Bolton singer/songwriter Simon Aldred returns to chief band Cherry Ghost for their third album Herd Runners, after various detours including last year’s release under the Out Cold moniker – 11 tracks of “electro-pop soul”.
Following the average indie mainstream debut Thirst For Romance in 2007, Aldred took the band in another direction with 2010’s follow up Beneath This Burning Shoreline as songs headed towards the cinematic, arena filling territory occupied by Elbow and Doves. After the distractions of the last four years, Cherry Ghost’s latest effort reflects these diverse directions his life, and music, have since taken as songs take on an easy listening, country tinged, string-backed style at a romantic and forlorn pace similar to early single Mathematics.
Recorded in Sheffield and mixed in Bath by previous collaborator Dan Austin, the album opens with Clear Skies Ever Closer. It sets the scene for the first half which is faultless perfection. Here is a slow, hand-holding piece of romanticism with a country feel that sounds more like The Carpenters than Elbow et al, a memorable chorus invoking sadness as Aldred sings “All of our goodbyes we will get over though the darkness descends on me again” before touches of brass and then slide guitar lead the song to its conclusion. Don’t Leave Me Here Alone is another slow, almost plodding moment of mellow beauty; catchy verses meld with strings, persistent guitar riff and acoustic strummings. It is simply gorgeous.
Fragile Reign is a delicate thing, a flower swaying gently in a soft breeze as Aldred breathes new life into an old number that’s been in his repertoire for years, first appearing as a song by his pre-Cherry Ghost band The Mule Boom over a decade ago. Sacramento sees more of the same slow slide guitar taking control as a lament of lost love takes shape: “And the smiles on the outside couldn’t be further from the truth if he tried,” he sings during a sorrowful bridge, before declaring “Oh Marianne, Marianne, wait for me, one day I will be your King and you will be my Queen” as the sad reflection continues.
And then comes the album’s standout centrepiece: album preview track The World Could Turn. Backed by prominent strings, the bouncy rhythm and catchy, hopeful melody that gets a brass sheen as it returns towards the song’s conclusion help deliver Aldred’s message of “what’s a life if not for living”. A crawling blues-soaked, slide guitar drawl follows in Drinking For Two as the eclectic mass of influences take an about turn, and the title track continues in the same vein; it’s really an album closer stuck in the wrong slot, its sleepy, repetitive lyrics encouraging, well, sleep.
In fact it could be said that the second half of the album induces slumber at virtually every moment; My Lover Lies Under does little to brighten things up as the sorrow begins to take its toll. “I do believe I’ve lost my faith in Hollywood,” mourns Aldred, and some listeners will begin to lose faith in the album itself at this point. But then, quite unexpectedly, peppy percussion appears, driving along a jaunty, emotionally charged string-backed number – Love Will Follow You – that heads back towards earlier highlights. Joanne then closes the collection, but it’s a weaker cut that lacks excitement – which is fine for a closing piece, but after the title track you feel as if you’ve already seen the end of the album come and go.
Rather than benefit from its stunning opening five track sequence, Herd Runners tends to suffer from it as the weight carried by the best songs hasn’t been evenly distributed. Like the debut album in particular, it’s hard to dislike much, if anything, here and as a whole it exceeds Thirst For Romance for highlights if not quite reaching the same levels as the second album. Yet when it does hit those (early) heights, it soars. This is an album to be enjoyed whilst snuggled up in the arms of the love of your life.