Album Review: Kodaline – Politics of Living

By on Wednesday, 8th August 2018 at 12:00 pm
 

Kodaline Politics of Living album coverWhen I reviewed Kodaline’s sophomore album ‘Coming Up for Air’, I noted their “newfound self-confidence”. I also noted the Dubliners’ concerted effort to move away from their folkier, Gary Barlow-endorsed beginnings (‘Love Like This’, anyone?) and towards a more mainstream pop sound. That was 3 years ago. I don’t think I would have predicted this, but ‘Politics of Living’, out this Friday, is even more pop than their last. Is their confidence still on the up and up? I’ll have to see about that when they swing by Washington in December. Surely, this third album is a distillation of their attempts to continually evolve and grow as artists and musicians, with varying degrees of success. Like its predecessor, ‘Politics of Living’ is the product of their collaboration with producer Steve Harris and quite a few big names in the industry, including Steve Mac (Ed Sheeran), Johnny Coffer (RagNBone Man, Beyonce) and Jonas Jeberg (Dizzee Rascal, Kylie Minogue).

Kodaline appear to be most comfortable when they return to their roots, that is, when the production is relaxed, the tempo is slower and the emotions run high. The gorgeously simple melody that unfolds from the mostly a capella ‘I Wouldn’t Be’ sounds like it came straight from the lips of an Irish mother singing to her child. In this form, beginning with lead singer Steve Garrigan’s voice alone, then leading to perfect, four-part harmonies, makes the song unforgettable. ‘Angel’ and previous single ‘Brother’ (single/essay here) broach death and friendships, respectively, both holding the enduring strength of love with much reverence. They are a band who can uplift us even in our darkest days, the best example of this in the whistle-happy ‘Head Held High’. It isn’t hard to imagine that they’re sat “waiting for the sun to shine again” right along with us, supporting us.

The problem is when they go too far from their comfort zone to relate to more urban, Radio 1 palates. Replete with syncopated beats and flicks of tambourine, ‘Born Again’ and ‘Come Around’ sound too much like Glass Animals‘ retreads. If we were to view ‘In a Perfect World’ hit ‘All I Want’ as at the desperation stage of grief in a breakup, ‘Hell Froze Over’ is at the anger stage: “I would do anything for you / but I won’t do that again / we might never get closure / heaven knows it had to end”. Sure, we all get upset, but it’s hard to picture the squeaky clean and super sweet Kodaline lads truly lashing out at an ex.

Bridging the distance between the group’s best and their not so best on this LP are the grand stadium pop numbers that have been unveiled as previews prior to the album’s release. ‘Follow Your Fire’, wrapped up in its shiny production, is an upbeat, zippy pop number about living life without regrets. Piano-led “gospel-tinged” ‘Shed a Tear’ slows things down with a message akin to soul classic ‘Stand By Me’. ‘Politics of Living’ closes with the pop/soul mix ‘Temple Bar’, celebrating the famed district south of the River Liffey in Dublin. In it, frontman Garrigan repeats the rhetorical question, “where did it all wrong?” It’s one question I posed to myself about this album before I committed any words down for this review.

The elephant in the room on Kodaline’s third outing is the lack of direction. While the most heartfelt moments and poptastic singles are fantastic, the rest of the album misses the high bar the band already set for themselves. The variety of songs may serve to appeal to different groups of the music listening public but as a whole, the collection lacks consistency. Too bad.

6.5/10

‘Politics of Living’, the third album from Irish band Kodaline, will be released this Friday on Sony Music. Have a listen to ‘Worth It’, the latest taster to the album, in the embed below. To catch up on all of our past articles on the group, come through.

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