Dishonourable Mentions: The Year’s Biggest Disappointment Is…

To be honest, there were fairly few albums that I can honestly say I was disappointed by in 2009 – which probably implies that I haven’t listened to enough records in general, but never mind. Maxïmo Park’s third effort, Quicken The Heart, was solid but unspectacular, feeling like the band were on auto-pilot more often than they should be. Another “difficult third album” came in the form of West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, which saw Kasabian toying with experimentation but ultimately failing as much as they succeeded. And with The Resistance, Muse didn’t so much push the boat out as push it somewhere into outer space – but the results varied from the brilliantly ridiculous (‘United States Of Eurasia’) to… well, just plain ridiculous (‘I Belong To You’).

However, there is one record that, for me, stands out as a particularly crushing disappointment. The ‘winner’ of “Biggest Disappointment Of 2009” goes to…

Howling Bells – Radio Wars

Howling Bells - Radio Wars

To understand how disappointed I was by Radio Wars, you have to understand just how much I loved Howling Bells’ self-titled debut. That record was a masterpiece of bleak, 3-am loneliness, all haunting guitars and fragile emotions – it’s easily one of my all-time favourite albums, and penultimate track ‘In The Woods’ is one of my absolute favourite songs EVER.

For me, the level of expectation for their second album was high – perhaps too high to live up to – but in any case I found myself let down. Not because Radio Wars is a bad record – it’s competent at worst, and it certainly has its moments – but because it felt like Howling Bells had forgotten everything that made me love them in the first place.The album has been largely washed-over with a well-produced sheen – the guitars feel dulled, and Juanita Stein’s once arresting sentiment now rings hollow, meaning that moments where the band re-capture the feel of their first record are few and far between. Despite their poppier sound, ‘Treasure Hunt’ and ‘Into The Chaos’ both take a decent stab at it, and Juanita’s strained cry of “…and now there’s nowhere to run” in the chorus of ‘Golden Web’ almost grasps the emotion of old – but even that feels like she’s not really giving it her all. ‘Cities Burning Down’ seems to be the lone exception to the rule – and tellingly, it’s a re-vamped version of a three year old B-side. It’s also the best thing on here – and it’s definitely not a good sign when a three year old song trumps everything else you’ve written for your latest album.

On a personal level, the biggest crime committed by Radio Wars is that rather than leave me wanting more, as the band’s debut did, it pretty much just leaves me cold. I’ve listened to the two records back-to-back, just to make sure I’m not overstating this too much – but honestly, Radio Wars doesn’t even come close to being as arrestingly beautiful as Howling Bells. As such, I have mixed feelings about a third record from Howling Bells – anticipation that perhaps it might be a return to form, but also a sense that I shouldn’t get my hopes up. For now, I’ll be wistfully playing the band’s debut and hoping that Radio Wars is just a bit of a blip…


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One response to “Dishonourable Mentions: The Year’s Biggest Disappointment Is…

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Dishonourable Mentions: The Year’s Biggest Disappointment Is… « Let's Get Cynical --

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