Indie rock quartet The Boxer Rebellion have metamorphosized into a British version of The National in their tuneful indie rock stylings. Co-produced with Billy Bush in LA, Promises is the more widescreen follow-up to the darker soundscapes that engulfed The Cold Still, which made for some downbeat introspective music and some of those awkward ‘critically-acclaimed’ reviews.
On earlier outings, such as the blistering rage of Exits or their masterpiece Union the initial angst the edges appear to have been their USP (unique selling point) as the smoother version becomes indistinguishable from any other ‘stadium-eyeing-up’ indie rock group out there.
Singer Nathan Nicholson’s falsetto vocals may not be everyone’s cup of tea and can grate as on Take Me Back, and over the course of an album that seems a couple of tracks too long. The Boxer Rebellion seem to be a band out of a time when Thom Yorke’s vocal keening was seen as a thing to aspire to at the expense of creating a voice of one’s own.
The glossy sheen of Diamonds opens proceedings, sliding in on a guitar and drum hook that threatens to morph into Don Henley’s Boys Of Summer or another ’80s widescreen escapist anthem. Fragile almost threatens to burst into a hoe-down with its looping rhythms, before layering on more bricks of density to the wall of sound which threatens to burst into U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name at any point.
Themes of not measuring up in relationships (Diamonds: “Are you angry with me now?”) and offering reassurance (Low: “I’d love to lift you out of your sorrow”) seem to be a recurrent nail to hang the lyrics on, suggesting all is not well, but hope is at hand.
Keep Moving’s piano riffery calls to mind Keane, while In New York seems to revolve around the title being repeated in ever more desperate tones as the military style drums beat out an empty ticker tape parade. Safe House has its eye set on some distant stadium they wish to rock with its widescreen chiming guitars and epic arms-open hollering.
The problem with Promises is that there isn’t a huge amount of variation from their indie rock blueprint to distract or define them beyond their baying peers. Which poses the question: where can a four-piece guitar band go without becoming something they aren’t? There will be some dabbling with histrionics (see Muse), dressing in military garb (Coldplay, Editors) some very ill-advised dance moves (see any skulking indie chancers clinging to the coat-tails of the next passing bandwagon) or embracing some ill-fitting genre or influence.
Perhaps Promises will bring The Boxer Rebellion to a wider audience with its accessible stadium-friendly rock. But it may be at the expense of what made them such an enervated band when they began.