If I coyly hinted that Shearwater‘s last album, the great Palo Santo, sounded an awful lot like a lost Talk Talk album, then let me make it abundantly clear that the new Shearwater album sounds even more like a lost Talk Talk album.
Two points addressing this: Talk Talk’s leader Mark Hollis was an unheralded performer who straddled brilliance on a few occasions. He was also a slow creator, spending as much as three years in between Talk Talk albums and a full seven years before releasing his own solo album. Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg should not be chastised for wanting to pursue Talk Talk’s lead, as that band left only a handful of clues to begin with. And the time is ripe for further examination and exploration, particularly considering that Mark Hollis is all but retired from music anyway.
The other point is that Talk Talk used similar strategies with their own creative muse, Roxy Music, and you don’t hear anyone bitching about that now. Ironically, at the time you did (Spirit Of Eden received its share of negative reviews initially and then built a more positive reassessment over the years) so it’s extremely shortsighted to dismiss Shearwater based upon their incredible close-to-the-vest recreation of Mr. Hollis’ opus. [Especially since the band isn’t trying to hide it; they covered Talk Talk’s “The Rainbow” for the b-side of their “Rooks” single. -ed.]
This longwinded preface wouldn’t be necessary if Rook, Shearwater’s fifth and most reasoned album to date wasn’t so damn good. The truth is, I probably enjoyed Palo Santo a little bit more for its accidental beauty, but Rook is no slouch. It’s intentionally positioned and it’s very apparent that Meiburg has spent the last two years carefully creating what should go down as his crowning achievement.
His winged themes abound on this appropriately titled album, and part of the success has to do with the removal of the reverb and other treatment that hid Shearwater’s previous outings. Such shenanigans are unnecessary, really, as Rook is permeated with a wide catalog of instruments like harps, glockenspiel, vibraphone, dulcimer, and an occasional brass section.
All of them add to the album’s inherent sense of melodrama, which itself if complimented to Meiburg’s increasing growth as a vocalist. What was once curiously underneath the mix is now center stage, showing how he’s now channeling the aforementioned Mark Hollis with a touch of Jeff Buckley sweetness around the edges.
Ironically, the album’s only suffering point may be another problem that its apparent inspiration had: the lack of a single. Rook is an album that requires a complete listen as just one focal point merely diminishes the album’s strength as a whole. For a mere half-hour, the listener is blessed with a beautiful artistic event and to narrow that down to a simple four minute section would undermine its overall impact.
That’s important to remember when seeking this record out: give it time. Because when you set aside the appropriate amount of attention it deserves, it will lift you like no other record will this year, even while it’s flying right beside its obvious influences.