- by D R Pautsch Rating:9 Release Date:2016-10-28 Label: Bella Union
Ten years ago Midlake released their second album, The Trials of Van Occupanther, following on from their well received debut Bamnan and Silvercork. They moved away from a more psychedelic sound to one that was firmly founded in 70's easy listening. The first of many anomalies is that this cast a shadow over the rest of their career whilst not even cracking the top 150 in the UK album charts and didn't get anywhere in the band's native US. The albums that followed all stood within its shadow but performed better. Given this you would expect that its legacy is firmly laid with good critical reviews, again this is not the case. Only just breaking into NME's top 50 albums of the year and barely featuring in many other end of year lists, the critical response was luke warm. Tellingly the end of year list where they performed best was in Uncut, reflecting the sound that was on the album, this featured in their top ten. Given all this you would think that a ten year re-release is neither merited or wanted, however, this is not the case. With two additional tracks, another anomaly we will return to, this is a welcome opportunity to re-appreciate a slow burning album that just oozes around your ears with its warm tones and lyrics from another era.
The comparisons with Fleetwood Mac's sound and approach are easily made and on the money. Head Home sounds like Lindsey Buckingham's guitar and the Mac's harmonious vocals. In an album that revels in the simple pleasures, the lyrics reflect this with the refrain of 'Bring me a day full of honest work, and a roof that never leaks, and I'll be satisfied.' That the lyrics probably hold a deeper meaning is without doubt, but you feel transported to another age where a successful harvest meant more to people than anything else. There is a song which appears to be about chasing after deer and another that covers a woman who lives under branches also shows the quirky approach to subject matter and lyrics. The honest and yearning quality of many of the songs on offer work on many levels.
There are two other anomalies with this album though and the first covers the reissue. There are two additional tracks here, Festival sounds like a slightly laid back Mother Love Bone song, it sits a little uncomfortably here. The other track, The Fairest Way, is a harmonious, folk tinged number that could easily sit alongside anything here. However, the original releases in Europe and Australia already contained extra tracks. What is very odd is that none of them appear here, rather they have been removed entirely and replaced with two new numbers. Surely a reissue would include those plus these two - a minor quibble but one that doesn't sit well. The final anomaly is that whilst this is undoubtably a great album that is well worth rediscovering, the whole thing is overshadowed by one gorgeously smooth and wonderful song. Roscoe, which starts proceedings here is just so very good, even all these years later, it's smooth, silky and wonderfully catchy, it stands head and shoulders above anything else Midlake have produced here or elsewhere. The lyrics also are as frustrating as anything on offer here and are so firmly placed in another timezone that it furthers the mythical and mysterious quality of the whole album. The most memorable lines are 'Whenever I was a child I wondered what if my name, had changed into something more productive like Roscoe been born in 1891, waiting with my Aunt Rosaline.' What child has the word 'productive' in their vocabulary? It may seem trivial but it's another facet of a fascinating and frustrating lyrical approach that ten years on holds little more clarity than it did when it was released.
If you haven't heard this album, sales figures suggest many have not, then this is a chance to listen to an album that if it were released twenty years earlier or even five years later would have been considered a masterpiece. If you have then it's a good excuse to listen again and remember just how good everything on here is. Sure there is one moment which eclipses everything else. But this whole album eclipses what proceeded and followed. That such an album is so strong and overshadowed within itself is just in keeping with the whole oddly fascinating and wonderful anomaly that is Midlake's high water point.