Utah Saints? You may have heard of them. Big in the early 90s’, along with Jesus Jones. They haven’t put an album out since before Oasis put out their debut single. Not for want of not trying – their record company thought they’d signed a pop band, like East 17, and their 1996 album “wired world” got shelved unceremoniously when the records company demanded more hit singles. Its “One Dove” syndrome again, who got signed to JBO along with underworld, only for JBO to drop Underworld, who then went global. Tough, because “two” shows London/FFRR records exactly what they’ve lost – a damn fine example of electronica – and what Echo have gained. You never know, the same might happen here.
The Utah Saints haven’t stood still in last 8 years. What the Utah Saints have produced instead is an album that is far from a carbon copy of their debut, but drawing references from those intervening years. The main reference points here seem to be Underworld, Chemical brothers, New Order, and Simon berry (aka Union jack, Art of trance, Platipus records) .In doing so, “Two” is light years ahead of the debut CD, and most closely resembles Underworld’s in terms of streams of conciousness cut-up lyrics and sonic production. Swirling bass lines and arpeggios mix together with twinkling piano and gorgeous epic sweeping synth sounds, sampled guitars and collaborators abound. However, sampling Metallica, and having vocals by Edwin Starr, Chuck D, and Michael Stipe often - in the eyes of the press - merely seem to provide a selling point. However, they merge in perfectly with the sound of the band. “Power to the Beats” is a sonic behemoth, coming on like the Prodigys’ “Smack my bitch up” mixed with Pitchshifter and the Jungle Brothers, sampling Metallica “Enter Sandman” into something else completely yet distinctively still the same with fine, incisive vocals by Chuck D. This comes after the opening “sun” , a travelogue by Michael Stipe reminiscent of the Orbs “Little fluffy clouds”. The main concern with the four tracks with Michael Stipe is that none of them exceeds 2 minutes, and all seem to be underdeveloped ideas with tremendous – but ultimately unfulfilled potential. The closing track “Wiggedy Wack” – featuring Michael Stipe again – feels like its going to build into an epic masterpiece, much in the vein of the debut albums closer “My Mind must be free” but just seems to fizzle out and give up the ghost. At no point, however, do the guests ever threaten to overshadows the Utahs themselves, though the Michael Stipe tracks – amorphous, shapeless, formless, seems more like an ill thought addition to the album rather than the fullblown tracks that they easily deserve to be.
Next up, “Love Song” comeback single, familiar to some of you, coming on like “Pearls Girl” by Underworld with a twist. Once again, the shadow of Underworld looms large – and in the use of sampled vocals and pianos and epic synths – Mobys breakthrough album “Play” too. The penultimate “Three Simple Words” gives the impression its gonna break out into being “Why does my heart feel so bad?” at almost any moment, yet somehow has more in common with earlier Utah tracks like “States of Mind” than any other track on the album.
“Funky Music” , featuring Edwin Starr, is highly impressive, sounding totally unlike the Utahs of before, and more like a cross between Death in vegas’ “Dirt” and the Chemical Brothers “Leave Home” with soulful funky vocals. Highly interesting, sonically, it just shows how far the Utahs have progressed.
Overall, this album with grandoise synths, beautiful twinkling melodies most resembles Mobys breakthrough album “Play” than anything else. However, it is overall, missing something, soemthing cohesive. The 4 tracks with Michael Stipe are short – only one of the 4 exceeds 2 minutes in length, yet all show so much potential, unfulfilled to be absolutely stonking tracks. “Massive” is just that, and yet somehow hauntingly, naggingly familiar, like somehow I’ve heard it before…epic synths, pianos…the same template as Moby used on “Play”, which I fear for most people will be the key reference point when listening to this album, shortly before filing it away. While tracks like “Massive” and “Three Simple Words” date back over 4 years now, they still seem relevant, yet somehow, yesterdays news. “B777” for example, starts like a carbon copy of New Orders “Every Little Counts”, dating from 1983.
Ultimately expectations for this album are very high from the Utahs fans. This album sells itself short and will disappoint a lot of people, and it seems like a case of too many cooks, not enough broth. Each track individually stand up fine, but when pulled together it seems disparate and incohesive. Some tracks like “Lost vagueness” with its outdated vocodered vocals) seems to have been warped in from a different time zone in places.. “Techknowledgy” is a fine example of this: this heavy guitar driven song originally appeared in a far superior version on the Avengers soundtrack, yet here seems to be have been tampered to the point of anaemia, bloodless, over worked…over remixed….and overdone, the freshness squeezed out of it, especially when compared to its earlier version. Its impossible to tell if this is the case over the whole album, but sometimes it seems that way.
So where does this leave the Utah Saints in the year 2000? Well, this album is easily the equal of the debut album in 1992, if judged by the same standards. However, times have changed since then, and it no longer seems as fresh and vital as the original album does still, despite the Utah Saints keeping up with the times, bringing in new influences and sounds. Sonically, this doesn’t sound like a band who’ve been away for 7 years, but like a bunch of new eager whippersnappers. Its just that listening to it overall, gives the feeling “Is that it?” a feeling of instant gratification followed by emptiness. A little resequencing and a little more work (especially on the Michael Stipe tracks) could have made all the difference, but ultimately, it’s a case of too much cooking, too late.
6Graham Reed's Score