Turin Brakes are one of those perennial late 90s bands (see also Embrace, Keane et al) who surprise you that they’re still around ploughing their heart on their sleeve furrow, when they pop up on the radio. Built around the partnership of Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian that goes back to childhood (both singing in the same choir), they gained attention with a series of records in the early noughties.
Eight records in and a million records sold worldwide, yet still indelibly associated with that era, they return with Invisible Storm , a long player that’s apparently concerned with the grand themes which are ‘all at the mercy of our own internal weather systems despite outward appearances that may paint different pictures” says band leader Olly Knights. Its attempt to step into more anthemic lush terraim than their yet acoustic roots, yet largely its sadly like a pale, musical wallpaper you feel like you’ve heard it many times in the background before.
Things get off to a typical ‘anthemic’ start – ‘Would You Be Mine‘, with its Wurlitzer of colliding synths and guitars, sounds like mid-period Coldplay with bluesy, overtly earnest vocals that border dangerously on Stereophonics territory. Sadly for all its plush production and notable ambition, it all feels a bit hollow, even sounding a little dated: guitar rock has moved past this sincere anthemic sound that characterised the noughties with the likes of Arcade Fire and Kings of Leon. ‘Wait‘ is slightly better, its groove of hand claps and stark couplets see our protagonist being stood up (“Are you gonna make me wait? / absolutely nothing is what you’re gonna do”). The syrupy Americana flecked sound of ‘Always’ meanwhile briefly introduces some slide guitars and banjos; its pretty melodies and idle musings are all very pleasant but it reeks of post-Mumford and Sons malaise, that renders it a slightly forgettable album track.
There are moments when this album lurches worryingly into “real music” and sounds borderline cheesy AOR rock, Knights’ vocals faintly redolent of Bon Jovi (see the title track and ‘Tomorrow’). The lyrics at times sound like they have been produced by a random self-affirmation generator ( “tomorrow/ tomorrow things will go your way”). Thus Invisible Storm is hamstrung by hackneyed cliches that may be delivered with warm sincerity, but lacks the emotional connection and originality.
Following up 2016’s ‘Lost Property’ with an accessible sound was clearly a priority for Turin Brakes. The opener and the bouncing rhythms of ‘Life Forms’ are perkily aimed squarely at Radio 2’s daytime playlist, attempting to transform the minutiae of every day into a greater sound, but it all ends up a bit like Richard Ashcroft fronting ELO; who can fail to be stunned by lyrics like ‘We are life forms/spinning on a rock’ which are borderline laughable at times.
Ironically the best moments come near the end, the chiming Beatles-like shuffle of ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ has a modesty absent elsewhere as they grasp for anthemic anthems, shimmering guitars and lazy strings, which lends it a pleasing elegance. The more homespun acoustic balladry of ‘Don’t Know Much‘, which closes the album, with its humble, self-deprecating vocals suggest Turin Brakes are more at home with a stripped back sound, maybe the next album eh lads?
Turin Brakes have an audience, that trust that with each record they will deliver their well worn, uplifting sound laced with guitar strings and shiny backdrops as comforting as returning home to your mums for Sunday Lunch. But the rest of us probably will forever know them for their early tunes like ‘Painkiller‘ and never investigate further. With Invisible Storm it sounds like they’re happy to carry on doing what they do, whether anybody is still listening or not. Sadly, the majority of the record sounds out of its time, well worn MOR at its worst, forgettable and washed away in the rain.
Invisible Storm is out now on Cooking Vinyl.