...which is exactly where I wanted to throw it...
I reckon the three members of Guillemots who aren't Fyfe Dangerfield are pissed off. If I was one of them, I would be. The promotional one-sheet that accompanied 'Through The Windowpane', is so disproportionately weighted in favour of the frontman it's scandalous. For clarity, here's the sentence that got me growling: "Predominantly written by lead singer Fyfe Dangerfield but featuring three songs written collectively". To me, that's like saying "Mostly written by one bloke who is obviously a genius but let his band members have a bit of a go at this song-writing lark to keep them sweet". How fucking rude.
I bet many of you think it's only fair to highlight that Mr Dangerfield wrote three-quarters of the songs that appear on 'Through The Windowpane' and to an extent I agree - give credit where credit's due and all that. But there's no reason to rub the rest of the band members noses in the smelly gutter of musical oblivion, is there? Can you imagine The Clash or The Cure letting something like that slide? Even though most of their songs were written by Strummer/Jones and Robert Smith respectively, those guys understood that a band is a unit, a gang - that's why it's called a GROUP. If you want all the glory, why not just go solo and hire some session musicians or something instead? However, one good thing about this irrevocably biased approach is that at least you have someone to blame when it all goes wrong...
From 'Little Bear' to 'Sao Paulo', 'Through The Windowpane' is a damn long ride - and a bumpy one at that. This is an album that has its highs, its lows and its in-betweens; at times it's emotive and affecting; at others it's gruesomely pallid and apathetic.
'Eclectic' is an adjective most commonly utilised by wretchedly lonely single simpletons who believe that ownership of a record collection consisting of two or more genres gives them the right to proclaim that they have an 'eclectic taste'. It doesn't - nor does the fact that I own a camera make me a photographer. And just because 'Through The Windowpane' embraces pop, prog-rock, a smattering of soul and features a full symphony orchestra and a brass band, that doesn't give Guillemots (or should I say Dangerfield) the right to proclaim that they possess any great originality or are a 'wildly inventive' group.
Opener 'Little Bear' sounds like Gomez played at half-speed and it's an entirely forgettable ditty - yet a salient proclamation of what's to come: a big and bloody mess. However, as I'm in a good mood today, let's take a look at the good stuff first shall we?
'Made Up Love Song #43' is a terrific little love song (as the title suggests) - irretrievably catchy with clattering drums and a softening synth. As other critics have noted, Dangerfield's voice is a superbly emotive instrument - when reined in - and the less indulgent production works well. 'Trains To Brazil' and 'Through The Windowpane' are tub-thumping belters; the former being a raucous cocktail of E.L.O. and The Divine Comedy; the latter an irascibly jerky ballad - both with a production that isn't so much wall as skyscraper-of-sound - but it all fits together as flawlessly as a Kinder Surprise figurine.
That aforementioned brass band strikes up on 'Redwings' and immediately conjures images of Ridley Scott's famous Hovis advert - but only for a second...thankfully. There's a striking lyrical probity on this track too though and Joan as Police Woman's harmonising vocals compliment Dangerfield's as well as Black Sambuca chaser does a pint of Guinness i.e. perfectly.
On 'Annie, Let's Not Wait', the band actually sounds like they're having FUN and proves that when Guillemots play to their strengths, they're a pretty good pop band. It's only when they overcomplicate, overreach and overcompensate that they start pissing you off.
Right [deep breath] let's look at the not-so-good stuff...
Skipping over 'We're Here' (due to the fact that I condemned it so vehemently when I reviewed it as a single and my opinion hasn't changed one little bit i.e. I reckon a tone-deaf capybara armed only with a balalaika and a tin whistle could do better), 'If The World Ends' lumbers in so slowly it makes you wish the world would do just that. The lyrics are pure saccharine - so much so that I found myself giggling - especially at the flycatcher line, whilst 'Come Away With Me' sounds like bargain basement Pink Floyd and makes you want to lock the Guillemots in the abovementioned pit and throw away the key.
The English translation of 'Blue, Would Still Be Blue' is 'Whinge, Whinge, Whinge, Moan, Moan, Fucking Moan' and encourages the listener to commit random acts of violence - although I myself was inordinately restrained: I merely punched the wall, screamed 'THIS IS BALLS!' and went outside for another gasper and another Black Russian. Dangerfield sounds like he's been recorded in a shed; lyrically it's nonsensical to the point of torture and, without the rest of the band to assuage the caustic vocal, it grates the ears more effectively than a hyperactive epileptic armed with a razor blade.
The monolithic closer 'Sao Paulo (11:37 if you're interested) is yet another ostentatious display of Byzantine musicianship and belongs on a Mike Oldfield album...which obviously belongs in the bin. The first half is a gloriously melodic (and indeed melancholic) piano-led ballad that is swiftly ruined when a symphony orchestra, (the members of which sound like they're strangling the cat population of the entire U.K.) decides to shove its oar in while the drummer has a personality transplant and thinks that a samba beat would be a good idea. On a positive note however, Dangerfield does articulate two lines of lyrical genius which I can't help but agree with: 'Get me a doctor' and 'Get me an exit'.
'Through The Windowpane' isn't a groundbreaking, wildly original or particularly inventive record. There's some cracking material on it for sure but on too many occasions, Guillemots (or should I say Dangerfield) take one step beyond and the album quickly sinks into a quagmire of musical mud and lyrical cowpat. I'd agree that Guillemots are an act worth watching the career of closely, but most of the time, I'd advise you to do so with a set of earplugs in your shell-likes...