Anthems all the way...
With [a]The Open[/a], it has all sounded too good to be true. Five intense young men from the north, built around a talismanic singer, who write passionate, melancholic songs of widescreen ambition – there hasn’t been a bad review or a snooty remark yet. Even their debt to the ’80s Liverpool sound of [a]Echo & The Bunnymen[/a] and Teardrop Explodes and their ambitious reclamation of The Big Music has seen them pitched as the very avatars of taste.
Such notices set them up for a big fall, but [a]The Open[/a] aren’t about to fall. They’ve recorded a debut of vast scale and ambition that frequently moves and rarely disappoints. Oddly for an album so big in scope – recalling early [a]U2[/a] and [a]Verve[/a] as much as the Liverpool sound – it’s very intimate and confessional. Frontman Steven Bayley said he went through therapy to kill panic attacks but there is undoubtedly more to it than that. ‘The Silent Hours’ is searingly autobiographical; essentially it’s Bayley’s 12-step programme.
You don’t have to look too deep to find the clues. “There is something wrong inside my head/Got to find a way, got to let go of everything, you said”, he confesses in ‘Close My Eyes’. “Someone cut the rope and get me down”, he begs on ‘Bring Me Down’. Paranoia and fear is a theme that propels the first five songs until [a]The Open[/a] hit ‘Just Want To Live’. A glorious anthemic statement of intent, it’s the key track on the record. It bridges the before and after, from the hypnotic claustrophobia of ‘Daybreak’ – “Why do you come so late?” – to the psychedelic sweep of ‘Step Into The Light’ with its repeated call to “Step out of the dark and face the light”. It’s Bayley post-therapy with the shackles off and redemption claimed. ‘Coming Down’ is the only weak link in the chain. It’s a prog mish-mash of guitar solos lacking direction.
If ‘A Northern Soul’ was Richard Ashcroft’s diary of drug-darkened paranoia and disillusionment, then this is Bayley taking the next step, detailing the bleak lonely hours and the joyous life at the other end. After all the hype and plaudits, it’s the sound of a band who know where they are going. Come on people, we’re making it now.