Outbursts – The Ether Site review

I think it’s pretty safe to say every album since Ether Song has been promoted as a return to The Optimist LP, be it the simplicity, straight-forwardness or acoustic vibe… It is no different this time. From a marketing stand, of course, you want people to remember the MERCURY NOMINATED debut. You don’t want them to remember Turin Brakes by referencing an album they might not have heard of. The Optimist LP easily remains Turin Brakes most loved album, because it dates from a time that record companies still took chances and were willing to go the extra mile for bands. It dates from the time the acoustic guitar was very “hip”. Turin Brakes have never tried to make another Optimist though (as far as I know) and all these predictions, just like the “our second album will be really different”-statements from the next big things, have turned out to be either false or far-fetched. People expecting the acoustic low key songs of The Optimist LP will be initially disappointed. Outbursts, for the most part, is bigger than that album. But this isn’t your average Dark on Fire. The songs are more subtle, more complex and more diverse than on that previous album.

And yes, I’m biased – very biased. But hey, isn’t everyone?

The Sea Change
Lyrically and musically, this song is the perfect introduction for the album. It starts of acoustically, then builds up with more layers and strings. Eventually, it explodes dramatically, though not going over the top as much as one would expect. It’s also the most repetitive song of the record and the lyrics (6 billion backs against the wall) are very urgent. In that way it does remind of The Optimist (song): oh, it’s too late lonely planet…

This second track is vintage Turin Brakes. It’s similar to State Of Things in the verses, but with more piano and a different vibe behind it all together. It’s easy to like this song and just like on the opening track, there’s nice riffs by Gale going on all through this song.

Rocket Song
This song sees Olly singing lower than ever before in the verses and then going as high as ever in the chorus. It’s like a Rocket lifting off (this love is a rocket bound for the stars). The acoustic strumming is supported by synths and strings. While this would have been misplaced on any previous TB album, it’s not that much of a departure. Perhaps stylistically it is, but it doesn’t thread unfamiliar waters just yet.

Paper Heart
A guitar and piano driven song with quite a lot of drama in the instrumental interludes. The lyrics on this song are very fitting and in style with metaphor of a fragile (paper) world being changed by the arrival of a (love?) interest (you rearrange the sunset and terrorise the town – if only I knew from the start, you’d set fire to my paper heart). It’s the most heartfelt songs on the record that is yet wrapped in an imaginary world. The production reflects this very well. Though the low-key live version I heard in Canterbury was pretty good as well.

The Invitation
The chords in the verse do reference older work, like Capsule, but the chorus takes this song to another level. The melody is haunting and the production here is very subtle. It doesn’t distract from the rest of the song and there’s some very lovely minor chords in this. Yet all this spookiness doesn’t feel out of character. This song is currently one of my favourites.

Will Power
I guess this song is this album’s Something In My Eye: it’s an anthem, it’s done, it’s a round thing. Reminiscent of U2’s With Or Without You, it’s by far the slickest song on the album. It would make a strong single, I guess, but it wouldn’t be the best ‘album taster’.

This Gale-penned (and partly sung) song was available as a download for quite some time and it’s easy to see why: it showcases elements we see returning on rest of the album (the guitar riffs, the harmonies, the layered approach), even more than Sea Change does. The song shows the difference from the previous record: it’s not at all “in your face”, or straight-forward. It’s the strong point of this album.

After all this layered and structured production, Embryos, kicks in as a breath of fresh air. A lovely acoustic song in a style that reminds me of Blackbird featuring the long overdue return of Gale on (pretty much solo) lead vocals. It’s a charming song and one of the standout tracks, especially because it’s so different from the rest of the songs on the record.

Never Stops
Listeners can be easily fooled by Never Stops. It starts of as any other Outbursts track, so when the guitar and minimalistically executed rhythm kick off, you would expect some heavy instrumentation to kick in once the chorus arrives. But none of that is the case here. The songs stays small, only adding subtle piano as it gets going. It’s one of the more simple songs on the record, but if nothing else, it once again states that Turin Brakes are still capable of doing the straight-forward acoustic songs without bombarding the listener with production. For some, this song might be too simple. But I find myself listening to it again and again.

The Letting Down
To describe it as a Invitation Part 2, would be unfair but the fact is that these tracks are similar in melody and background choirs (made up of Ollys). The song is slower and while the Invitation has some strange romance over it, this song has more of a timeless feel to it. It’s a song that’s hard to pin down, for me. It feels like a rollercoaster in slow motion, going up and down again.

Radio Silence
The most definite proof that this album was made without the help of a record company, is the lack of singles. So far, only Will Power and Rocket Song would qualify as bonafide ‘hits’ with a classic chorus – verse structure (to me at least). Radio Silence is another contester though, even though it’s more complex. Lyrically, this song really hits the right spot (I’m an old soul in a young shell. I broke down at the crossroads) and even though the surprise ending is somewhat over the top, the rest of the song makes up for it and even makes it another personal highlight.

For some reason, when the final track is also the title track it builds up expectations. Both The Optimist and Ether Song are songs that set these high expectations for me. So it’s hard to know what the final song will be like. And even when the song starts it’s hard to make something of it at first. It has a slightly electrified guitar, but not much more than that. The song is like an afterthought, a summation. Turin Brakes have always been good at these type of middle of the night realisations (think Rain City and New Star) and after a few listens, this track is definitely as good as those. The lyrics are almost cheesy (I love you everyday, even if it doesn’t seem that way). It’s a nice winding-down song that says very small and intimate. There are repeated mentions of Summer Rain: and the summer rain won’t wash this love away… – which are also the last words of the record. It’s not an anthem, in fact it’s not even an emotional afterthought… It’s more like an idea, in the middle of the night… That had to be recorded. It’s melancholy, but in a happy way – if that’s possible.

Round up
This record has some bits that really work well, some bits that feel odd, some bits to get used to, some bits that feel strangely familiar. Overall it’s a very varied record which should remain interesting. The record is both subtle and very strong. Outbursts does really feel like it is Turin Brakes captured on a record again – as seen by Turin Brakes. If you’ve been following the bus ride for the past ten years, this record will really make sense. At least it does to me. The songs are up close and personal, embedded by layers that make it more interesting. Outbursts features more difficult concepts, riffs and hooks than Dark on Fire, without feeling contrived. When I finished listening I had to smile and sigh at the same time. And then I went back to listen for a second time.

So yes. I’ve decided that I really like this record. But as I said, I am biased. So I really hope you like it to. You should like it.

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