Circa Waves’ third album almost never happened. After struggling with writing new material, frontman Kieran Shudall found a book full of notes he’d scribbled down in various states of exhaustion between shows on their 2017 US tour. This sparked the creative process, and work began on what the band have said is their most ambitious record yet.
Their debut ‘Young Chasers’ was bursting at the seams with biting, indie-rock bangers that meant the Liverpool quartet quickly became festival favourites. Follow up ‘Different Creatures’ covered weightier subject matter (from drinking too much to the government’s response to the refugee crisis), but still boasted armfuls of pit-opening choruses. In comparison, ‘What’s It Like Over There?’ feels far more commercial. Gone are the fizzy sun-drenched hooks and pint-chucking riffs, and in their place are mawkish vocals, melodramatic breaks and dreary lyrics.
The chugging ‘Times Won’t Change Me’ is pure radio fodder. Stuffed with gospel-tinged backing vocals and twinkling pianos, this sounds much more similar to Hozier or Tom Odell than the indie disco company that the band used to keep. ‘The Way We Say Goodbye’ is a saccharine cut of Kodaline-styled weary pop, miles away from the youthful exuberance that permeated their boisterous debut. And then there’s ‘Passport’, which could have come straight off The Greatest Showman soundtrack.
That said, there are moments where you catch brief glimpses of the vivacious energy that the band emerged with. Road trip jam ‘Movies’ boasts effervescent riffs and cantering drums, all erupting into a jubilant chorus. It’s one of the only tunes that is reminiscent ‘Young Chasers’, albeit with a layer of commercialised gloss slapped on it. Album closer ‘Saviour’ is a growling chunk of Led Zeppelin inspired alt-rock, which ends the record with more swagger than we’d heard in all the other songs put together. And the glittering guitars and whirring synths of ‘Motorcade’ show the band successfully experimenting with their sound without being syrupy and insipid.
These golden moments are, however, few and far between. More often than not, ‘What’s It Like Over There?’ is lacklustre. Circa Waves are no longer are the perfect band to accompany you and your pals necking tinnies in the sun, and instead sound more like the soundtrack to a Nicholas Sparks film. ‘What’s It Like Over There?’ is the band’s sugar rush sound moving into a toothache.