Yesterday Coldplay announced a new double album called Everyday Life.
I am, of course, girding myself for the ration of crap I will get just for admitting that I pay attention to Coldplay, let alone for being a fan. I’ve liked, to some degree, everything they’ve done, although they came closest to losing me with 2015’s pop letdown A Head Full of Dreams. But even that record had some interesting moments and choices, and you certainly can’t say that it sounds like Coldplay. Those who remember “Fix You” and “Clocks” and haven’t kept up since then will likely be surprised by the band’s last four records, should they bother to listen.
But anyway. Everyday Life is a double album, and the timing is fortuitous, because that’s exactly what I want to talk about this week. I have no idea why double albums double my interest in a band’s work, but they do. I have always been fascinated and drawn in by epics, by long works of art that require a significant investment to absorb. I have no interest in high fantasy fiction, but I have long been intrigued by Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, just because it’s so long. What would the experience of reading the whole thing be like? Could I do it? Would it be worth it?
Same with double albums. I’m always surprised and elated when they exist, when a band or artist decides that they just have too much to say to fit onto one CD. I love marathon listens – I have, several times, made my way through the entirety of the Dear Hunter’s Acts saga in one long sitting – and each one that comes along reminds me that those pundits suggesting that we live in a singles-driven download world and the album is dying on the vine are just wrong.
I can’t say I love the recent trend of breaking double albums up and releasing them as separate discs, though. That was Coldplay’s rumored plan: an “experimental” album this year and more straightforward one next year. I applaud the decision to release both halves together in one package – the discs are separately labeled as Sunrise and Sunset– and not to make us wait. I’ve noticed a lot more two-volume sets recently, issued as separate albums months apart, and while I keep buying them, the experience is not as fulfilling for me as diving through a lengthy double album all at once.
But what, I wasn’t going to buy the new Foals album the day it came out? This British quartet is one of the most exciting and interesting bands I know of, and if they wanted me to buy one half of the 79-minute Everything Not Saved Will be Lost back in March, who am I to argue? Of course I bought it, and of course I heard it on repeat for days. It’s a great piece of work on its own, from the slow burn of “Exits” to the beautifully constructed 9/8 stomp of “On the Luna” to the pretty “I’m Done with the World (And It’s Done with Me).”
The first part certainly works on its own, but now that Everything Not Saved Will be Lost Part Two is here, two things have become clear: these records work better in tandem, and it’s obvious how and why they separated them. The first part is more moody, more groove-based, more keyboard-heavy. This second part is a guitar-fueled rock-band powerhouse, and from first moment to (nearly) last, it moves like a bullet train. It follows the same format as the first – an intro, eight songs and an interlude – but its character is almost entirely different.
I hesitate to say this, given how much I love the first part, but I like the second half better. It’s just more alive, more explosive, more instantly captivating. I’ve not heard a more driving set of songs in a row this year than the ones that open this record – after the tense intro of “Red Desert” we have “The Runner,” “Wash Off” and “Black Bull,” three extraordinary 100-mile-an-hour wonders, one after another. They lead into “Like Lightning,” which only slows things down marginally – this one should be a radio hit, though it won’t be, and on the heels of the screaming “Black Bull,” it does a great job of showing the band’s more melodic side. It’s like a Black Keys song done right.
The second half of this second half is just as great, if a mite less relentless. “Into the Surf,” teased on the first half, is a gorgeous piano ballad, and it leads into “Neptune,” the ten-minute closer. As the longest song in Foals’ catalog, this one of course had to be the finale, and it’s a crash-and-recede epic that feels like an extended mantra. It creates its own little world and lives in it for as long as it wants to. Weirdly, I think it works better as the final song of a 40-minute album than as the culmination of a 79-minute one, yet another reason to split these two up.
Still, I can’t help wondering what this might have sounded like had the band ignored the stylistic separation, mixed these tracks up and delivered an 80-minute double record all at once. I’m not sure how I would arrange it, but it’s a fun thought experiment. Everything Not Saved will be Lost is a tremendous piece of work, no matter how the band organized it. But while I wouldn’t want to sacrifice the hurtling-along feel of this second part, the moodier first part could have used some of this energy. Either way, you should check out both parts of this thing, as it’s one of the best Foals albums and one of my favorites of the year.
The Magpie Salute’s High Water is not one of my favorites of the year, and it’s a better example of the issue I have with this double-album-in-pieces approach. For those who haven’t been following the post-breakup saga of the Black Crowes, while singer Chris Robinson has been turning out album after album with his new band, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, his guitar-playing brother Rich has been a bit quieter. The Magpie Salute is his new band with a couple Crowes stalwarts and former Sixpence None the Richer mastermind Matt Slocum on keys, and though they made a quiet entrance with their self-titled record in 2017, High Water is their true coming out party.
I was honestly pretty excited to hear that Robinson had amassed enough material to fill two discs. I think he’s the underrated Robinson brother, and his solo work (four albums and counting) has been solid. I also like the looseness of this new band, with Robinson and John Hogg trading off lead vocals. There’s an anything-goes quality to it that is appealing in an Exile on Main Street kind of way.
But man, did they just not have enough strong material to make a 95-minute record. I knew this would be a problem when the first half, last year’s High Water I, petered out before the end. I would have cut four sloppy, trad-bluesy tunes from that record, and I expected that there would be at least four solid songs on High Water II that could have taken their place, turning this into a perfectly respectable single-disc affair. Turns out I was right, but just barely.
High Water II is just kinda boring. It’s very ‘70s rock, very Rolling Stones, and if you’re into that more than I am, you may enjoy and appreciate what Robinson and the band have delivered here. I like “Gimme Something” quite a bit – it takes on the gospel overtones of a lot of the Crowes’ By Your Side – and I dig the slide guitars of “Mother Storm,” but this whole thing just blends together, none of these songs announcing themselves with any distinctiveness. I was hoping that Alison Krauss would inject some life into “Lost Boy,” but she’s barely audible. None of these songs break out of their traditional shells, and even within those shells, their choruses are surprisingly weak.
The record does end strong with the urgent “Doesn’t Really Matter” and the slinky “Where Is This Place,” two songs I’d probably save for the single-CD version of this thing. High Water II is absolutely a continuation of the first volume – you can trace just when the inspiration left these guys and they kept on trudging along anyway. So in that way, I definitely wish these 24 songs had been released all at once. Instead we have a decent first half and a much weaker second half that certainly doesn’t stand on its own. Selfishly, I wish I’d only had to shell out once for this material, instead of twice over two years. High Water as a whole is a bit of a slog – it isn’t terrible, but it isn’t worth the investment of time that a truly great double album rewards.
Next week, hopefully Marillion, but if not, we’ll have a few other options. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tm3am.
See you in line Tuesday morning.