The Boxer Rebellion are one of those bands for whom things have strangely failed to take off. Continuously aiming for the stratosphere with stadium-filling anthemic rock, they sit alongside acts like Coldplay, Keane and Embrace minus a piano, but have little to show in terms of comparative success.
What the others all have had is considerable airplay (admittedly, the Chris Martin-penned Gravity contributed largely to this in the case of Embrace). But all have had at least one massive single; Embrace with the aforementioned Martin composition, Keane with Somewhere Only We Know and Coldplay with a multitude of hits, of course.
The Boxer Rebellion, on the other hand, have had neither single success nor excessive airplay. Neither have they built up an excited following like Embrace did in the late 1990s. They also haven’t been in the tabloids every week due to one of the members being (formerly) married to a Hollywood A-lister. Finally, they haven’t been subject to media attention for drug excesses.
Ocean By Ocean, the band’s fifth album, marks a creatively prolific decade. In 1987, U2 released what many believe to be their defining moment, The Joshua Tree. Perhaps unrivalled before and after in respect of its first three tracks being mind-blowingly world class, history suggests that The Boxer Rebellion may have taken a leaf out of the Irishmen’s book at some stage, this being a trend befitting most of their own works. 2009’s Union in particular went for the jugular with its one-two-three placement of its most outstanding songs, whilst last collection Promises followed the same formula, and how its lead track Diamonds failed to become the big break for the band is more mystifying than the whereabouts of Lord Lucan.
The new album is of a similar mould. The best track this time round, Weapon, is placed at the top of the running order once again; it’s a pulsing epic that deserves more attention than it will receive, sounding at times like a cross between Broken Bells and Athlete’s Wires with its spine-tingling chorus. But it cuts off a little too early, which is an annoying trait – a little bit of self-indulgent flogging never hurt anyone.
Singer Nathan Nicholson has an unusual tone to his vocals, occasionally breaking into a nasally state of affairs inbetween sublime falsettos. Let’s Disappear suffers a little from this, and despite enjoying typically anthemic qualities, its sugary coating will initially lift but perhaps wane over time. Redemption follows the same pattern, its shimmering guitars creating a beautifully shiny exterior that hides an average centre.
Decent single Big Ideas sums up the band in its title, this time musically pointing to The Joshua Tree’s Where The Streets Have No Name, an album/track that surely has a place in the record collection of more than one of the quartet. U2 are again recalled for the slower You Can Love Me, a slow building gem that ends with some euphoric Coldplay-like crooning, while the excellent Keep Me Close combines one of Nicholson’s most spellbinding falsetto vocal contributions with contrastingly doomy and thunderous undertones.
As the song says, the band clearly have big ideas and there’s no reason for these not to resonate with a bigger audience. It may simply be exposure to that audience that’s the problem. If they also break free from the shackles that seem to curtail their best moments, they could yet enjoy commercial success. And if sufficient exposure finally occurs, it would be unsurprising to see their back catalogue being ravenously snapped up by fans eager for more.