With youth comes anger - not just the chronic sense of injustice we all recognise as 'angst' but moments of acute rage tinged with helplessness arising out of a naïve (but understandable) sense of entitlement - an inexpressible belief in a materialistic, visible form of karma and the crushing blows of disappointment that come with the painful, repeated realisation that life isn't fair.
With age comes acceptance - the awareness of anger and its futility; the fact that it only makes one's vulnerability more apparent, and that it is never not regretted. The belief in karma remains - not in the form of a supernatural force, but as a far more reasonable statement: 'actions have consequences'.
It's been 18 years since Medicine's last album. When we first heard them we were younger and so were they. We turned to them to give our frustration - our unfathomable, wordless frustration - a form. We turned to them to give us comfort. Medicine could unwind the dense knots in our collective chests and weave them into beautiful disharmony. They could take an ugly, unwanted emotion and transform it into something we could, if not touch, hear. If we needed soothing, we had Beth and Brad's soft murmurs slithering across the noise - immune to its abrasiveness.
There are no surprises with To The Happy Few. It is, quite literally, Medicine 18 years later. There's still glorious disharmony and the voices are unchanged. But rationality taints the album. The elements are the same, as are the intentions. But the songs are… deliberate. Each one so purposefully pieced together, it's almost unsettling.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a bum note on the record. 'Long As The Sun' technically has it all - an excruciatingly loud opening that breaks into velvet vocals (Beth's) which melt into a net of static. There's also a false ending that has the song resurface with a completely different bridge (though the chorus stays the same), and wrap up with an abrupt conclusion (classic). It has everything, but it does beg the question - does it really need all that?
If you want Medicine at their most honest, you want 'The End of the Line' - or at least patches of it: the beautiful hook that opens the track, the elegantly simple fuzz carrying the song at around the two minute mark, and the calm, assured 'everything is fine' towards the end. Again, the influx of individuals elements is enough to OD on, but without the superfluity, the song is stunning.
If you want what Medicine used the be - the voice you didn't have - then the best you'll get are 'Burn It' and 'Find Me Always'. Both charge towards exactly what we want from a Medicine track but sadly, let up just before they get there. 'Burn It', in particular, is loaded with opportunities to capitalise on a lull in the melody and launch into a magnificent cacophony but misses each one, setting an anticlimactic "good night/sleep tight" against a (now significantly less effective) chorus of 'burn it down!'
Towards the end, you have your what-were-they-thinking-? moment in 'Pull the Trigger'. Yes, we loved Medicine for their languor - the unhurried confidence that assured us they were absolutely right in everything they said (they're convincing even when they demand we 'burn it down'), but the slo-mo pace here is nearly farcical. The closer that follows, 'Daylight', manages to somewhat salvage this mess. It's not a jaw-dropper, but it stays with you - or at least the parts that sound like they belong to the same song do.
It's unfair to be too harsh on Medicine. Eighteen years apart don't make it easy to reunite. Differences in paths and experience make it difficult to reconcile, resulting in the lack of intimacy on the record. To The Happy Few is precise and calculated. It lacks the irrationality and selfishness that gives a record its soul. Medicine have created an album for their listeners. They should have done it for themselves.
5Radhika Takru's Score