I’ve always wondered if a label had picked up Stornoway before Mumford & Sons, whether the Oxford band might be the ones held up as the shining example of modern British folk. Beachcomber’s Windowsill was so laden with vocal harmonies and catchy hooks that I still remain confused about the lack of successful single releases from their debut. Tales From Terra Firma however seems to turn it’s back on all of this, pushing instead towards a more experimental sound.
You Take Me As I Am sets the tone for the album, the instruments weaving in and out of each other pulling you in to the track. For the most part this variation builds to a much more interesting sound, but there are also times where it tips the balance. Hook Line and Sinker opens with a bold rock style, but it’s not long before the band add in so many sounds that it seems to almost implode on itself, Brian’s vocals getting lost in the chaos.
For dedicated fans, the notable omission of When You Touched Down From Outer Space leaves another question mark, but this is counterbalanced by The Bigger Picture which leads back to the warm harmonies the band have become synonymous with. Likewise the stripped back closing number November Song is stunning and dazzles in it’s simplicity. It highlights that whilst the band have turned a creative corner and delivered a much bolder album than Beachcomber’s Windowsill, their power actually lies in the subtler numbers.
The peaks and troughs of (A Belated) Invite To Eternity and the more commercial sounding Knock Me On The Head make this a diverse offering, sadly marred by seeming attempts to cram everything they feel they need to be into one record. Though initially the album drew me in, over time it’s become a frustrating listen, attempting to be folky, creative, and commercial all at once and inevitably fails to live up to the promise of their debut Though the imagery and meaning within the lyrics are every bit as insightful they seem to frequently get lost amid the desire to be playful with the music.
As a fellow Oxfordian, I longed for the subtle references to the city and for Stornoway to give Mumford & Sons a real run for their money. Instead I can’t help but feel like they’ve delivered the musical equivalent of a love letter written on crumpled bits of paper; the sentiment never quite matches the delivery.