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New Music: Kodaline

January 22, 2015

Music | by Sophia Miles

Dublin-based Kodaline claimed a worthy stake in the pop-rock band market on the release of their debut album in 2013, ‘In a Perfect World’. Its lead singles were recurring radio fixtures, deeply melancholic for the most part, relatable and fresh, with innovative video accompaniments. ‘All I Want’ became a viral hit; part ‘The Office’, part ‘The Grinch’, and ‘High Hopes’ told a tragic, intense love story with casting including ‘Game of Thrones’ actor Liam Cunningham. Steve, Mark, Vinny and Jason were producing endearing, gut-wrenching, tear -jerking music, the kind worthy of its place on The ‘Fault in Our Stars’ soundtrack, for instance, or that one episode of ‘Greys Anatomy’. ‘Gogglebox’ is a bit of a tonal anomaly, but the album’s title track proved good enough to be its theme tune.  KODALINE_DAVEMA_005_web

Alas, Kodaline might have considered waiting a little longer before coming up for air with a sophomore release. On the album’s completion at the end of last year, vocalist Steve Garrigan reportedly said, “If you told us at the start of summer that we’d be finished with our album by autumn we wouldn’t have believed you” suggesting that this is a bit of a rush job. It certainly comes across that way, anyway. The hard work that went into establishing themselves as a modern pop-rock band offering up something a bit different – in spite of still sounding a little bit like ‘Snow Patrol 2.0’ – takes a hit here. An identity crisis has been well and truly exposed.

‘Honest’, the album’s first single, is the best example of how they’ve all too obviously driven a more muscular, ‘epic’ sound to contest the big dogs in their genre: Coldplay, Muse, U2, etc. This feels like a somewhat shameless attempt at gaining as broad a fanbase as possible, the main flaw being that this kind of pop-rock has become increasingly bygone, with music tastes generally more mature than they were in the days Keane could release a ballad and anyone who wanted to come across the slightest bit more sensitive than his 50-Cent listening peers would vouch for them as the rawest, most beautiful thing the industry had going for it. ‘Honest’ could quite easily be a lost single from Coldplay’s ‘Ghost Stories’. Remember? Their album of last year that we all got told was wildly successful, but you probably couldn’t name more than two tracks on it. Garrigan’s voice is almost indistinguishable from Chris Martin’s, and though it’s catchy, it’s all a bit ‘middle-of-the-road noughties boyband’ in its production.KODALINE_DAVEMA_002web

One thing that can be said in ‘Honest’s’ favour is that it is on great lyrical form, following suit of the successes from their debut. Kodaline’s forte lies in storytelling, and ‘Honest’ hones in on the subject of communication in a troubled, distanced relationship. The lines of its belting chorus, “Say what it is you’re trying to say/But if you lie to me again/I’ll be the one that walks away/ Is it in you to be honest?” go deep, and are far more polished than some of this record’s more wishy-washy lyrics.

But the identity crisis unravels further elsewhere on the album, and some tracks just don’t have the lyrics to fall back on. The mix of producers Jacknife Lee (Snow Patrol, R.E.M) and Jim Eliot (Ellie Goulding) seems to have left the album’s bigger tracks sounding like a marginally plagiarised scrapbook of the pop-rock canon, while the acoustic offerings are a touch on the twee side. ‘Human Again’ harks back to The Strokes in its opening guitar riff before a verse and chorus reminiscent of the U2 sound that annoyingly found itself into 2014’s IOS update, while ‘The One’ becomes irritatingly cliché with its breathy verses and cheesy lyrics (“You make my heart feel like it’s summer, when the rain is pouring down.”) On the album’s unwavering scale of Ronan Keating to Bono, with a brief foray into Muse territory on ‘Lost’, this is definitely the most Keating of the lot.

Never ones to neglect the aesthetic side of their music (see videos), Kodaline showcased some of their new tracks at Soho’s notorious Burlesque venue The Box this week (Jan 21st). Their affinity to plainer venues was clear; Kodaline are far too ‘vanilla’ for The Box. ‘In a Perfect World’ gave Kodaline a sense of doing their genre the right way in a time where it wasn’t all that cool. It veered on the alternative, cool side of pop-rock. ‘Coming Up For Air’ has no such credibility, opting instead to become more like those they are so often compared to. It could prove damning.


Aaron Toumazou