“Union” – The Boxer Rebellion

2 stars (out of 5)

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When I hear a lot about a band in the music media, there’s always the niggling question of how much of is hype and scene-following and how much is about the genuine qualities of the band.  “Union” is one of those albums which sets all my alarm bells ringing.

The press release accompanying this album focuses heavily on the novel partnership between the band and HMV and the digital pre-release of the album and the single “Evacuate” earlier this year, while saying very little about the actual music, which is an interesting indicator of the content of the album.

The first listen to the album was frustrating and disappointing and subsequent attempts (well into double figures) didn’t really improve things very much.  The overall impression I take from the album is that the basic elements: the instrumentation, the vocals and the production have all been over-cooked.  Singer Nathan Nicholson has a great voice with an extensive range but his falsetto is over-used, making some of the songs difficult to listen to.  The use of vocal and lyrical hooks is another example of excess; 1 or 2 hooks are usually used to pull the listener into the song but this album is full of songs which have so many hooks that they seem to cancel each other out.

The production is perfect throughout the album but this only seems to highlight the fact that there’s very little substance to any of the songs particularly in the lyrics, which are usually fairly clichéd (“Forces” is a good example of this).  There are obvious references to the band’s many influences dotted throughout the album (I don’t need to tell you what they are, you can spot them easily enough) which detracts from the creation of a unique identity for the band.

The structure of the songs and the production values of the album look like an attempt to catapult the band straight in to the stadium rock league with the likes of U2 and Coldplay (yes, they are 2 of the references you can pick out on the album) without passing through any of the traditional intermediate stages of the process.

After many attempts, only “Spitting Fire” left a positive impression; I could actually recognise it 5 minutes after hearing it.  The album is a disappointment because the production is great, the musicianship is very good, the vocals are very good but the whole is much less than the sum of the parts.  It’s a bit like unwrapping a liqueur and biting in to only to discover that the filling has evaporated.