“Synesthesia” – Messiah

3 stars (out of 5)

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Well, it’s a bold move to name your band Messiah.  It creates a certain level of expectation which, ultimately, you have to live up to.  At a time when careers are created by appearing on a talent show singing someone else’s songs, it’s great to be reminded that some bands actually do it the right way by learning to play, performing live and writing songs.Until very recently, Messiah were a 5-piece from Edinburgh who recently released their debut album “Synesthesia” (if you want to know what it means, just google it).  Now they’re a 4-piece, deciding to carry on rather than split following the departure of their lead guitarist and songwriter.  It’s a brave decision, but is it the right one?

There are a lot of good things to say about the album, but there are a lot of jarring little things which don’t quite work as well.  The songs are inventive melodically but often lyrically limited and the influences on the lead guitar parts are sometimes painfully easy to pick out.  The overall sound is obviously influenced by the Stone Roses and the mid-90s Britpop sound, particularly the vocal style but some of the lead guitar work is very derivative.

When the songs, performances and production on the album gel, the results are outstanding.  The album’s second track, “Fantasia”, with the tribal floor tom intro and the vaguely menacing harmonies works perfectly and “Lazy Daisy” is a great Faces/Black Crowes –style riff monster which doesn’t have to mean anything; it just sounds great.  The penultimate track “Let the Good Times Roll” is an acoustic piece which sounds great if you don’t analyze the lyrics too closely and ignore the overdone acoustic guitar soloing under the vocal.  Some of the production and arrangement tricks on the album are a little bit too obvious; a bit too much unison playing with guitar and vocal, bass and guitar and drums and guitar.  Maybe the problem is that a first album is so much easier to get out now.

In the distant past, bands got together and spent several years writing songs and playing support gigs while they tried to get a major label deal.  When the deal was secured, the label committed to giving maximum support to making the band a success.  The result was that any band’s debut album was the best possible representation of that band’s work since they formed.  Today’s technology enables bands to release material which might or might not be ready for release; “Synesthesia” sounds like it needed a more firm production stance to iron out the over-indulgent guitar lines and unnecessary technical tricks.
It’s almost impossible to decide how much of the band’s sound was defined by their songwriter but the fact they have decided to continue without him seems to say that the other members feel they made a significant contribution to Messiah.  On the basis of “Synesthesia”, Messiah have great potential  and now need to decide how to continue.  Let’s hope they can capitalise on all of the really good things to be heard on this album and lose the rest.