Wednesday 11 June 2014

Theatre Royal - We Don't Know Where We Are

Album review by KevW for

Having circumnavigated the choppy waters marked "second album syndrome" on 'At The End Of A River, The Sea...', without so much as giving them a second look, Medway's Theatre Royal now find themselves at the sink or swim point. Musical cliches suggest two regular paths: a sterling debut album, a second that's rushed, watered-down and difficult to recover from, resulting in a third that simply passes everyone by. The other cliche is the promising debut, holding your own for another record as the fanbase begins to grow, and then coming of age and cementing your legacy as a great band. This quartet haven't troubled the charts, and they're unlikely to unless true cult status can be achieved and there are enough devotees to propel them the extra length. As far as music goes though, Theatre Royal are very much fitting of the second cliche.

With a debut in 2010, followed-up by an incredibly strong second album in 2012, they've now reached that point where they blossom into a real treasure, or sink like a stone. Living by the coast, and referencing it so much in their music, there was little chance of this ship sinking. "Take a look at me now" is the opening line to 'We Don't Know Where We Are', and the song ('The Past Is Always Gone') also contains the album title in its lyrics. Take a look you surely should. The song may speak of a certain confusion, perhaps even questioning their stature in a metaphorical way, but this is classic British guitar music; this is the sound of everyone from Costello to The Waterboys to Lloyd Cole to Shack to Richard Hawley to a clutch of truly adored indie bands and singer-songwriters. As songs go, this is pretty immaculate, not just in writing, but in arrangement, production and execution to boot. Electric guitars and strings compliment the vocals and it all converges to a point where it's difficult to find how anything could be done to improve it. It finds close relations in the retro 'Doubt' and the folky, traditional-sounding but very sweet 'After The Fair'. That opening line is repeated on 'All Over The World', a thoughtful but perfectly formed indiepop mid-point that will be a challenge not to like.

These are no flukes either. 'Here It Comes' is a life-affirming anthem-in-waiting with a grand chorus; '80s indie gets an outing on 'Caught Me At The Wrong Line', but it's streets ahead of most in that field. There's an unstoppable drive to 'What Was That Sound?' and a melody that sounds borrowed, but is maybe just so instantly absorbed that it feels as though you've always known it, and upbeat single 'French Riviera 1988' surges forward once again with a rumble of drums, flashes of electric guitar, a fluid beat and an earworm of a melody. The electric guitar lights up 'Running On The Spot', which almost dabbles in post-punk but never gets that dark, even with its talk of "shadows" and an angrier attitude. Immediately following this is 'Until The Morning After'; perhaps the most bare-bones and acoustic tune on the album. It even recalls mid-period Beatles during the breaks between acid benders. Any traditional, classic album needs a grand finale, and this is duly delivered by the minor masterpiece that is 'Ripple'. Building, layered, stately, epic: everything here is cooked to perfection and is the final nail in the doubters' coffin. These guys easily bypassed the difficult second album phase, and now they've cocked a snook to the whole mature nicely/sink or swim phase: in fact, on 'We Don't Know Where We Are', Theatre Royal are absolutely flying. Consider that reputation cemented, and consider a collection of classic songs to have arrived at your feet. Don't let them go to waste.

Theatre Royal's website

Stream or buy the album

Catch them live:

FRI 25 JUL The Gordon House Hotel, Rochester, UK

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