Following the success of Strange And Beautiful (the single), the unfulfilling Strange And Beautiful (the album) and a string of reportedly uncompromising live shows, Matt Hales returns as Aqualung with Still Life. Is it a development or a mere continuous process?
Single Brighter Than Sunshine opens the proceedings, not exactly with a bang but with a rather low-key showcase of Hales’ unequivocally brilliant vocals. The track however isn’t quite so brilliant and verges on monotonous.
Where to from there then? How about a Coldplay rip-off? Maybe that’s a harsh analysis of Left Behind but it isn’t far from the truth. Nor is it that bad a criticism since Coldplay are possibly the most intelligent British act of recent years.
Intelligence is one quality that Aqualung possess in abundance and the diversity of Matt Hales’ musical upbringing shines like a beacon on Still Life. Clever structure and a hybrid of genres is typified by the diversity of the piano range on You Turn Me Around. But it still sounds like Coldplay.
As Still Life progresses it becomes difficult to distinguish between tracks. Only Another Little Hole rescues the first half of the album from being blurred into one extended song. The flow of acoustic guitar to piano with a tiny hint of bass is meshed together fantastically by Hales’ vocals. Upbeat it isn’t (“This life can only / Leave us lonely / There’s no tomorrow / Just another little tear in my eye”), great it is.
Extraordinary Thing is Another Little Hole’s rival for standout track, much in the same sombre vein as the latter but, perversely, with lyrics that aren’t. Note the difference between sombre and depressing – this isn’t David Gray-style “music to gouge your eyeballs out to”.
Still Life couldn’t be more apt a title for this album: it doesn’t really move, it just sits there (metaphorically of course). This makes it very difficult to hear, as it’s nigh on impossible to engage with it. For all Still Life’s perfectly executed music it unfortunately suffers from a lack of originality. Talent will get you to the top, only creativity can keep you there.