...but not anymore, well not as much. Reading the various reviews anyone would think that Low had gone from one musical extreme to the other. There are enough trademark features to ensure that this is not the case but the change of mood and tone are certainly palpable. The test of any development in sound is not to what degree a group changes but whether the end result is worth listening to. "The Secret Destroyer" is undeniably a fine album with many beautiful moments but as a whole it is too long, not sufficiently varied and comprises too many pedestrian tracks to make it the classic others are claiming. Of the strident songs, opener "Monkey", "Everybody's Song" and final track "Walk Into the Sea" stand out. Amidst the noise, there is a melody and tone in the first, coupled with that gorgeous complementary vocal interplay stretching over the vowel sounds to create the hanuting feel we've come to love whilst the dynamics never feel overwrought. "Everybody's Song" has real venom as a consequence of the repetition of the vocal line and the buzz-saw guitars. While producer Fridman has not incorporated the textual detail characteristic of his work, most noticeably with the Flaming Lips, the sound is full and clear without being overly dense. Part of this is because of the simplicity of much of the music. Although the explosion of sound in "When I Go Deaf" is impressive, there is nothing for sonic invention to compare with My Bloody Valentine, Gang of Four, even the choicest Radiohead.
In fact, too often, Low seem to have forgotten the importance of the elements to their art which have been so alluring for so long. "California", "Just Stand Back" and "Step" are cases in point: mid paced numbers which, whilst not bad songs, seem to chug along to no great purpose. Step even has the potential, if that is the correct word, to appear on daytime FM radio. Alan Sparhawk's voice is not employed to best effect and Mimi Parker's ethereal presence is greatly missed. Perhaps most pointedly, my favourite songs are those which are most reminiscent of the old Low: "Silver Rider" is perhaps the archetypal Low song whilst, around a loose waltz time, "On the Edge" has the most interesting guitar lines which combine with equisite vocals to create probably the album standout. The aptly titled "Cue the Strings" (although the sound is akin to a wheezy harmonium borrowed from Tom Waits) has an elegiac quality. Interestingly, one common thread to all these songs is the presence of Mimi Parker's voice which is arguably the greatest weapon in Low's armoury. When the final chords from "Walk Into the Sea" fade, one is left with the memory of undeniable quality but which, with a more exacting hand, could have been shorn of the weaker numbers to produce a more compact, powerful, and evocative work, in which the contrast of dynamics would have been better displayed