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You’ve got to feel for The Delays a bit; despite possessing one excellent debut in 2004’s Faded Seaside Glamour and an undeniably distinctive style - albeit largely thanks to the falsetto of lead singer Greg Gilbert - they’ve fallen into the bracket of acts who now provoke surprise at their continued existence. Unlike groups such as Starsailor and Athlete, though, the South Coast four piece haven’t found themselves in the margins for lack of attempts at progression. 2006’s You See Colours stripped away all the subtleties of their debut but, in turn, foresaw British indie groups’ enthrallment to Eighties synth-pop some two years early, whilst follow up Everything’s The Rush siphoned off the sheen in lieu of a more direct approach. Whilst both had their charms, the chief problem remained the same - Gilbert’s vocals, so at home amidst the drifting haze of their debut, were frequently lost when trying to add bite to proceedings, adding to the waif-like stature of much of the subsequent group’s output.
There are exceptions to that rule however, most notably the perfect power pop of ‘Lost In A Melody’ and the whirling tumult of ‘Valentine.’ So when the like-minded bass of ’The Lost Estate’ burbles in after ‘Find A Home (New Forest Shaker)’s brooding opening on Star Tiger Star Ariel, heart once again jumps into mouth at the prospect of The Delays finally hitting the right balance between their early ambient promise and ensuing anthemic indie-pop - even more so when said track sets its trajectory skywards amidst shimmering Korg and swelling vocal. Sadly, though, old flaws soon return, as early as the next track in fact, as 'Shanghaied's attempt at post-punk with a dab of glamour finds its singer awkwardly compromised between the two, the reverb surrounding his vocal only serving to lengthen its distance from the rest of the music.
And so, with heartbreaking predictability, Star Tiger Star Ariel unfolds much like its previous two predecessors. It’s frustrating, in that you know The Delays are trying to move forward, they just never seem to quite know how. There’s a greater variation in dynamics than their previous two albums, with ‘Hold Fire’ and ‘Moment Gone’ breaking up the otherwise punchy tempo, whilst ’Lakes Can Be Lethal’ transcends both dream-pop and synth-rock and, unshackled, swells and swells with string-led grandeur. But then on the flip side there’s the airy by-the-numbers ’Unsung’ and the forgettable flat melody and uninspired lyrics of ‘Rhapsody,’ Gilbert thinking up seemingly random rhyming couplets to fit with the song’s title whilst forgetting to ballast the music itself with any kind of vocal potency. It’s times like these you begin to sense the fight is ebbing from the band and, when Aaron Gilbert takes over vocal duties from his brother on the overly sickly sugar of ’In Brilliant Sunshine,’ there’s a real feeling of it being the last throw of the dice - ironic given the outro’s repeated call of “you always bring the fight.”
It’s hard to dislike the Delays because, like Supergrass and Ash - or more recently the Mystery Jets - they’re great for a single or two, and that remains the case here; but as album four comes and goes it’s another disappointing reaffirmation that beyond their debut the group still haven’t really written a full record that stands up to sustained interest; as such they’re destined to retreat to the sidelines once again.
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