Like the sunrise, the new album from Honeyroot rises slowly, peeking its head above the horizon and at first not quite conquering the darkness. Eventually though, it wins out, bringing with it a soft new light that was originally hidden.
The first time you hear it, The Sun Will Come sounds flimsy and disappointing, lacking both the dark undertones and the lush surface gloss of the Heaven 17 tunes that made main man Glenn Gregory famous. Give it a second chance, however, not to mention a third, fourth and onwards, and it starts to redeem itself. Slowly at first, but more and more each time.
The music Gregory makes with his Honeyroot collaborator Keith Lowndes is never much more than sparse electronica but there are hidden depths in its subtlety and they’re worth the time and effort it takes to dig them out.
On three of the tracks (of which A Change Is Gonna Come is the pick of the bunch), the music is aided by the sensual vocals of Briony Greenhill, elsewhere of the beautifully whimsical Fireworks Night. Other songs feature country singer Kim Richey as well as Kerry Shaw, Elsie Wooley and Lindsay Crisp. As a result, the music takes on a distinct femininity that marks a new direction for Gregory.
However, the utilisation of seven different lead vocalists (including Gregory and Lowndes) on an album of just 11 tracks also highlights its main fault: it sounds like too much of an experiment. Like two well-established producers playing around in the studio without a clear or focussed idea of what their end result should be. It’s all a bit too self-indulgent.
It’s also brilliant in places, not least on Drifter, a track that’s escaped from Spiritualised and found its home here, in the half-light of pre-dawn when your mind is wandering and your soul is alert to the sounds around you. In others it tips close to being pedestrian, such as on People Say – little more than a programmed beat-box track, but then you realise that it takes a special skill to make a song out of so little. Like pop music in electronic haiku form.
At times Honeyroot channel old Bristol trip-hop troubadours, at others they nod their head to the 80s synths on which Gregory learned his trade. And bit by bit, as you start to draw the links and put the pieces together in your head, it all starts to work very well indeed.
The effort pays off, but should we have been forced to make it in the first place? If you like your music so cerebral you need to study it in great detail before deeming it worthy, add an extra star or two to this review. If you just want something to fill the background silence, take one off. Somewhere in the middle, there’s a very pleasant album and it’s waiting for you to tease it out.