It's hard to believe that Submarine is only the second album from London quartet Scanners. The song that introduced them to me – the fantastic 'Lowlife', originally released on Tigertrap Records – was first released five years ago. That song set the template for Scanners' modus operandi: throatily haunting vocals from singer Sarah Daly, underlaid with taut, angsty post punk. It's a recipe that's gone down surprisingly well in the US, with various songs being picked up and featured on angsty teen dramas and, oddly enough, the Canadian version of So You Think You Can Dance.
It's obviously a profitable exercise for the band, because Submarine is more of the same, albeit slicker. Production values have been ramped up, with Scanners' overall sound feeling fuller and rounder than the spare, sharp edges that characterised their early work. It's a change that compliments Daly's impressive lyrical range, but also robs Scanners of some of the distinctiveness and rawness that made them so interesting in the first place.
That smoothing of the rough edges is also evident in the songs themselves. Early singles 'Lowlife' and 'Raw' worked because there was a real emotional core to them – when Daly sings "This is a lonely time", you feel the pain, the angst, the anger in her voice. While some of the songs on Submarine come close – first single 'Salvation' especially – that authenticity seems to have been foregone in favour of a more radio and TV-friendly overall sound, neutering the impact of what makes Scanners truly special.
That's not to say Submarine is a mess: it does the job, delivering uptempo, angsty post-punk like 'We Never Close Our Eyes' and 'The Day That Was The Day', which are consistently pulsing, insistent and more than a little thrilling; and more considered, introspective 'slow songs' ('Strangelovehate', 'Goodbye'). However, Scanners are at their best when they're nervous and urgent, when Daly's voice is just a second away from breaking. There's just not enough of that anxiety: it all just seems a little too pat and formulaic – a little too contrived to play well in the scenes in the aforementioned teen dramas where beautiful Americans go through whichever emotional crisis they're experiencing this week.
5Kev Eddy's Score