Public Symphony, a duo consisting of James Reynolds and Dobs Vye, have attracted a fair bit of attention recently courtesy of their inspired animated video for their single Stronger. The video has been zipping its way all over the internet, in a similar manner which helped Nizlopi‘s JCB Song become number one late last year.
Stronger was also chosen to accompany a musical montage about the Boat Race recently, so you could be forgiven for expecting a stirring, inspiring song fit for heroes and athletes. What you may not expect is a rather drippy piano ballad devoid of any kind of personality. Which is what Stronger, and indeed most of Public Symphony’s debut album, actually is.
For, despite being compared to both Pink Floyd and Massive Attack on the album sticker, Public Symphony remind one of nothing more than a Keane tribute band. The similarity is uncanny – the polite piano chords, the determination to never stray from the middle of the road, and the overwhelming sense of beige colouring the record. Indeed, it comes as something of a surprise to see no track entitled “Chris Martin, please write us a song”.
Yet where the much maligned trio with no guitarist have got the ability to write a memorable melody, that seems to be beyond Reynolds and Vye. The production qualities are admittedly high, with each song sounding smooth and professional. Yet, you hanker for some grit, some passion, or for Vye to dare to move away from his rather wistful melancholy vocals and convince us that he actually cares about the lyrics he’s singing.
Admittedly, it must be difficult to put much feeling into a song like Touch, which features lyrics such as “I feel momentum in my life, I feel your soul” over a tune which so desperately wants to be Pink Floyd’s Great Gig In The Sky that it becomes embarrassing. Rise And Shine is similarly uninspired, being a song about how contented and happy with his lot in life he is (“I am high on living life, good morning rise and shine”), although at least here the melody quickens pace slightly to jolt the listener awake.
It reaches a nadir with Children Of The Heatwave, a soggy attempt at funk featuring lyrics which have to be heard to be believed: “Skies are blue, yeah we feel horny too, like the tune we’re occupied funking”. Maybe it’s the fact that this reviewer listened to it on a wet afternoon in April, but I can’t imagine it sounding any more convincing in the middle of August.
White Dove employs some electronic computerised effects on the vocals but it just ends up sounding irritating, which is not helped by the plodding nature of the song itself, while Fill Your Sails falls back on the hackneyed trick of using a vocoder, which really should have been banned after Cher used one on Believe. At no point does any song on the album grab your attention – on the contrary, the experience is so blandly soporific that you’re likely to have developed a mild case of narcolepsy by the time the album comes to a close.
The online success of Stronger (which is, to be fair, the best track on here) has led Public Symphony’s record company to tip them to follow Arctic Monkeys into the mainstream. That is wishful thinking I’m afraid, as the Sheffield youngsters actually have memorable songs, musical talent and inspired lyrics. If Public Symphony are to avoid being dismissed as just another bunch of Coldplay copyists, they’re going to have to write some much better tunes than the ones on this debut album.