Guillemots’ slow-burning debut, Through the Windowpane, embraced so many influences from rock, folk, pop and jazz that it was hard to properly position the band. Despite this magpie approach they were nominated for 2006’s Mercury Prize, and 2008’s Red reached the UK top 10. The band paused while singer Fyfe Dangerfield released a solo album, Fly Yellow Moon, in 2010. For a man pursuing the quirky, its acoustic love songs were surprisingly conventional, though no weaker for it. And now, with recent discs from contemporaries Mystery Jets and Noah and the Whale aiming at the big time, a slick overhaul can be expected on Guillemots’ third set.
And it starts well: imagine if Brandon Flowers elected to record another solo effort in Worcestershire and you’re getting close to the vibe of the opener here. Guillemots sound tighter than on previous albums, demonstrating restraint in delving into their cluttered music box. The title-track is a lush, romantic epic, shooting down its greater themes of being "like a hunted animal" with the wry question, "did someone mention the weather?"
This new ambition continues with Vermillion, which builds into a hugely hummable crescendo of which The Waterboys would be proud. Dangerfield is in triumphant voice, delivering a performance to send "rock music is dead" doom-mongers scurrying for cover, even on the weakest songs. The debonair I Don’t Feel Amazing Now embraces kettledrums, insecurity and a tight tune, but then they shoot themselves in the foot.
Their jumble-sale jamming finds the four forgetting how to write a song, sometimes halfway through one. The fuzzy Slow Train just about stays on track, saved by its harmonies, but Sometimes I Remember Wrong is a three-minute song regrettably stretched over nine. Inside pleads "take me for a drive", but loses its feet in a swirl of atmospherics. It’s typical of this record’s failure to fully engage with an audience, despite several adventurous attempts.
Eventually, their self-indulgence completely loses the listener. No matter how hard one might try to love this album – and one can try very hard – there’s only disappoint at what could have been. Guillemots can do better, and inevitably will again; but Walk the River is a missed opportunity to truly hit the big time, if that’s what they wanted.
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