This is a review of "Together We Are Strangers" recorded by She's Not Dead. The review was written by Lauren Strain in 2005.
Once upon a time (last July) in a land (not so very) far, far away (Manchester Piccadilly train station), two of my best and loveliest cohorts, Catie and Morena, and I stumbled across two male figures patiently sitting on the same lonely platform as ourselves. One of them sported a fetching t-shirt declaring 'Hope of the States – The Lost Riots'. Being as we had just emerged from the heavenly experience of witnessing said band, we deduced (with not a considerable amount of common sense) that these personages must also have been in attendance at the aforementioned splendid gig.
Thus, once we had boarded our locomotive, we speedily made their acquaintance and spent the journey home in their affable company, discovering, to our delight, that they themselves were members of a band called She's Not Dead. "I should hope not!" exclaimed Catie, somewhat relieved and obviously quite giddy at the time. In fact, her excitement was so great that it led her to present each of these two men with some large Muse stickers, which we trust were put to good use. We then alighted from the train at Huddersfield whilst our perplexed musical companions headed for York, possibly with the hope of never having to be subjected to our post-gig hyper-maniacal chatter ever again.
Almost a year later, and Monsieur Dave of Leeds Music Scene enquires of his writers who would like to get their mitts on what. Spotting She's Not Dead on the list of CDs for review, I politely demanded a copy. And here it is now, in my very own hi-fi. "But what", I hear your implore, "is it LIKE?"
Bah, I apologise – that's a horrid display of review etiquette; I usually make a point never, ever to rely on endless comparisons with other, more established groups – in fact, that trend really gets my goat. But sometimes it's almost unavoidable to draw the lines between influencer and influencee, and, in this instance, I find myself unable to avoid swiftly mentioning Bellamy's crew. Don't get me wrong, though, I'm not saying this album is purely derivative. In truth, it's inspired. The musical ability, enthusiasm and ambition of this record is stunning, and it would be faultless if only it could break free from the environment of its predecessors.
Besides, this comparison only really applies to the cinematic, episodic first track, 'Touch My (juxtaposed) World', where the dramatic rumblings of grand piano give way to a shimmering waterfall tinkling of its upper regions before Andy Clark's smoothly assured and slightly ghostly voice glides in, only to be crushed by a blazing hyper-driven riff. Decadent lyrics – "Who you were perspired with arrogance, juxtaposed with exquisite elegance" – appropriately drape the theatrics in dense velveteen luxury.
This many-tiered chandelier of a song then bows to the fluttering, glittering rivulet of 'Bedtime Stories (Cut Me Loose)', a comforting balm of free, feathery lightness with a buoyancy that lifts it up amidst the clouds. But it's not all mellow fragility – as Clark shreds his vocal chords, growling "safe with me", you'll squirm with a concoction of joy and fear.
However, the record begins to falter a little in the middle; 'J K L I I', with its directionless verses, sounds bare and pieced together on a weak, brittle skeleton and 'Falling Ceilings' is gratingly out-of-tune; a few tracks here sound like jigsaws with the central piece chewed and missing.
For the most part, though, this is impressive. From the twisting chord changes of the naked and vulnerable 'Pretty Eyes' to the unnerving moans of muffled guitars crying in the introduction to 'The Beginning', truly sounding like a spirit leaving the body, She's Not Dead's accomplishment is haunting; it gleams in its swathes of ice and tears. The ethereal, slowed-down reprise of 'Touch My (juxtaposed) World' in 'Poison Memories & Second Hand Souls' is waiflike, lamenting and oceanic, smeared by an atmosphere of echoing desolation. She's Not Dead have learned from the spacious beauty of their masters and, with more tight focus and originality, they'll soon be creating sprawling soundscapes to a level of their own.