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Starsailor - All This Life (Album Review)

Thursday, 28 September 2017 Written by Simon Ramsay

It’s difficult for any band to fashion a long-awaited comeback album that both satisfies existing fans and reboots their sound to fit in with a different musical climate. Fail to evolve and you risk being seen as a creatively bankrupt nostalgia act, change too much and you risk losing the audience who waited patiently. There are many impressive things about ‘All This Life’, Starsailor’s first album since splitting in 2009, but top of that list is the confident way they’ve negotiated such a quandary.

Few groups boast a story that’s as quintessentially British as Starsailor’s. No sooner had they been lauded as the ‘Brightest New Hope’ by the NME, become staples on Radio One and sold over a million copies of 2001’s debut ‘Love Is Here’, than they were ditched from the mainstream thanks to the typical backlash that greets anyone who has the audacity to attain too much, too soon.

Listening to their back catalogue today, it’s a mystery why their stock fell so rapidly when those albums are packed with high quality songs sumptuously delivered by James Walsh.

Crucially, they always kept things fresh, tweaking the sound of each record enough to move in different directions without losing their identity.  

Continuing in that vein, ‘All This Life’ takes Starsailor’s signature traits and, allied to a killer production job from Embrace’s Richard McNamara, adds endearing new flourishes to build on the success of 2014’s reunion tour.

Listen To Your Heart’s driving guitar lines and surging, moody keys enrich its pick-me-up dynamic, while the title track strums along like vintage R.E.M and unfurls a stratospheric hook alongside nice harmonica work. But if those tracks ease us in gently, the band wade into fresh waters elsewhere.

Take A Little Time’s looped harmony vocals underscore an enchanting groove-laden anthem that could rival Four To The Floor. Caught In The Middle’s orchestration, meanwhile, initially brings to mind Barry White before its distinctly ‘80s feel and infectious chorus is embellished with contemporary electronic touches.  

What bridges past and present is Walsh’s impassioned singing and simple, soulful melodies. Even when the lyrical sentiments feel vague, his expressiveness fills in the emotional blanks. Take Sunday Best and Blood. As poignant as anything the band has done, they move through sublime musical passages, patiently intensifying until a searing instrumental finale.

There are many layers here but, thanks to a wonderful mix, it’s easy to hear every texture on a record that, instrumentally speaking, is the group’s most accomplished to date. Keyboardist Barry Westhead, in particular, mixes vintage piano strains with tasty synths, deepening the resonance of each song and syncing perfectly with Walsh’s similarly empathetic guitar lines.

The main reason this record works is balance. Not just between old and new, but also variety of themes, moods and styles. Some have dismissed the band as sullen and angst-ridden, but this record strikes the perfect equilibrium between reflection, heartbreak, gratitude and positivity. The book clearly isn’t closed on Starsailor just yet.

Starsailor Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu October 12 2017 - CAMBRIDGE Cambridge Junction
Fri October 13 2017 - NORWICH Waterfront
Sat October 14 2017 - BRISTOL Bierkeller Bristol
Mon October 16 2017 - LEEDS Leeds Beckett Students Union
Tue October 17 2017 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute2 Birmingham
Wed October 18 2017 - SHEFFIELD Leadmill
Thu October 19 2017 - LIVERPOOL O2 Academy Liverpool
Sat October 21 2017 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Boiler Shop
Sun October 22 2017 - GLASGOW O2 ABC
Tue October 24 2017 - MANCHESTER O2 Ritz
Wed October 25 2017 - BRIGHTON Concorde 2
Thu October 26 2017 - LONDON KOKO

Click here to compare & buy Starsailor Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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