Often unfairly lumped in with the Britpop bands, presumably because they fit the “British” requirement, Six. By Seven never quite achieved the acclaim they deserved. Truth be told, Chris Olley and his cohorts never fitted the Britpop mould at all; Six. By Seven’s musical scope was considerably grander and emotive than the likes of Shed Seven or The Bluetones could ever hope for. Not that such a vision did them many favours. Despite consistently releasing albums of sublime quality, they never crossed into mainstream appeal and eventually fizzled out, leaving Chris Olley to dabble as a solo artist.
A stripped back version of the band known as The Death Of Six. By Seven appeared in 2011, but thankfully any notions that the band as a fully functioning entity had breathed its last breath were premature. Love And Peace And Sympathy is the band’s first album since 2007, and with the addition of ex-Placebo drummer Steve Hewitt sees them in fine fettle. Indeed, it would appear that very little has altered, which will please long term admirers of the band no end. The first track on the album might be entitled Change, but it is perhaps no surprise to find Olley singing “I don’t want to make you change”. Within the confines of the song the context might be different, but the sentiment applies to the band and its singularity of vision just as well.
Many of the songs on Sympathy are distinctly epic, stretching out well past the five minute mark as they smoulder, twist and eventually burst into flame. Such dynamics will be familiar to anyone that has encountered Six. By Seven before; this is a band well versed in creating droning rock mantras that engulf and bewitch. It would appear that they’ve not lost the knack during their extended absence.
Much of Sympathy is unashamedly indulgent, often playing on repetition and expansive textures to create apparently endless atmospheric corridors of emotion for Olley to populate with his wonderful drawling vocals. It can be a little one paced with the motorik pulse of The Rise And Fall And Decline Of Everything being one of the few tracks to up the ante. In lesser hands this could be a problem, but this is an album that encourages immersion from the off. Simple droning undulation appears to be basis of these songs. Colder, Change and Sympathy all rely on the band’s ability to take a simplistic motif, expand it into something oceanic and build towards shattering a crescendo. Lyrics about missed opportunity and regret add to the emotional palette, but it’s Six. By Seven’s masterful use of reverb, keyboards and creeping exposition that makes these songs so resonant.
Truce for example is a quite daunting exercise in dynamics as it switches from deathly introspection to rumbling drum fury (Hewitt’s finest moment) and back again before exploding into a breathless blast of anger fuelled only by the regret of all those lost years. It is matched only by the waves of sonic abuse that close out the final track, Fall Into Your Arms. Here, Olley’s stabbing guitar eventually turns into an ever more unfocussed but blistering wall of noise that could quite easily grace a My Bloody Valentine album.
Despite Six. By Seven’s mastery of sprawling, space-rock it is perhaps the poppiest moment on the album that provides the highlight. Never a band to jettison melody in favour of naval-gazing or relentless pummeling, they’ve always had the ability to craft wonderful melodies too. Sitting towards the end of the album is Crying, a diversion into swirling psychedelia infused with blissful pop sensibilities and lashings of doubt. It serves as a reminder of Six. By Seven’s often overlooked nuances and proves that they are far from a one trick band. Ultimately, Sympathy is a welcome return, and goes some way to suggesting that reports of the death of Six. By Seven have been premature.