A few years ago when I flew to London on Virgin Atlantic, the pre-flight music on the airplane, which was apparently on an endless loop, included a catchy bit of froth called “Pain Killer (Summer Rain).” I initially mistook the song for Robbie Williams, but I later learned it was by this British folk duo. To my ears, nothing on this, the band’s third album, approaches the sweeping heights of that tune. But maybe it’s just because I haven’t had these songs drilled into my head as I anxiously await a long flight across the pond.
But it isn’t for lack of trying on the part of Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian. They pretty much throw up everything here to see what sticks. Memphis soul-style guitar licks color opener “They Can’t Buy Me Sunshine.” Unfortunately an unimpressive, repetitive chorus that aims for sun-drenched joy just doesn’t get there. When the duo invokes the Beach Boys on “Road to Nowhere,” it’s not entirely convincing either. “Red Moon” steps up the tempo nicely but doesn’t have much of anything profound to say. “Sometimes just letting go is easier/Dead friends can’t come back/They’re gone and life goes on,” Knights’ offers. Thanks for that.
One of the more rhythmically inventive songs here, “Asleep With the Fireflies” breaks down into a funky disco groove for no apparent reason, like something off a Jamiroquai record. The title track, also pushing a dance groove, recalls Supergrass. They even try out Bossa Nova on the set closing “Come & Go.” The bouncy, acoustic slide guitar-tinged “Over & Over” is the catchiest song here, but even it wears out its welcome after a while.
Knights and Paridjanian sing often pretty, helium-voiced harmonies. But with their south London accents, they can seem a bit whiny and mewling at times. The duo are most successful keeping things purely pretty and simple, as on “Above the Clouds,” or channeling Simon & Garfunkel, as on “Buildings Wrap Around Me.”
Turin Brakes are clearly still searching for their identity. It seems they could conceivably scale the melodic heights of like-minded outfits like Keane, Travis and Starsailor, or inhabit the dull, claustrophobic world of one-time tour-mate David Gray. With any luck, it will be the former and we’ll be hearing their tunes on airplanes for years to come.