Album Review: Kodaline – Coming Up for Air

By on Wednesday, 4th February 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Two years ago, Kodaline‘s debut album ‘In a Perfect World’ seemed uneven: they seemed to be a band who were uncertain about their direction. Would they be about electric guitars playing to thousands upon thousands? Or would they feel more at home in an intimate pub, jamming with harmonicas and mandolins? The Irish group now find themselves at the all important fork in the road, right at what we journos call ‘the difficult second album’, and they have made their choice.

While ‘Coming Up for Air’ doesn’t represent an whole scale reboot for the Kodaline brand – and make no mistake, some things have stayed the same, to this editor’s great relief – the band’s objective has changed. With that change comes a beefing up in sound. Mighty lead single ‘Honest’, which debuted in early December 2014, was met with some fans voicing their opposition, saying Kodaline have sold out, as well as questioning, “Where is the acoustic guitar?”

Others have stepped up to support the band, saying there’s nothing wrong with pop and there’s nothing wrong with trying something new; I agree on both counts, seeing ‘Honest’ as the first major clue in this shift in their ambition. The progressing evolution of Kodaline’s sound comes across loud and clear as shown through the power of the single’s words and its epic chord progressions and harmonies. (Read my single review here.) Yes, the mandolin days were nice. I really did love ‘Love Like This’. But ‘Love Like This’ worked well on the rooftop of Maggie Mae’s; it wasn’t really meant for stadiums. Both ‘Lost’ and ‘Ready’ are energetically bubbling with pop sensibility and are incredibly fun, the latter being my choice for the next single, featuring a squealing guitar solo that shoots up as high as the band’s new found self-confidence.

In addition to ‘In a Perfect World’ producer Steve Harris, they brought in two heavy hitters in the production world, Jacknife Lee (Snow Patrol, R.E.M.) and Jim Eliot (Ellie Goulding, Kylie Minogue), further indicating Kodaline wanted to take their overall sound to the next level as their songwriting has matured. A fuller, richer sound has been achieved magnificently on songs like ‘Autopilot’, while those Kodaline harmonies we know and love have stayed and continue to ring true. This one will be a real beauty performed live. About midway through the album is ‘Unclear’, a beautifully sweeping track punctuated by a children’s choir. It’s a song about the universal struggle of uncertainty, which seems to be quite apt, given where Kodaline find themselves now. They’re still a relatively young band, and while they have their eyes set on the prize, we’ll have to see how the public reacts to this ‘new’ version of Kodaline.

On the metaphorical flipside, there are some tracks that aren’t entirely believable as Kodaline songs for some reason. ‘Human Again’ and ‘Play the Game’ in particular have rock and r&b edges, respectively, which I can’t say I saw coming. As songs, they’re all right, but as they come along without warning in the midst of the tracklisting, like when you’re sailing down a deserted motorway at high speed, only to have to slam on the brakes upon approach of a roadblock. Somewhat ironically considering torch song ‘All I Want’ is the song they’re best known for, three of the ballads – the cloying ‘Better’ and ‘The One’, as well as the almost too overbearing, hymn-like ‘Everything Works Out in the End’ – that most disappoint, by slowing down an otherwise good and largely positive pace.

The title of ‘Coming Up for Air’ seems to describe well how Kodaline must have felt, ‘coming to’ after all the touring and excitement off the back of their debut album, then having to return to the studio to write new material. They have a very different kind of life now than the one they had when we first introduced you to them in the summer of 2012. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with pop. Or having fun. This album shows the band are enjoying trying something new and while some fans from way back might be disappointed and feel like they lost some old friends, they’ll easily be replaced by new ones who can’t help but be drawn in by the infectiousness of these tracks.

8/10

‘Coming Up for Air’, Kodaline’s second album length effort, is out on next Monday, the 9th of February, on RCA Victor. They’ll be on tour in the UK in February and March before they head out to North America in mid-April. For all things Kodaline on TGTF, head this way.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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