To say this album is eagerly awaited would be an understatement. This is because nearly four years – somehow – have passed since London Grammar imposed their distinctive style, and the haunting vocals of Hannah Reid, on a captive audience.
We should perhaps have seen the signs for the delay in the title of their debut album – If You Wait – but now that wait is over we are presented with a second album that sees no reason to change the formula. That means 10 moody and rather magnificent songs, topped by Reid’s cold-as-ice voice, which at its very best can stop the listener dead in their tracks.
The band really comes in to its own towards the end of Hell To The Liars, where a coda of impressive defiance builds up in the manner of an Ólafur Arnalds Broadchurch score, with big boned orchestral layers building upon each other. Despite the TV parallel the approach here is not too musically derivative, packing a very powerful emotional punch when the piano and strings are added.
The album cultivates deep, nocturnal settings for Reid’s voice, bringing to mind visions of late night city living, with a smoky atmosphere and a box of dark chocolates on the side perhaps. The cool summer breeze lingers, sending a frisson down the spine, and on occasions the listener becomes wary of an unspoken dread.
Truth Is A Beautiful Thing begins with a beatless torch song, Rooting For You, that runs similarly deep. Reid intones a set of very personal lyrics capped by the tenet, “My darling, I’ll be rooting for you”. Oh Woman Oh Man is similarly affecting, due in part to Hannah’s doubled layering of the vocals, with the tune sung an octave apart.
While Reid’s voice has a special, starry quality, one principal criticism of this album would be that much of it proceeds at a very similar tempo. This can work really well in some cases (Gayngs’ Related comes to mind) but here a bit more variety would not go amiss, especially where the beats are concerned. Bones Of Ribbon threatens to break cover with quicker, more active percussion, but too often the heavy bass drums give the music an earthbound quality that can hold the energy back.
Because of that there is a curious and lasting tension to London Grammar’s music, and it runs throughout the album. The surrounding treble production is airy, particularly the co-produced Big Picture, where Jon Hopkins steps in, a simple piano intoning the start from which Reid’s vocal builds. “Only now do I see the big picture,” she sings, curiously close to Annie Lennox in timbre, while Hopkins busies himself with a typically well-judged and intricate backdrop.
The music of London Grammar continues to bewitch, soothe and inspire in equal measure, and when Truth Is A Beautiful Thing is at its best, it fully lives up to the title. Reid’s voice, simplicity itself, is a special instrument indeed, an angelic tone sent from above. Because of that a greater variety in their approach and production is what the trio need. Then they can perhaps reach for that higher level where the stars are even brighter.