Where to start? Anticipation is a strange sensation. I’d heard lots of good things about the latest album from American rock gems, Fair to Midland. Their fourth album, I’d been promised, would be the moment that they would bring their smorgasbord of ideas and styles and deliver a record of no little style and panache. So, I hear you ask, have they?
Oh yes. Oh yes, indeed. “Arrows and Anchors” is a stunning record. Fair to Midland have produced an album that is heavier, poppier, smarter and just better than anything that this band have done before. More, it’s a record that is a damn sight better than many bands have or, indeed, will produce this year. It’s a juggernaut of a record with monster tune after monster tune. This is one of those records that just as you’ve decided that one track is the best one you’ve heard so far, along comes another, knocks you for six and picks up up with a massive grin across your face.
From the pounding rock of ‘Whiskey and Ritalin’ to the sublime pop of ‘Musical Chairs’, through the introspective, contemplative ‘Amarillo Sleeps on My Pillow’, the playful honest to goodness barking madness of ‘Rikki Tikki Tavi‘, to the exceptional ‘Golden Parachutes‘ with its chorus bigger than a mountain range, this is, to steal the cliché, the gift that keeps on giving.
There’s so many styles and ideas being thrown around here- prog, banjo led introspection, metal, no frills alternative rock, pure pop- that at times you worry that the band are going to collapse under the weight of their own musical invention. But not only do they survive their delicious mash ups- they thrive on them. Fair to Midland have taken everything that they know and more ; there’s still plenty of experimentation but its now underpinned by a collective intelligence about what makes a song work and, crucially, what keeps the listener listening. With “Arrows and Anchors”, they’ve cracked it.
The band have not just progressed from the delights of “Fables from a Mayfly”, this album’s predecessor- they’ve leapt forward. Tracks like ‘The Greener Grass’ or ‘The Upset at Bailey Bridge’– appear somewhat unassuming on first listen but then, wonderfully, reveal their beauty on repeated listens. “Arrows and Anchors” is overflowing with ideas, packed to the rafters with tunes and destined to be in your top 10 albums of the year. This is a record of such extraordinary quality, of guile and cunning, of magic and invention: it’s a record that should, if there’s any kind of justice, have Fair to Midland breaking free of their cultish status and delivering their wonderful sound into thousands more homes during 2011. Absolutely, unequivocally, brilliant.