29 January saw the long awaited release of studio album number seven for my favourite boys from Balham, Turin Brakes. They are a band I talk about a lot (and I make no apologies for doing so) and I have keenly followed their career over the past 15 years. I was therefore very excited to hear Lost Property.
Now, here’s the thing. I have gone backwards and forwards in my mind over whether to actually write this review or not. I had originally decided that I wasn’t going to as I didn’t feel I could do it justice, but I’ve since changed my stance. As a known fan of the band (cos of all the talking I do about them), I think there is an expectation that I would have something to say on a new piece of their work and I would hate to disappoint on that score.
The reason it has taken me a while to put my thoughts down is due to something a bit unexpected. When I first played it through I didn’t experience the immediate connection to the album that I just assumed I would have. Being honest, as ever, it has taken me multiple plays to ‘get’ it. I was initially disappointed in myself for this, but I soon came to realise that I needed to stop trying to understand every single element of the record and just enjoy it for what it is. And when I did this, it hit me. I call it listening with my heart rather than my brain and it’s a very joyful thing indeed.
The bit that I struggled with was not the actual album material. I can safely say that it’s probably the best work the band have done in a while. It’s beautifully written and performed and makes for wonderful listening. It’s undeniably Turin Brakes, and it’s them at their very best. I think for me it was the fact that this record is possibly more highly polished than their back catalogue and this took me by surprise. The production is incredibly high and you can most definitely hear it. Not that there is anything wrong with this at all. I think you can tell that the confidence within the band has soared and they are certainly not afraid to create something that is bigger and ultimately more mainstream.
The theme of the record is one of loss and it runs throughout the entire album in different measures. It’s not easy listening at times and the overwhelming sense of lost love left me feeling quite emotional in places. It can be a complicated theme to work with, but it has been chosen very carefully here and works on several levels. Olly is most definitely the king of ambiguity and you cannot take any of his lyrics at face value. Lyrically overall it’s divine. Quietly moving in all the right places with hidden depth behind what it is you might think he’s saying.
The higher input to this record has also showcased a higher level of sound. The acoustic duo who sang to us about being the Underdog are now all grown up and have got themselves a new set of instruments. Brighter Than The Dark has an incredible build up of a beautifully orchestrated string arrangement that fades in and out throughout the song until the final burst of power at the end that is reminiscent to something, possibly Americana, that I can’t quite put my finger on. Save You is another big number which I have seen in numerous reviews being compared to as an Adele type ballad. It’s certainly the showpiece of the album with the piano and those strings again which make it big and emotive to listen to.
We were treated to pre-album singles 96 and Keep Me Around both of which have been well received in the charts with Keep Me Around recently making it onto the Radio 2 A-List. I have commented before on the choice of lead single that the Brakes have decided on in the past, but this time I cannot fault their judgement on luring us in with these two tracks. I found this a very interesting turn of events for a band who have said themselves in the past that they are not single driven. If I had to choose another song from the album as an upcoming single, I would plump for either Rome or Jump Start. Both have the potential to be sing-along favourites especially when played live.
Martini is an extremely beautiful, yet simple song that is perhaps one of the most earnest love songs I’ve heard. Just Olly’s voice and some guitar finger-picking that to me is reminiscent of his solo work and is pretty much all about simplicity. Hope We Make It was the song that most sounded like old Turin Brakes to me. Not sure why, but it felt like the album had shifted from the uncertainty of the middle tracks back into home territory again. It could also be because today I realised that the guitar riff reminded me of Loopa.
There are other subtle nods to the past in this album including the reference in The Quiet Ones to keeping your ears close to the ground which harks back to The State Of Things. The title track was probably the hardest one for me on the first listen and it left me feeling incredibly sad. The theme of love and the fear of losing the one you love didn’t make for easy listening. But then this was never going to be an easy ride and why should it be? The album ends with Black Rabbit, a song that takes us on an emotional journey through six plus minutes before closing the record with more of those marvellous strings and orchestration. It’s the ultimate breathe out and relax moment when it’s finally over.
What the band have achieved with this album is to create something that is a full, rounded record. There’s no filler, all the tracks work wonderfully and it has clearly been a labour of love for both them and producer Ali Staton. Olly’s voice is breathtaking in places, Gale’s guitar just gets better and better and both Rob and Eddie have most definitely united them as a four-piece unit rather than the duo that they started out as.
My initial surprise at the polished result has dissipated now as I realise that the intention was not to make something that is commercially viable, but to just be Turin Brakes with added flair. And that’s not something you should ever apologise for. After the success of The Optimist LP and Ether Song, their next few albums never bothered the UK charts in the same way which is perhaps why this latest one is an important step forward. Various reviews are stating ‘it’s a return to form’, but for me, that’s not quite right. The form never actually went anywhere, it’s just that some people stopped listening. Lost Property is a very rewarding album and should open up their work to a whole new audience as well as keeping us older fans very happy indeed. Roll on the live shows. Highly recommended.