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lost in the dark,
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This review is from: Rituals (MP3 Download)
After releasing an enticing debut album, Fenech Soler were being touted for greatness. But then singer Ben Duffy was diagnosed with cancer, and for a time it seemed as if the promising electro-pop outfit from Northamptonshire would be derailed. So this album in many ways feels like the band have been given a second lease of life, and a sense of relief and euphoria courses through opening track, 'Youth', which is filled with bouncy rhythms and falsetto vocals. It's hard not to see this song, and the album as a whole, as a celebration of simply being alive. 'Youth' itself is a masterpiece, vocal loops intertwining with synth loops until finally a 4/4 beat breaks to the surface after about a minute.
Of course, Fenech-Soler have an amazing grasp of melody, and a clutch of songs on this album show off their 'poppy' side. 'All I Know' and 'Magnetic' are infectious and successfully meld the band's dance background with pop sensibilities. Critics may carp at the lack of lyrical wordplay ('All I know is I did you wrong, all I know is you'd be strong, without me' is nothing groundbreaking, to be fair), but there aren't many bands out their with Fenech Soler's knack for producing smart, modern pop songs. Only 'Last Forever' seems a bit of a let down for me, and it's made slightly redundant by it's prologue track (Rituals 1), a much more sincere and poignant track. This song seems pretty bland compared to the more edgy and vibrant uptempo tracks on their debut, such as 'Lies' and 'Battlefield'.
One of the great things about their debut was that there were songs that gave their dance sound an emotional impact. 'Stop and Stare' being the most obvious example. On this record, 'In Our Blood' and 'Two Cities' fulfill the need for something a little more serious. The former features trilling, carribean-esque keyboard sounds and is an ode to Friday night and getting lost in the emotion of a great night out. The latter is more downtempo, and might be a direction that Fenech Soler take in the future, with Ben giving an edgy vocal performance, pleading, 'I've been trying/to make you see, the good in me'. If there is some sort of 'gap' in this album, it's maybe for something a bit more bass-orientated and moody, as opposed to always going for the euphoric, uplifting chorus, but 'Two Cities' is one song that offers a definite change of tone. It's also the only song on the album to feature guitars.
There has been a little criticism that this album is nothing new, that it simply rehashes their debut album, but there are subtle differences. 'Somebody' is much more funkier than anything they've done before, while 'Glow', the closer, is a more dance-orientated song than anything they've done previously. It has these trancey synths underpinned by a rock beat. It seems unncessarily critical to call this derivative, it's just beautiful music and it's a million miles beyond anything Delphic have produced, and more convincing a fusion of dance than Friendly Fires managed on 'Pala'. It's an exhilarating close to the album, with Ben crooning, 'Where do we go?'
Elsewhere, you have the post-trance come down of 'Maiyu', a ballad-y song that basks in swathes of synths and chanted melodies, another song that sounds totally different to anything on their debut. 'Fading' is an attempt to write a huge electro ballad: it's good, but doesn't fully capture what they were aiming for.
The album's standout is definitely 'Magnetic'. Again, another song that seems to simply celebrate being alive, being able to make music. The lyrics speak of escape, 'the past will be erased', while the chorus just bounces and pulses. Make no mistake, the album sounds huge: it's bright and bassy, so many different sounds.
I guess if Fenech-Soler have a fault, it's that their music is sometimes too obvious, and that is why sniffy critics will rarely give them the credit they deserve. The lyrics are nothing new, the music strives brazenly for the big, uplifting chorus, but you cannot deny that they are undisputably good at writing music, and that they create gorgeous sounds. After going through what they've been through, this album really is all about the sheer joy of being able to do what you love.