Hailed as a breath of fresh air upon their arrival in 2001, Starsailor have since been one of the many victims of the emergence on to the market of bands like The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand, who have made it unfashionable to listen to the delicate soft rock that this Chorley quartet specialise in.
A subsequent reputation as a working man’s Coldplay has dogged their career to date, even provoking James Walsh to write lines like “You don’t even know me, so why do you hate me?” on 2003’s Silence Is Easy. This is unfortunate, as in reality there are few more consistently good bands operating today.
So it is with little surprise that On The Outside arrives with a huge air of defiance to it. In a two-fingered salute to critics, Walsh has audibly upped the ante with his singing (his distinctive tones have often been a point of debate), at times almost roaring like you never thought he could. The whole affair sounds free and totally uncontrived, and marks a return to the heady days of Fever and Good Souls – arguably their two finest moments. Strong melodies and big choruses are what you can expect from easily their best collection of songs to date.
Recent single In The Crossfire opens things in formidable fashion – a stab at the current political situation, the aggression vented in Walsh’s voice is something to behold. “I don’t see myself when I look at the flag, thank God for that,” he cries over a pounding rhythm, something that would send a shiver down the spine of any nationalist. Counterfeit Life channels its anger at the corporate ladder (“Corporate glory, retold as fairy stories”), with more audibly pleasing results.
In My Blood and Faith Hope Love are strong candidates for future singles given their large, euphoric choruses and upbeat nature. They also hit a more positive note than the previous tracks – on the former, Walsh charmingly declares that “love is the currency” and on the latter, he screams the song’s title repeatedly to create a rather joyous and truly memorable moment.
The pace refuses to let up – the ultra groovy Way Back Home is their most disco friendly moment since Four To The Floor, and should fill floors across the country if there is any justice at all. Keep Us Together is Starsailor’s attempt at a U2-esque stadium rocker, so vast its feel. Here Walsh challenges Bono at his own, widescreen game and for the most part, succeeds.
White Light is built on similarly grand foundations – a woozy, laid back verse makes way for a monumental chorus – and proves they certainly won’t be ill equipped if they are to ever make that step up to the arenas of the world.
But perhaps the album’s sentiment is summed up on the piano driven This Time. “I won’t let it kill me, this time,” sings Walsh valiantly – and it’s clear that he means it. Rather than letting a lack of critical success get them down, they’ve turned the volume up several notches, something that they’ve only hinted at in the past (the only acoustic number on here is final track Jeremiah – itself a highlight), and produced a magnificent record deserving of everyone’s attention.