We had a couple of The Boxer Rebellion albums last year; they’re one of those bands playing finely honed pop music whose fans adore them but who mysteriously fail to get big (though as getting big means playing barns like the Manchester Arena and staying smaller means playing more personal gigs at the Apollo or the Academies, we’re not sure if that’s a bad thing).
Previous albums Union and 2013’s Promises have both been quality pieces of work, with the latter’s Diamonds a song you’d have put money on to make them famous. You’d have lost, of course. “We have spent a lot of time chasing dangling carrots,” is how The Boxer Rebellion singer Nathan Nicholson sums it up.
This new album reminds us of Snow Patrol’s Final Straw, which at the time they said would be one that broke the camel’s back if it failed to sell. It was noticeably better than their earlier albums, which are a bit dull; The Boxer Rebellion have a much stronger back catalogue.
We remember reviewing Final Straw and thinking it ok but nothing special; we wished them luck in the review as we couldn’t see it as a career-saving album. Then it all went stellar and they were global superstars. What do we know.
Having achieved that level of success, you hear an album differently — it’s impossible to play Final Straw now and not think there are some outstanding tracks.
Which makes judging this no easier. It’s better than their earlier albums but can we imagine it becoming the year’s best-selling album and them filling the MEN and becoming world famous? No. But we’ve played it a lot and the slow acoustic song Redemption certainly has the quality to become great.
If you want a sound, they remind us musically of Athlete, with pleasant, carefully made songs and vocals that veer towards the higher end of the range. Opener Weapon does the very Athlete thing of using backing vocals as part of the rhythm. Like Athlete the acoustic guitar is never far away. They use synths to good effect, picking out notes rather than using the synth to underpin the song.
Weapon is the most immediately likable song, a summery, relaxed pop tune, with a good chorus. Big Ideas is next and is also good, the synth giving it a slight Celtic feel over a gently galloping beat. Firework is also good while You Can Love Me is a slow building gem and has some echoes of U2. Even closer Let It Go is good.
If you like stadium-filling rock bands like U2, Coldplay, Athlete et all you should seriously consider getting this – try Weapon or the slower Keep Me Close, another song with a touch of the U2 intensity about it. The band’s back catalogue is good, too.