What’s this then? Eleven years after mutually calling it a day, Mark King and his gang of whiter than white funkateers return, an addition to the long list of bands you thought would never reform. Not the most fashionable of groups even in their heyday, you could be forgiven for thinking the going will be tough for Level 42 second time around. On the upside their return conveniently coincides with a soft rock revival of sorts, headed by bands like The Feeling. So could they be on the verge of a return to public consciousness once again?
On the music offered by Retroglide, the answer has to be no. Mark King and Boon Gould have co-written an album that offers little in comparison to what’s gone before, and comes across as melodically uninspired. No Running In The Family here more a slow, heavy walk.
Initial signs are misleading. To start with the music seems less obviously geared towards the mainstream, and that’s clear from the extended solos afforded in the fired up opener, which promises much with a surprisingly funky approach. Sadly cause for optimism proves misguided.
At least King’s voice has aged well, retaining the full, mellow tone that gave the band its distinctive sound. His famed bass playing doesn’t get enough of an outing here though, so while the slap makes itself heard on Sleep Talking it only occasionally prods its way through.
That’s because there’s too much going on up top. Guitar textures are stodgy, while some of the inner parts add unnecessary weight to the sound. A leaner, funkier approach, briefly glimpsed but never realised, would surely have brought the songs forward more and added more of an edge.
In addition, everything’s too long. When an 11 track album clocks in at just under an hour the reason is usually a nod to the progressive, or more than a few instrumental indulgences. Unfortunately here it’s hard to detect either of these, and songs like the semi-ballad The Way Back Home cling to the middle of the carriageway for their entire duration, flat and uninspired. Likewise the title track, its pleasant melody given little place to go over a leaden beat.All Around takes all of five minutes before the first profound statement, King’s “I don’t recognise you anymore” unexpectedly moving when left alone at the end of the song.
The implications from this are that the package is for fans only, but even they must be more than a little alarmed at the lack of direction in a song likeWhen Your Ship Comes In, an overextended guitar solo preceding a limp chorus that fails to secure the uplifting qualities it aspires to.
It sums up the whole album rather aptly, and rather than feel like a fresh return to form, Level 42’s return is curiously without event.