James Chapman’s debut We Can Create gallantly lost out to the Klaxons’ Myths of the Near Future at the battle of the Mercury Music Prize. His follow up Turning the Mind was more sophisticated, more intelligent, but didn’t generate the same buzz even then. Enter Vicissitude, the third of Chapman’s albums whose titles uncannily showcase his ambitions for Maps. Yet sadly, the only real change in fortune it represents is a falling between the two poles of his previous records.
To put not too fine a point on it, Vicissitude is bland. Maps’ style was always on the family-friendly side of the shoegaze spectrum, all warm synths and whispered melodies, but there are plenty of places you can push that particular envelope. Not so here. Infuriatingly, it’s not even ambitiously missing the mark, more 54 minutes of pleasant harmonies that one finds oneself nonchalantly disengaging from after the opening ten minutes of each listen.
It’s an anti-climax for a long-time Maps fan after the promise of a third album that would follow on from the previous couple’s exploration of times both happy and dark with an effort that was more adventurous. There’s something about Chapman’s compositions; the man undoubtedly has a deft feel for surging choruses and multi-textured slow-builds, but compare opener ‘A.M.A’ though to ‘So Low, So High’ (the first song on his debut), and the passion just isn’t there. The latter is anthemic, simpler but so much more soulful. The same goes for the majority of ‘Vicissitude’, which by simple dint of some memorable harmonies and some surprising tonal shifts remains poignant. The eponymous track could be great but for giving in to the obvious crescendo and then petering out.
I sincerely hope that Vicissitude sparks a quick follow up. Perhaps it’s a palette cleanser. With Maps, Chapman has two great albums to his name, and one that is only poor by his own high standard. The main upshot is that if you’re only meeting Maps for the first time through this latest work, then it’s just going to get better for you from here. The rest of us can look forward to Chapman finding his way again next time.