Never everyone’s cup of tea and no strangers to dividing opinion, the release of Kodaline’s second album will probably see most people becoming more resolute in their decisions; yet some may even change camp hearing the direction the Dubliners have taken. To guide them, the band have enlisted the help of producer Jacknife Lee (U2, Bloc Party, Snow Patrol). Pushing boundaries is expected from a second album, even welcomed, but Coming Up For Air shows a path few expected Kodaline to navigate.
December’s lead single ‘Honest’ is a definite progression and while the song sounds altogether more grandiose, it still holds the falsetto and trademarks of a classic Kodaline song. This is where things take a turn however as ‘The One’ opens more like ‘The Rose’ by Bette Midler. The depth is immediately evident, there’s more texture and although it’s not a typical Kodaline track there is something familiar about it, fitting into the anthem formula which will have fans screaming the chorus back under pouring rain and burning lights.
Tracks like ‘Human Again’ and ‘Ready’ produce a catchy rhythm but form the argument that they may have sat down with Brandon Flowers before writing the album. It’s infuriating at times; listening to ‘Unclear’, the depth of the lower end as bass and percussion rumble throughout and Garrigan wails is one of the first signature moments of the album. It transitions into a group ensemble but the lyrical vacancy between vocal acrobatics restrict it from ever rising above ordinary.
It’s difficult not to feel hard done by, especially with pragmatic efforts made towards the lyrics – ‘Coming Alive’ and ‘Unclear’ constantly repeating “it feels so good and it feels so right, it feels so good and it feels so right” etc. Nobody wants Kodaline to become a simple showcase for their lead singer to prove his vocal prowess but often their most bare songs are their best and, with the success of In A Perfect World as proof, older intentions re-emerge towards the latter half of the record.
‘Better’ and ‘Love Will Set You Free’ would easily have held their place on their first record and other highlights are soaked in the same saccharine love ballad ingredients. The pensive ‘Everything Works Out In The End’ and ‘War’ are both led by Garrigan and his piano but joined by some hauntingly beautiful harmonies. Reviewing their debut two years ago, we said that Kodaline had “an airy optimism that’s charming…even if you’re bitter about love [they] give you something to take home.” Now it seems that the sentiment is strained and, while there is something to cling to, the optimism noted in their first foray is completely devoid this time around. Coming Up For Air does little but reveal how long a breath they drew.