Morning Parade – Morning Parade
Record Label: Parlophone Records
Release Date: June 19, 2012
Atmosphere is the first thing that should strike you about UK rock group Morning Parade. Just take a look at that album cover, what with that mystifyingly abstract (yet sleek) logo, the lighting suggesting a star yet to be born over just the right shade of indigo to get a series of shivers to run down your spine. The image is a good indicator of where most of their self-titled, their first full-length release, is headed sonically: if nothing else, it’s at least an immersive listen.
I mean, just listen to opener “Blue Winter”. Right out of the gate (okay, after a brief bit of static), the band launches into a perfectly amiable blend of hard-edged rock and relaxed electronic music. Vocalist Steve Sparrow blends right in, offering up lines like “I am a kingdom overthrown / I am my everything postponed,” with a balance between wistfulness and fragility that fits the abstruse but somehow relatable sentiments he delivers. The chorus soars somewhat studiously with his high notes and the gradually quickening pulse of the drums, and if it’s not exactly cathartic, it’ll at least thaw a few jaded hearts.
Unfortunately, whereas the band has no trouble managing an air of power throughout their debut, at times the songs lying underneath the atmosphere leave a bit to be desired. Follow-up “Headlights” has an appealing crunch to it, and as with much of Morning Parade’s catalogue, the vocals are utilized well, lending the music an ethereal aura that stands in counterpoint to the strongly defined guitars and drums. Unfortunately, by the time we get through the second chorus of the second song, it becomes evident that the melodies are almost weightless: nor does Sparrow inject the pathos or the vocal power necessary to elevate them beyond a vague air of beauty that dissipates as soon as the song abruptly putters to a stop after yet another go of the chorus. “Carousel” is stronger, with the harmonies in the verses bolstering the song’s sonic power a bit, but after three tracks, Morning Parade still hasn’t established a presence beyond a few brief rushes of intensity.
A trio of hits in the middle of the album puts them within striking distance, however. “Running Down The Aisle” is the first of several ballads to be found here, and it doesn’t disappoint, building from a stripped-back piano introduction into a surprisingly gloomy denouement that mirrors the distanced angst in the lyrics: “It’s a long way down from the mountain into the ground / And it’s a long way there / Going nowhere fast,” warns Sparrow. (Briefly digressing, Sparrow proves his worth on all three tracks, delivering a vulnerable, powerful performance on “Running”, injecting some much-needed electricity into the chorus of “Us And Ourselves”, and carrying the emotional narrative of “Under The Stars”.) It still sounds as if the band has their head in their clouds, but the insights within are painfully difficult—and intimate.
“Us And Ourselves” and “Under The Stars”, meanwhile, are two of the best anthems on offer here: the former shows the band at their most hopeful and rousing and features a glorious, driving refrain that wouldn’t sound out of place on the Billboard Top 40 tomorrow, while the latter basically Human Centipedes the two tracks preceding it to serve as a dynamic showcase for the band, letting them show both tentative vulnerability and commandeering force. All three tracks reassert the selling points of Morning Parade’s sound and songwriting while twisting them to see how they can adapt themselves to new moods, new ideas: they stand as proof that radio-ready doesn’t necessarily mean derivative and that Morning Parade has the potential to push rock music forward in interesting and creative ways.
After that extended run of greatness, the band can only dip a bit, but they certainly don’t phone it in for the remainder of their album. If anything, they only dial up the music, curbing their more flowery impulses to get to the essence of their sound. “Close To Your Heart” is a no-nonsense rocker whose strongest attribute is sincerity: the melodies and lyrics are direct and honest, and the band thankfully doesn’t shy from playing both without a hint of detachment or irony. “Half-Litre Bottle”, an acoustic ballad that sounds about as raw as I imagine Morning Parade will ever get, is twice as earnest, almost surprisingly earnest, in fact. The track is a far cry from the polished packaged-for-single-release tunes that load the album’s front half, and at first it’s more uncomfortable than anything—until the hushed piano that soothes the song to its end brings it back into familiar territory.
(Dropping all pretenses of objectivity, I was tempted at first to label the song a misstep, but now it seems to me more like an experiment: the lyrics and sound are far more barren than those of the songs surrounding it, but it’s undeniable that the band believes fully in it. Earlier in my review, I mentioned that the band still hasn’t established a clear presence: it’s perfectly understandable, though, considering that bands rarely debut out of the gate fully formed, and that this song at least reflects an attempt to incorporate more personal elements into what’s on the whole an album directed at the mainstream is admirable. That the song isn’t fully convincing is less important. In conclusion, I feel like a conceited douchenozzle now.)
“Monday Morning” is a subdued but gorgeous gem, the guitars here used as detailwork rather than the meat of the track while the string section gets a chance to make some teens swoon—and rarely on this album are the words as direct and as piercing as Sparrow’s repeated pleas to “stop running so fast”. Nearing the end, “Speechless” picks up the pace apropos of a haunting piano line and a crafty little rhythm that sends the song hurtling straight into a black star.
Closer “Born Alone”, the longest cut on Morning Parade, is an empowering climb from beginning to end, cycling through all of our lives and dipping into the pathos and joy: “I was born alone,” Sparrow concludes at the end of the chorus, “but I will not die alone.” Fitting closing remarks for an album that seems almost impenetrable on first glance before blooming open as it progresses, showcasing a band that will no doubt be around for a while with a lot of things to say (just so long as they figure out how they want to say them and how they’ll get people to listen).
And at the very least, that atmosphere is just intoxicating...