The Strange Death of Liberal England have been quietly percolating the mainstream consciousness for years now, with their 2007 mini-album Forward March! in particular gaining them a smattering of critical accolades to accompany their ever expanding live fan base. So this full length has been rather a long time coming, thankfully though their baroque tendencies and overtly English demeanour hasn’t lost much of it’s charm in that time.
Charming though it might be their brand of lofty orchestral folk pop does tend to use far too broad brushstrokes, something which can inhibit it. Although they occasionally scale the grand heights of say Arcade Fire’s finest moments they lack the subtlty which colours Butler and co’s less bombastic moments, meaning that in spite all of it’s widescreen ambitions it often ends up feeling a little hollow. It’s a problem which also afflicted the debut album of arguably their closest contemporaries in Broken Records, it’s all just a bit too ‘grand’. This is especially evident in the lyricism, which focuses strongly on occasionally trite maritime imagery. On the likes of ‘Flagships’ where Adam Woolway proclaims “Walk on water\Well I’d rather sink\Tie my hands to my body and I jump in to the sea” it’s an example of their sentiments which often come in such neatly packged imagery that it’s difficult to completely buy in to.
Despite this overall feeling there are certainly moments of euphoria, and brief snapshots of towering brilliance nestled amongst all the posturing. The rolling drums and climactic shouts of “I’ve been scared to death for half my life” on ‘Rising Sea’ are genuinely rousing, though mainly because of the less refined nature of Kelly Jones’ vocals which give things an air of ragged sincerity. The infectious backing vocals on ‘Shadows’ also help to infuse some fun in to the record, something sorely needed amongst all the regality, and when the band manage to cast off the shackles of misery and embrace their more optimistic side like this they start to sound like a band who are genuinely worth getting excited about.
That said, the real highlight is ten minute closer ‘Dog Barking At The Moon’ with it’s tapestry of morose piano and dusty horns wailing amidst Woolway’s uncharacteristiclly quiet and pensive voice. As it swells with the lyrics “I’m never coming home” it strikes a balance of resonance and majesty which is unparalelled on other tracks. The reprise though is an apt culmination of the tone of the record overall; it sounds like a brass band at some kind of royal parade. Yet for all of it’s admirable intentions of beauty and attempts to encapsulate a wealth of emotions it’s all rendered a bit disingenious by it’s self-consciously grand context. They are though, without doubt, a talented bunch and there is more enough promise displayed here to warrant their continued existence, it would be an awful shame for them to die out before fulfilling the full extent of their considerable potential.