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October 09, 2007
Album number three was never going to be easy for the indie popsters from Deptford. Still living in the shadow of older siblings Coldplay, and after an absence of almost three years, expectations were high for both me and my mother. If 2003’s Vehicles And Animals provided the dream start, clumsy second album Tourist was more full of holes than Tottenham Hotspur’s defence has been of late. Opening instrumental, In Between 2 States, is, quite frankly, rubbish. Thankfully for Mr Joel Pott, the combination of Hurricane and Tokyo saves the first third of the album from obscurity.
Its Not Your Fault represents the record’s strongest song and sees Athlete at their jauntiest best. It’s the kind of sustained quality of tune that the band need to master to make the step up from festival opener, to festival closer. Echoes of “Oh my God, what the hell just happened?” have already become a live favourite feature of Athlete shows since their live return to London’s Koko back in July. The excellent up-tempo In The Library is set to be the song that sees me through the summer exam period. Who would have thought that Athlete would ever write songs about swimming around academic institutions in far off fairytale lands? Not me.
Of course, Beyond The Neighbourhood would not be an Athlete album if it wasn’t scattered with the odd mediocre song and there are plenty of them here.
Flying Over Bus Stops sees the bands infatuation with travelling and all things holiday continue in a rather poor fashion. Its also the hardest Athlete song to sit through since the wonderful Westside brought the band the attention they’d craved since their amalgamation back in 1999. We’re even subjected to listening to Pott lament about the sound of his own voice during the album’s closer This Is What I Sound Like.
Pott, Willets, Roberts and Wanstall have always been ones to end on a low and this latest moan joins Le Casio and I Love in the Athlete slow-album-ender hall of fame. Nevertheless, the wagonwheel of further success could be round the corner with everyone from MTV2 to Hello magazine rallying round this, Athlete’s second best, or second worst album to date.
Pott’s voice has always had an element of marmite to it. More charisma than Chris Martin yet lacking the originality of Alex Turner. Its also a sad fact widely known that Athlete will never enter the same musical bracket as Coldplay, nor Arctic Monkeys. And yet even some of the weakest songs on the album hold a certain element of charm to it. I was even convinced that Best Not To Think About It was written about me for the best part of a week over the summer.
If you’re yet to enter the world of Athlete then Beyond The Neighbourhood is not a bad place to start. The foursome have matured over the years and even acquired a love for the unspoilt British coastline along the way. The band has certainly put up a good challenge to capture the mainstream market. Memorable choruses and artwork strangely reminiscent of X&Y just might do it. Come the summer the big festival fields will be calling yet its unlikely that the sun will have gone down by the time countless numbers of middle-aged couples start singing along to Wires.
Athlete’s trademark sound of wholesome lyrics, complacent percussion, vaguely anthemic choruses and experimental keyboards look to have firmly established the group in the British indie-pop industry.
This review appeared in Issue 1 of the *Warwick Boar*