key ingredient that lifts them above their peers – vocal harmonies, which by all accounts take up a considerable wedge of their rehearsal time. Take one of the earliest tracks here, Noah. It’s a formulaic effort with a chorus that basically just quotes the name of that old boat-building guy from the Bible, but the way the simple chorus is structured with layers of harmonious vocals is euphoric, uplifting, and capable of winning over more serious music aficionados (although they’ll never admit it, of course), but it’s easily one of the best songs of all-time to be based around a staccato piano note of middle C.
These vocal harmonies are comfortably the most appealing aspect here, and they surface again for the incredibly spine-tingling minimalist opener I Found where a delicate piano line tinkles alongside the hauntingly affecting vocals. It’s a common trend with bands of their age that clichéd lyrics let the song down, though. “I found love where it wasn’t supposed to be, right in front of me” hints at finding love with a friend if you rule out incest, and Shiver’s line of “You make me shiver” hardly does much to rectify the lyrical shortcomings, but those luscious harmonies paper over the cracks to good effect.
Many tracks here have seen earlier releases, but Just My Soul Responding is officially the lead single for the album, per se; with its warm chorus and foot-tapping appeal it could be Bastille – it’ll clearly appeal to young females more than anyone else, and for any band to be taken as seriously as they probably want to be, that should be a concern. Same goes for Hurricane, although that edges a little closer to the band that most of these guys ultimately remain in the shadow of – Coldplay. The problem for all of them is that none have a world class songwriter of Chris Martin’s ability within their ranks and where another clichéd lyric arrives during the title track – “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” – the ode only really manages to pull gently on the heartstrings, whereas something like Fix You, for example, rips them out of your chest.
Another single, Spark, sounds familiar again but a powerful burst of guitaring during a mid-section is epic, as is closer See You Soon, although placing a song called See You Soon at the end of an album reeks of cheese. It’s a slow burner of magnificence where reverb guitars echo alongside Joe Keogh’s endearing, slightly lispy lead vocal before rapid plectrum usage creates a shimmering guitar presence synonymous with Editors.
So, same old same old – kinda. Where have all the bands gone that want to dominate the world? Why isn’t anyone aiming for the sky anymore, happy to settle for the ceiling instead? It’s a worrying trend and one that Amber Run oddly summarise themselves during the mundane Pilot: “I don’t wanna be the centre of anything, just a part of something bigger”. Why not boys, aim higher! Next comes make or break time – will they be bullied by corporate ‘suits’ into losing their unique selling point like labelmates Kodaline did with their folky element in exchange for sales, shamelessly aiming themselves at teenage girls? Or will they fight for their identity? Let’s hope it’s the latter, because they’ve got the talent and the musicianship, and now need to match that with the desire to be the best, not also rans.