Thanks for That

For reasons utterly selfish, I've come to rue the day when Coldplay made it lucrative to employ string arrangements as a means for creating the aural equivalent of a Costco-sized jar of extra-strength Rolaids. Now, after years of tearing up at even the faintest hint of viola among rock guitars, I've begun to cringe--shudder, even--in bleak anticipation of the embarrassing amount of indulgent tenderhearted bullshit such swoon-worthy strains lately serve to cushion.

British northerners Starsailor cast anchor just this side of Too Much--an astonishing feat considering that the coconut who made a career out of Too Much, Phil Spector, served as producer for the band's second album, Silence Is Easy. Until they fired him, that is. While flattered by his interest in their band (he sought them out, actually), the members of Starsailor feared Spector's renowned touch would result in a heavy-handed record with a sound more recognizable as the producer's than that of the band. Said the band's flu-addled bassist, James Stelfox, last week from his hotel sick bed: "We all knew deep down that we needed to go somewhere else with it." In the end, only two songs on Silence Is Easy--the title track and "White Dove"--were Spector collaborations, while the rest of the tracks were produced by Starsailor and longtime engineer Danton Supple (ABC, Morrissey, Feeder, Elbow).

While Silence Is Easy is an inarguably beautiful-sounding album, it does possess the unintentional ability to tighten the butt muscles of listeners who tend to balk when the lyrics of a song are every bit as rapturous as the music. (Sigur Rós gets on my nerves, too.) Singer James Walsh isn't quite treading upon the florid territory tended by the Verve's former frontman Richard Ashcroft on his post-marriage, post-child, post- "this-time-we-mean-it" band solo album Alone with Everybody (that in 2000 gave me an ass you could set a drink on, if you get what I'm saying), but songs like "Fidelity" and "Four to the Floor" edge toward the cringe-worthy side, both concerning themselves with breast-beating declarations of love. "Some of Us," with its rolling piano and acoustic guitar, is just a big old Tums that should have "Coldplay" stamped on the tablet. The most shameless track, "Telling Them," however, is nothing if not outright gorgeous--no matter how embarrassing its sentiment would be to sing out loud. There was also a lot of crying and falling going on inside the songs on Starsailor's platinum-selling 2001 debut, Love Is Here, but Silence Is Easy goes down with much less effort thanks to the added padding. But once a band has found its, um, voice, has it lost the ability to go forward without greatly embroidered curtains with which to bawl behind? "We'll have to see," said Stelfox with a chuckle that turned into a cough. "We certainly hope so." Me, too.

Starsailor plays Wed Feb 4 at the Crocodile.

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