Howling Bells – Radio Wars

Do not listen to the hype around this release touting Howling Bells’ second offering as the vehicle to “cement their place in rock’s melancholia tradition” (Kimpton, The Observer, Feb 19). This is bollocks. If you’re seeking another album imbued with the gothic splendour and alt-country balladeering of their stellar post-Waikiki debut, Radio Wars is not it. However, if you’re after a piece of brash, loud, synthetic pop – akin to that offered by recent touring partners The Killers – this may just be your bag.

Whilst Howling Bells’ first self-titled album was largely attributed to the lovely Juanita Stein, this little yellow disc is the product of full band collaboration. Unfortunately, this does not equate to a diverse and interesting third, err, second coming. From the outset the album accosts with grandiose backing vocals and pervasive keys that go on to fill almost every track, drowning what little light and shade, or purported strings and brass, there may have been.

A sense of hope is offered with pared-back, stomping single Cities Burning Down but isn’t delivered upon until last track How Long where Glenn Mule’s infinitely expressive and impressive drum work (his live performances always a sight and sound to behold) comes to the fore. It’s followed by a nameless secret song which focuses on Juanita’s entrancing vocals. In between, the tracks are thick with repetitive, simplistic (some would say lazy) lyricism and songwriting that relies on walls of guitar sound, and those aforementioned synth keys, to fill the spaces in otherwise bland tunes.

Overall, the flat, clinical feel of the album alienates. It raises one question: why they would choose to digitise and over-produce this band’s natural beauty? It only serves to remove the charm that initially brought us under their spell.

Radio Wars is out 6 March through Liberation Music.