It’s been 17 years since acoustic’s golden new boys Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian dropped The Optimist album, spearheading a movement that emphasised harmonies within acoustic-driven songs that were emotive, melodic and suitable for a time tired of Britpop and rock’n’roll mediocrity. Their angelic voices were the counterpart to all that pre-millenial ladism.
Over that period their star has waned but, like all good troopers who have an artistic compulsion and the wherewithal to capitalise, they have been enjoying something of a renaissance of late. Their previous release, Lost Property, ended up being their highest album chart placing since 2005’s Jackinabox. Moreover, they have a particularly devoted fanbase, one who bathe in the soulful voice and beatific stage persona of Knights, a singer who can show an X Factor candidate a thing or two about genuine emotion.
It’s this simple, yet elegantly expressed emotion that appears throughout Invisible Storm, an album largely about relationships and identity, with a few intermingled remarks about world affairs, as is de rigueur these days. Thematically, there is a running current of ‘we’ve got/need each other’ in this brewing catastrophe of a world we live in. Such as on lead track, the upbeat rocker ‘Would You Be Mine’: “We’re lost without a compass in the woods / The magnets got reversed and cut me loose… Well now we let the loonies run the show / Great white apes with nuclear codes / Would you be mine”.
Meanwhile the uber-jaunty ‘Life Forms’ tries to disentangle the potential existentialist angst of ‘what are we’ with simplistic yet profoundly philosophical couplets: “We are life forms spinning on a rock / We are life forms, try to worry not“. There’s also ‘Smoke and Mirrors’, with its dreamy acoustica married to mildly warped vocals and guitar, adding up to a strong sense of meaningful drift, the underlying message being to take it easy and all that.
Elsewhere, Turin Brakes deliver what they do so well: infectious, easy-on-the-ear musical folk, country and acoustic mellow pop-rock. Such as on the faintly ridiculous happy pop of ‘Always’ which features some nifty banjo work courtesy of talented guitarist Paridjanian. As well as the mid-tempo rocker of ‘Lost in the Woods’, whose musical simplicity is mirrored by lyrics about not over complicating things. Turin Brakes sure go the extra mile in making things sound easy, but there’s a subtle skill in doing that without sounding talentless and uninspired. This is further exemplified by the handclap-aided ‘Wait’, another infectious yet simple slice of semi-acoustic pop that is remarkable for not particularity sounding like anything else you’ve ever heard, and the Rag’n’Bone Man-inspired big dramatic soul of the title track.
However, there are greater depths on offer too, such as on the deeply melancholic ‘Deep Sea Diver’, just vocals and guitar for the most part, and a song about over reliance on the ol’ juice. While ‘Everything All At Once’ is lyrically more nuanced than most of the rest here, a rare musical urgency highlighting the hints of a desperate past and unredeemed love.
Almost every song here is crucially elevated by Paridjanian’s guitar work (as well as his harmony vocals), which is nothing short of tasteful and complimentary throughout. An understated axeman who can play an eviscerating solo, but also provide splashes of subtle colour and texture where required, as well as the rhythmic foundations, he helps to lift the simple and sometimes mundane into sophisticated terrain. It doesn’t always work, the band erring perilously close to bland MOR such as on ‘Tomorrow’, and Invisible Storm lacks the experimental edginess that usually inhabits their work. This is an altogether more straight forward pop affair, but playing to the strengths of an enduring and much loved band.