Nothing more than an empty-headed, musically overblown, pointless return.
Having come of age right alongside fellow UK acts Coldplay, Travis, Keane, et al. at the beginning of the 21st century, Starsailor wore their anthemic aspirations on their collective sleeves. Their churning, head-nod-inducing breakthrough single “Good Souls” put them firmly in the good graces of the strangely finicky British music press, especially strange given that this was the same time they were lauding anything and everything coming out of Detroit or New York as “THE NEXT BIG THING.” Listening back to it now, it sounds as hollow and inconsequential as anything Coldplay has gone on to release in the years since their debut, it’s cloying chorus of “If it wasn’t for the good souls/ Life would not matter” just this side of “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall.”
They would, like Travis before them, somehow manage to amass enough material for their label – Parlophone, at the time – to feel it necessary to release a greatest hits package titled, what else, Good Souls: The Greatest Hits. In other words, they’ve long been a second, third or even fourth-tier act, a poor man’s version of whomever was breaking biggest at the time. Here on All This Life – their first release in eight years – they somewhat incongruously have U2-esque aims, lead singer James Walsh adopting an introspective Bono posture on the opening “Listen to Your Heart” and elsewhere. By album’s end it will have become very nearly insufferable.
Full of empty lyrical platitudes for the hopeless romantic fighting in the face of perceived odds, “Listen to Your Heart” tries to be more than the sum of its collective parts, all surging instrumentation and soaring falsetto vocals from Walsh. “We’re as different as can be/ But we still connect perfectly/ A certain kind of chemistry/ That they can’t define easily,” Walsh advises. If the remedial rhyme scheme from just this first line of the song turns you off, there’s no sense going any further. “No solution’s guaranteed/if you live your life down upon your knees,” “We’re not at the end yet/ Even if the sun’s set,” “Listen to your heart/ It will speak to you if you let it” and “When all the fires start to fall/ You feel you’re up against it all/ Don’t think the writing’s on the wall/ Listen to your heart” are but a few of the choicer lyrical profundities overly-emoted with complete and total sincerity.
From here, there’s little worth remarking upon. The music is proficiently performed, but remains as empty and irrelevant as fellow early 21st century “hit-makers” Creed or Nickelback, the only difference being the accent. They’d be better served taking heed their own advice on “Take a Little Time,” “Take a little time/time to yourself/ Don’t get caught up being someone else.” Of course there are people out there who need these types of empty anthems of thick-headed sloganeering, so Starsailor can at least be commended for their valiant effort to truly top any and all of their peers. And look, lyrical abstraction and poetic imagery is all fine and good – when used correctly and, most crucially, sparingly.
Opening a song with a line like, say, “I couldn’t see in front of my own face/like a butterfly upon a wheel” from the title track does nobody any favors. “Sunday Best” is perhaps the most egregious offender, using faux-emotional sincerity and “serious music” to underscore the following:
“You’d always dress in your Sunday best/ Whatever mood you’re in/ Always waiting to be blessed/ Whether we sink or swim/ You’d always dress in your Sunday best/in spite of everything/ Say that sex is meaningless/ There’s more important things/ Well, how would you feel if I were somewhere else?/ And how would you feel if it were someone else?/ You’d always dress in your Sunday best/ Whatever plane you’re on/say that life is but a test/ It goes on and on.”
It’s worth breaking out like this so that the complete and total inanity of the words coming out of Walsh’s mouth can be properly digested, separated from the magisterial instrumental backing and the song’s “triumphant” outro.
Not only is it about as nonsensical as you can get, the attempt at making it sound like something profound through sensitive emoting is not just laughable, it’s more than a little sad. There is nothing here to recommend to anyone whatsoever. Though if you were fooled (as, admittedly, I was) by “Good Souls” when it first came on your radar in 2001, you’ll no doubt find yourself wondering what the band you’d completely forgotten existed in the first place was up to nearly 20 years later. Turns out, All This Life is nothing more than an empty-headed, musically overblown, pointless return – their last release was 2009’s equally inanely-titled All the Plans – from a band no one really missed in the first place.