By Radio Alcatraz
You wouldn't know it from looking out of the window, but it is in fact summer. And it's at this time of year when record company executives jet off to Thailand or Mexico for a couple of weeks and leave their idiot subordinates in charge. Of course, this leads to a wave of tame, bubble gum pop nonsense about evacuating dance floors and daisy duke bikinis taking over the airways and pop charts for a short while before vanishing into obscurity. And unless your name is Lee or Chelsea and your only contribution to society is giving Huddersfield's street cleaners a pile of vomit to wipe up on a Saturday morning, it's probably time to turn off your radio because the sound of the rain bouncing off your barbeque is going to be more enjoyable.
Anyway, just think about the most horrible summer 'soundtracks' with their moronic lyrics and vexatious choruses that repeat 29 times at the end, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what 'Populous: In the Belly of the Beast' isn't.
When researching Radio Alcatraz, I came across the term 'politically charged lyrics'. For me, this always sets alarm bells ringing, not so much because it may alienate some people, but because it ties any track to a time and place, and takes away any universal element. Novelists and play writes can use politics to give a story more depth and credibility, and journalists and commentators can do the same to give a sense of the times. But when it comes to music, that wonderful passionate feeling a good song gives you will diminish with time if the lyrics are political, much in the same way as the feel good factor of one of those stupid summer 'soundtracks' quickly fades. 'What's my Age Again?' by Blink 182 will always make me laugh, 'She Loves You' by the Beatles will always make me smile, and 'Sad but True' by Metallica will always get the adrenaline going, but songs such as 'Mosh' by Eminem, which back in 2005 would have had my blood boiling, now have little to no relevance, and therefore no impact at all. In recent years, the only band I can think of who have achieved any long term success from a political protest album is Green Day with the epic 'American Idiot', and this is almost certainly down to the fact that the political message is overshadowed by the classic love story in which it is embedded.
Despite the somewhat misguided social and political messages in the likes of 'Ink Poisoning', 'Doomed 1940s Airman, this is 21st Century Air Traffic Control' and 'Oxford Codes', Radio Alcatraz are on solid ground with this debut album. Musically, it is a very typical post hardcore sound. There is nothing here that hasn't been done before, but what has been done has been done well.
The guitar work from Andrew Eales and Steve Nicholls is of a high quality and consistent throughout the record. I particularly enjoyed the clever use of harmonics that are dotted around the album, this will appeal to musicians and metal fans alike, and although Radio Alcatraz don't make much room for gentler sounds, when they do come around the melodies are intelligent and keep the listener on their toes.
This lack of gentler moments does let the record down slightly. Dynamically, every track is on a very similar level, this means that when a section really does threaten to bite your head off, it doesn't quite have the impact it possibly could have done.
Also, Radio Alcatraz have fallen into the same trap as many post hardcore/punk do on their debut records. They don't write songs with big standout choruses. Some may argue that this isn't their style, but trust me, if you want to appeal to more than a few music 'eds and genre geeks, then this is the only way to go.
'Populous: In the Belly of the Beast' then is a decent start for Radio Alcatraz. It gives them foundations on which to build upon, but on a commercial level offers up relatively little. There are a few powerful and enjoyable moments that point to a bright future for the London based outfit, but I'm afraid there is still much work to be done. In a genre as densely populated as this, bands need a little something extra to set themselves apart, and I don't think Radio Alcatraz have quite figured out what theirs is yet.