“That difficult second album” is a well-worn cliché. All too often a band produce a storming debut, then fail to deliver on the follow-up release. The Strokes, The Vines and, but of course, The Stone Roses have all fallen foul of the ‘sophomore slump’ and Franz Ferdinand and Scissor Sisters will be bidding to avoid it later this year.
It often works the other way round though. Radiohead jumped from middling indie band to global superstars with The Bends, Elbow took a big leap forward with Cast Of Thousands last year, and Nirvana had a well received cult hit with the little remembered Nevermind…
Athlete‘s debut album was a promising little post-Britpop number crammed with quirky songs such as El Salvador and You Got The Style, together with more languid ballads such as Beautiful. While it showed promise, it lacked that something special that would move Athlete to the forefront of great British bands.
Tourist, on the other hand, has that something special in spades. There’s a new found confidence in the songs and each track manages to emotionally connect strongly with the listener. Opening single Wires is a case in point. A slow burning masterpiece, this song about singer Joel Potts’ baby daughter’s illness is just magnificent, both lyrically and musically. Imagery such as wires coming out of skin and Potts running through corridors stick in the mind, and while the music is a tad morose, it’s also immensely uplifting.
Similar wonders are worked with Trading Air, a moving declaration of unrequited love, which could leave the emotionally fragile sobbing like a baby by the time the chorus comes round. The title track too, is a beautifully melancholic number, with a guitar line that tugs on the heartstrings and Potts pleading “just wanna be with you… my baby” in a manner that should have Chris Martin very worried that he’s about to lose his target audience.
Talking of Mr Martin’s band, Athlete have already been accused of turning into a Coldplay covers band, and it’s undeniable that a fair bit of this album does indeed sound like A Rush Of Blood To The Head. Yet the songs here aren’t mere bloodless copies – each song has some real soul to it, and when they’re of the incredibly high quality of Wires, Trading Air and the almost impossibly gentle Street Map, then who really cares?
Besides, it’s not all sad piano chords and heartfelt ballads. Half Light rocks out, with its ringing guitar riff and anthemic chorus, while Modern Mafia is the closest thing that you could call ‘old’ Athlete – it bounces along irresistibly to provide a welcome counterpoint to the mournful but hopeful air evident elsewhere.
When Coldplay arrived a few years ago, they were quickly tagged ‘the new Radiohead’. Then last year, Keane were dubbed ‘the new Coldplay’. Chances are that, in two years time, when the next band arrives with their sensitive ballads and piano heavy verses, we’ll be talking about ‘the new Athlete’ – Tourist is just about to propel Joel Potts and company into the big time.