Caves arrive at their fourth full length preceded by an excellent reputation both on record and onstage. They’ve never been anything less than raucous, passionate and tight as a nut on any occasion I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them live. Having three excellent albums from which to draw material means dull moments are few and far between.
However, it must be said that at fourth time of asking they’ve not managed to live up to their own very high standards. Always Why represents something of a change of direction for Caves; an understandable and necessary development at this stage in their career. But its shift towards a more stripped down, controlled style robs their sound of its spirit.
The change is apparent from the off, with Asleep keeping things simplistic but lacking any kind of innovation. Both Need It Most and Way continue this trend, lacking progression or creativity – important additions to the mix when other elements such as big hooks and pace are being culled.
The band eventually find third gear midway through the album. 16 feels instrumentally a lot more dynamic and engaging, but vocally the song still feels weak and lackadaisical. This is followed by Feather, where a long awaited and required explosion of emotion finally occurs, but then the four minute long track reduces into feedback and distortion and the moment is lost.
There are good tracks to be found – Border is much snappier with cracking melodies and is the kind of song you can imagine blowing up live, but it’s also the kind of song you can imagine on the previous album. Caves are still great at being Caves, but reinventing themselves has proved much more difficult.
The rest of the album continues to struggle with itself. Understand constantly shifts and morphs in an effort to find itself and gets lost down its own tunnel.
Caves definitely need to write a different kind of album, but next time out they need to grasp hold of their new style with more confidence.
I’m Phelan this one is a 6/10 (see what I did there? – Tony)
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