Mainly Genius

Review: Boxer Rebellion – Union
November 4, 2009, 1:26 am
Filed under: Review | Tags: , ,

Before we begin, a heartwarming tale:

In 2003, The Boxer Rebellion looked set for big things. They played ahead of Keane at Glastonbury, signed with Britpop supremo Alan McGee and won themselves a support slot with The Killers.

But just as things were taking off, lead singer Nathan Nicholson became very ill and the band was forced to suspend all activities, including touring.

Fast-forward two years and the band finally released debut album Exits to a very favourable critical reception and, as before, they looked destined for success.
Just two weeks later, their record label imploded leaving the band with no label, no backing and no money.

Now here comes the heartwarming bit.

In January of this year, after lead single Evacuate was made available for free on iTunes, self-financed second album Union, became an overnight success. It shot up the download charts and just five days after release, it was number one in the US and number four in the UK. In it’s first week it outsold Kings of Leon, Coldplay and MGMT. It didn’t just match them, it outsold them.

Union got it’s long-awaited physical release on this side of the pond in September and to commemorate this (and the fact that it’s really very good) I thought I’d check it out.

Let me be straight with you, Union is excellent. And I’m so pleased. Reaching the top of any chart requires some kind of quality control, but it would’ve been very easy for the all the hype to get a little out of hand. Thankfully, it justifies itself with room to spare.

Union sets it’s stall out from the very beginning, making clear from the moment the galloping drums of opening track Flashing Red Light Means Go enter, we’re set for lush, arena-sized rock that recalls both Sigur Rós and Radiohead in their prime.

Acoustic layers eventually give way to a enchanting falsetto of “Tell us why you’re leaving” before all too soon we’re onto second track Move On. Signature galloping drums signify more of the same, which is really no bad thing. Lead singer Nicholson sings an aggressive refrain of “move on”, cleverly positioned in contrast to the previous track’s sentiment but proving no less effective.

Lead single Evacuate is quite easily the stand out track, and features more than one killer hook. After an unsure and lamenting verse, the chorus heralds a realisation. Jumping up a gear, Nicholson sings:

“Wait. When there’s nothing left to waste.
On a promise I can make.
You don’t want no one this way. Wait”

No longer unsteady, the singer knows what is required. The music straightens and fills out to form an excellent backdrop for the strained melodies.

Album tracks Misplaced, Semi Automatic and album closer Silent Movie, show a darker side to the band, allowing the exceptional lyrics to realise their true potential before almost always drawing to a thumping and, there’s that word again, arena-sized close.

It must be said that by the time we reach seventh track, Forces, the galloping drums begin to get tiresome and, despite the track’s killer chorus, make the song sound more predictable and laboured than perhaps it should.

Similarly, the guitars are superb for the most part, but as we move towards the album’s conclusion, there is a growing feeling of déjà vu that places tracks such as Semi Automatic in the bracket labeled ‘Album Tracks’. If the song were stripped to it’s bare bones, this would seem a wholly unfair assessment but, as before, there is a slight underlying sense of autopilot.

However, these are small and insignificant points. The soaring melodies and enchanting falsettos more than make up for any shortcomings and lyrically, the band are at a stage that many bands twice their age have yet to reach.

Frantic, dark and heart-wrenching all at the same time, it’s not difficult to see why Union propelled The Boxer Rebellion into the musical limelight and up the charts. Here is proof that maybe hard graft and top quality music can win through in the end.

Feeling heartwarmed yet? I certainly am.

Visit The Boxer Rebellion and buy Union on iTunes or at HMV

Below is an excellent track that not only showcases a great melody, but also a lyrical maturity that matches up with the enchanting falsettos and spacious guitar sounds.

The Boxer Rebellion – Soviets


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