Sometimes it takes a certain mindset to fully appreciate the charms of an act who, while universally revered and seemingly of no little sonic allure, still leave your critical faculties cold amid intense fanfare.
So it was with Midlake, and this reviewer, around the time of 2006's The Trials of Van Occupanther. All the right reference points were, and still are, there: space-rockers Grandaddy, epoch-definers Radiohead, the various charms of dads' favourites Fleetwood Mac – who have undergone something of a resurgence in popularity of late, at least among journalists – and prog-rock pioneers King Crimson.
While The Courage of Others is no great sea change in stylistic terms, as a body of work it possesses a conviction and power hitherto lacking, or, at least, undetected by these ears. Perhaps finding mass appeal has given Tim Smith and his band-mates the confidence to take their ideas into darker, brooding waters, and further harness the influence of classic British prog-folk. But whatever the motivation, it's a mood that suits.
This is serious music, certainly, but it skilfully avoids that oft-suffered pitfall of po-facedness by marrying virtuosity in playing with a deep sense of feeling in the delivery. When Smith sings, "When the acts of man cause the ground to break open / Oh, let me inside / Let me inside / Not to wait," barely a minute into yearning opener Acts of Man, he's delivering the first of The Courage of Others' many hair-prickling moments. There's barely a track here that doesn't harbour at least one – be it from a soaring flute passage (Acts of Man), twinkling acoustic (Fortune) or fizzing electric solo (Winter Dies).
Midlake won't ever be a 'cool' name to drop. They're the kind of band who'll prompt your parents to tell you about all the fun they had in the 60s, and dig out their Fairport Convention LPs because “If you like this, you'll love that”. It doesn't matter, of course: The Courage of Others is a lovely, lovely record that doesn't sound like it belongs in this age at all. It's all the better for it. --Rob Webb
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