Plumbiferous Media

The Courage of Others - Midlake

Feb 7th 2010
One Comment
The Courage of Others
Score: 77

The Tex­an band Mid­lake released its third and newest album on the 1st. The Courage of Oth­ers is a heav­i­ly folk based album, with numer­ous rock and (old­er) prog ele­ments clear­ly dis­played, which is not ter­ri­bly out of line for Mid­lake. And while much of the album is quite enjoy­able, it has some seri­ous flaws that pre­vent it from being the amaz­ing album that Mid­lake clear­ly has the abil­i­ty to record.

At the best parts of The Courage of Oth­ers, Tim Smith’s plain­tive vocals evoke the pro­fun­di­ty for which Mid­lake search­es through­out the album, although it is occa­sion­al­ly pos­si­ble to for­get that Smith is actu­al­ly singing, rather than inton­ing. For the most part, this occurs near the begin­ning of the album - “Acts of Man” is excel­lent, but, while the album is cer­tain­ly good past that point, it nev­er quite reach­es that height again. How­ev­er, the man­ner in which Smith’s voice and Courage’s musi­cal back­ground com­bines is occa­sion­al­ly sub­lime and always inter­est­ing. After that point, Smith’s vocals are occa­sion­al­ly over­crowd­ed by the sound, and, while there’s cer­tain­ly still some mer­it (such as the uni­son near-duet of “Bring Down”) and some of what was great about the begin­ning of the album, it’s often hidden.

As a whole, Courage is lyri­cal­ly well-matched to both Smith’s vocals and Mid­lake’s sound. An equal sense of melan­choly and won­der fills Smith’s words as he weaves the descrip­tive tales fill­ing each track - often con­tem­plat­ing nature, as with “Win­ter Dies:” “as the spring is made alive the win­ter dies / And the final cries of crea­tures are long behind.” With the rest of the album fol­low­ing in this man­ner, the lyrics of Courage are eas­i­ly among the best parts of the album - always engag­ing and respon­si­ble for a great deal of the vision of the album.

The Courage of Oth­ers relies heav­i­ly on intri­cate gui­tar lines to accom­pa­ny the vocals, along with occa­sion­al embell­ish­ments such as a line qui­et­ly run­ning in uni­son with Smith. What makes Courage unique, then, is the extreme lev­el of intri­ca­cy in many gui­tar lines, and, among oth­er things, the per­fect abil­i­ty to seam­less­ly flow from, say, a gui­tar heavy to drum heavy sec­tion. In gen­er­al, the chord and dynam­ic pro­gres­sions are often writ­ten so as to emu­late a near-clas­si­cal sound, and the result is quite beau­ti­ful, paired with the pas­sion­ate, but melod­i­cal­ly serene vocals.

The largest prob­lem with The Courage of Oth­ers, then, is a com­plete lack of gen­er­al diver­si­ty. It would cer­tain­ly not be fair to say that the album is effec­tive­ly just one or two tracks repeat­ed 11 times, and the entire album is absolute­ly worth lis­ten­ing to, but Mid­lake stays very, very cen­tered with­in its care­ful­ly con­struct­ed sub­genre. Some attempts are made to break out - a num­ber of tracks start dif­fer­ent­ly and even­tu­al­ly work their way back to the norm, and “For­tune” actu­al­ly remains some­what unique in its entire­ty, but for the most part, there are not that many eas­i­ly dis­cernible dif­fer­ences between most of the tracks.

The Courage of Oth­ers is not a per­fect album, but it’s cer­tain­ly an inter­est­ing one. Mid­lake’s well-com­posed com­bi­na­tion of front­man Tim Smith’s vocals, excel­lent lyrics, and deep indie-folk instru­men­tals helps them to cre­ate sev­er­al riv­et­ing tracks to begin the album. It is, how­ev­er, unfor­tu­nate that Mid­lake could­n’t keep it up for the entire album. While the lyrics remain inter­est­ing through­out Courage, there’s a seri­ous lack of diver­si­ty in sound. As a whole, Courage is quite good, but it is cer­tain­ly not excellent.

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One Response

  1. Michael says:

    Cer­tain­ly not my ass. This is a masterpiece.

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