Well, rest assured, this is a great record. I don't think it's their best offering, but, thankfully, their best is yet to come and not behind them as I had half feared.
Brakes – The Beatific Visions
At last! Much cajoling has taken part to get hold of this LP. It is no exaggeration to say that Incendiary is excited. We make no secret of our love of Brakes, for despite our initial reservations over Give Blood, that record and the resulting live shows up and down Holland in many ways encapsulated what was eternally good about pop music. However, as Alan Partridge once memorably commented, things change. There's money invested in the band Brakes nowadays, it has to be said. I wouldn't expect that the record company and distributors concerned would have been too happy with another quirky, scruffy off-beat offering like Give Blood. You get the feeling that cautious sonic advance and a general smoothing of edges was the order of the day. High time then to find out whether the Brakes adventure was all a flash in the pan.
Well, rest assured, this is a great record. I don't think it's their best offering, but, thankfully, their best is yet to come and not behind them as I had half feared. Immediately noticeable on first listen are the added hooks, the well polished sound, the more subtle vocal inflections and the increasing sophistication in the use of instruments. It's a record that's actually quite elegiac in feel, certainly not the bile-inflected howl of Give Blood. Opening track Hold Me in the River is an outstanding pace setter, hinting as it does of the changes to come, yet reassuring Brakes dotards like me. It's a hell of a track, polished, assured and giving itself time to breathe. This polish and assurance is in evidence too with the beautiful Mobile Communication, surely one of their greatest songs to date.
Another noticeable element in the songs on Beatific Visions is Eamon Hamilton's lyrical message; less concerned nowadays with put downs of his peer group than commenting sardonically on the world around him, whether directly (such as the growling, determined Margherita) or more obliquely as in the brilliant Cease & Desist and Porcupine or Pineapple. Hamilton's love songs have also taken on a new confidence; No Return is a killer ending track, bathed as it is in a shimmering light of woozy, jangly guitar and the doleful drone of a (Hammond?) organ. Elsewhere Beatific Vision is a gloriously ebullient paean to the joys of walking out with your girl, far more open and relaxed in its comment upon the simple joys of love than anything on Give Blood.
Alas, rather in the manner of an Islamic artist bringing deliberate mistake into their work (so as not to imitate God's perfection), I have one very minor quibble that will shade an otherwise very positive review: to whit, I'm not happy with the track-listing. Now, I know that Brakes' strong suit is their eclecticism, mixing as it does all manner of musical styles with wild and joyful abandon. I am normally a fan of this, indeed praise be to Brakes for doing so! No, on this occasion it's the placing of two tracks in particular, Spring Chicken and Porcupine of Pineapple in a section of the LP that is otherwise very wistful. Surely an uninterrupted run of Mobile Communication, Isabel and Beatific Visions would have been better? As it is the two culprits, both jaunty short blasts in the classic Brakes tradition sound clumsy, rushed and awkward.
Still it would be churlish to end on a whining note. The LP's last three tracks are marvellous and an indication of all what is great about this band, from the tremendous, hook-laden guitar attack of Cease & Desist through the warm, embracing and human message that is On Your Side - you can really believe in what Hamilton sings, a rare commodity nowadays; I'll go further and say that at times on this LP the similarities to Green era Stipe are very obvious. Beatific Visions finishes with No Return, a magically reflective weepie clocking in around four minutes. See? They can write long songs if they want.
A great effort, and there's plenty more to come.
Words: Richard Foster.