Guillemots - Walk The River

Three albums along, they still feed our hunger for the big, the wild and the honest.

Label: Geffen

Rating: 8

When Guillemots frontman Fyfe Dangerfield embarked on his solo jaunt ‘Fly Yellow Moon’ at the end of 2009, he claimed he was spurred by a cache of songs that wouldn’t fit his band. These new raw compositions were not the stuff of 2006’s ‘Through The Windowpane’, with its kitchen sink bashalong ‘Trains To Brazil’ and epic blowout ‘Sao Paolo’; and they certainly wouldn’t have suited ‘Red’, the brash, brassy, even R&B-influenced 2008 album that aped Duran Duran on ‘Get Over It’ and Timbaland on ‘Big Dog’. When the solo set emerged you could see his point - fragile, sensitive melodies backed by strings and drum machine patterns were a sort of retreat, and just right for a man alone exposing his heart.

But tucked between those extrovert Guillemots songs there were always stripped-back ballads – the almost unbearably stark ‘Little Bear’, the soothing ‘Falling Out Of Reach’ – and third album ‘Walk The River’ draws the theme out further. Straight away there’s a question mark against Dangerfield’s belief that his solo pieces were at odds with his Guillemots output, because the opening title track is as austere and slavishly structured around angular 60s beat pop as anything on ‘Fly Yellow Moon’. It tick-tocks along grimly, only finding release in a tremelo solo, but is typically pretty in its sad way. ‘Vermillion’ is more of the same, sailing unexpectedly close to The Moody Blues in its stately drama, with little cheer until a fuzzed guitar cuts loose. Lyrically, Dangerfield is still that romantic poet: “The skies are made vermillion,” he insists. “Killing all the saints tonight/We’re all just dancers in the night”. ‘Walk The River’ dwells on skies and stars, unknowable things we can pin our hopes on.

There are more of them over slow handclaps and bright synths on ‘I Must Be A Lover’ – ‘The storm is over/Chase the rain/And up on nowhere hill the sun is out again’ – and buffeted by echoed guitar and zephyrs of interference on ‘Dancing In The Devil’s Shoes’ – “Miles above the ground below/No particular place to go/Flying higher” – as distant drums break over ‘O Superman’ chants. As ‘Tigers’ trills with spiralling melody and what feels like the sound of flowers opening, Dangerfield fancies himself “A tumbling star/Home isn’t ever anywhere we are”. He’s gazing in wonder at the heavens, but he’s still lost. ‘Inside’ plays against creepy music box tings, as he drives all night through a dream sequence, imploring his partner to “Take me with you… I’m a child like you”.

The band can always shake the shackles of romance and let rip. ‘Ice Room’ springs a surprise with heavy guitars and a big chorus (and a shout-out to celestial bodies, of course), while ‘Slow Train’ leans on hefty synths, reverb and electronic drums, but the real shots for the stars come late. Although ‘The Basket”s fuzzboxed guitars and falsetto chorus match its first-single status, it’s overshadowed by lengthy anthems ‘Sometimes I Remember Wrong’ and ‘Yesterday Is Dead’, both essentially ponderous except their bulk is offset by growing intensity and invention. While ‘Sometimes I Remember Wrong’ incorporates discordant clangs and tapped drums to build a beautiful anthem of regret, ‘Yesterday Is Dead’ takes the gloom in its bones and fashions angelic harmonies and a grand old cacophony. It strings together shades of U2 and Joy Division, bombast of varying hue, as the band flexes every muscle in its armoury. Like the rest of ‘Walk The River, and all the Guillemots’ work, it’s not for the faint-hearted but it’s certainly for the soft-hearted - three albums along, they still feed our hunger for the big, the wild and the honest.