Round Table Review
Tracklist: Nothing At Beat (4:06), Wake Up The Dead (4:18), The State We’re In (3:12), Preparation For Meltdown (7:19), Barely Breathing (3:39), Show A Little Love (3:51), Someone Here Is Missing (3:45), 3000 Days (6:08), So We Row (8:13)
Ed Sander's Review
The Pineapple Thief is a band that's been around for some 8 years (3000 Days) but I only discovered them after they released Tightly Unwound in 2008. I was so impressed that I quickly gathered the band's back catalogue, just in time before they started to sell on eBay at prices fit for dinosaur fossils. The majority of their back catalogue is of outstanding quality, as shown on the band's recent compilation album 3000 Days. Their new Kscope album, Someone Here is Missing, was therefore one of the most anticipated releases of this year for me and many others.
Well, let's get one thing straight from the start. I certainly wasn't disappointed, Someone Here Is Missing is an excellent album, from the compositions and amazing production and mixing down to the wonderful packaging design by Storm Thorgeson (of Pink Floyd fame). Many people will tell you that the band found a whole new direction on this new album, but I would argue that this is only true to a certain extend. True, this album is a lot more punchy and in your face. Then again, the band has always had their harder side, just think about tunes like Run A Mile, Prey For Me, Wretched Soul, the opening section of What Have We Sown?, Shoot First and Tightly Wound. So, showing their rocking nature is no new thing for the Thiefs. What's more, songs like The State We're In and Barely Breathing are more typical Pineapple Thief and would not have been out of place on any other Pineapple Thief recording.
I'd quickly add that I do agree that the band have developed a certain 'punchiness'. This was already clearly present in the songs 3000 Days and Preparation For Meltdown, which have been played live frequently in the past years. Is this a good thing? Besides the fact that it's really a matter of taste (and I like this 'punchiness') I consider bands that try something else - while staying true to their roots - a very good thing. While sometimes this can result in disappointments (Marillion's Radiation, Alan Parsons A Valid Path, etc) it can also result in masterpieces (Queensrÿche's Promised Land, Plague Of Ghost by Fish, 90125 by Yes, etc). For The Pineapple Thief I also consider the evolution a successful one.
Whereas the previous work of the band is often described as 'bittersweet melancholy' this new record has a whole different mood written over it. It's a tad more aggressive, cynical and at times menacing. Band leader Bruce Soord writes songs and lyrics based on the experiences in his life. Well, it sounds like he hasn't had the easiest of times in the past years. Then again, The Pineapple Thief has never been known for their extremely uplifting lyrical content. Another obvious change in approach is the heavier use of electronics in some of the songs. Whether it's the pulsing opening Nothing At Best or the weird noises that lay down the opening rhythm of Preparation For Meltdown, there's a whole lot of digital trickery entwined in the music. And I don't mean the regular synths that we've come to know from the band. No, really weird samples, sequencers and such.
Don't be fooled by the relatively short track timings of the songs. Sure, there's no 15+ minute epics on the album. The longest track is slightly more than 8 minutes long and most songs clock in around 4 minutes. 'Prog blasphemy!' I hear you think. Most certainly not. As a matter of fact it's amazing how much unconventionality and changes the band have managed to squeeze into these tracks. One time you have an incredibly heavy section, and a moment later all instruments fall away and you're in minimalist ambient bliss. There's more changes of style, atmosphere and tempo than most bands manage to get into one 15 minute epic. Take for instance the title track, which opens and starts as a sad ballad but develops into another rocker, or 3000 Days which redefines song structure by starting with a long instrumental section before the vocals eventually come in (think Part Zero). This is probably the explanation why, regardless of the repetitiveness (more on that later), the album never gets boring. It's one big roller coaster. As a matter of fact, the songs I find myself skipping most often are the more 'stereotype' Pineapple Thief tracks like The State We're In and Barely Breathing. Not because they're bad, on the contrary, but they pull me from the energetic mood that the rest of the album puts me into.
So it's all good stuff and no complaints, is it? No, not quite. I do have a thing or two to add. First of all the core album is just 45 minutes long. You've probably seen me complain about the lack of consistency in overlong CDs and albums of 80 minutes failing to hold my attention. This however is pushing the boundaries as well. The 'limited edition' comes with two extra songs adding another nine minutes, but one is an acoustic rendition of the album opener (although a lovely one at that, with excellent string sections) and the other one (Long Time Walking) is just more of the same and sounds a lot like the songs we've heard prior to that. What's more, what really annoys me is that a digital download single has been released for Nothing At Best, which comes with another song (Open Waters). I fiercely dislike these tricks that make you buy music you already have, especially since there was more than enough space to fit it on the album. Having said that, excellent stuff like Show a Little Love (which might well be my favourite) are worth the price of the CD alone and the 45 minutes of the 'core album' is top-notch quality all the way.
My second complaint is that although the tracks are all good compositions, this record does have a certain simplicity and repetitiveness. Many of the songs are structured around endlessly repeated single rhythm guitar chords. Just listen to So We Row for an example. At this time I can still enjoy it, but by the time bonus track Long Time Walking starts with the same chord repetition it starts to get annoying. Fortunately the diverse arrangements and variety within the songs make up for this. If not, the album would have sounded very 'samey' when listening from start to end. I do however hope that Bruce keeps innovating the sound of the band and there's a few more chords in the next album.
All in all another fine Pineapple Thief album with half a point deduction in my rating for the mentioned flaws. What remains is still one of their best outings to date and a CD that has a more consistent and coherent feel than e.g. Tightly Unwound, which had its ups and downs. Can't wait to see how the band performs this challenging stuff live !
John O'Boyle's Review
Someone Here Is Missing is The Pineapple Thiefs’ tenth album if you include the double best of called 3000 Days, (which is interestingly the title of track 8), and the several reissues. This is hands up time for me as I am a TPT virgin, so I feel that I have kind of got my work cut out here, as I haven’t heard any of their back catalogue, which after so many albums and having seen so many bands live, I just can’t believe that our paths have never crossed either album wise or in the live arena. As they say, I know of them, but I don’t know them?
The Pineapple Thief recording career has seen Abducting The Unicorn, 137, Variations On A Dream, Live In 2003, 12 Stories Down, 10 Stories Down, What We Have Sown, Tightly Unwound and 3000 Days being DPRP recommended. Little Man receiving 7 out of 10 and The Dawn Raids Part 1 EP and The Dawn Raids Part 2 EP receiving 6.5 out 10 respectively, which is very impressive indeed.
The band are comprised of Bruce Soord (guitars, lead vocals), Jon Sykes (bass, backing vocals), Keith Harrison (drums), and Steve Kitch (keyboards), who take a no nonsense approach to their music on this album, but I found a few things that kind of got me thinking, a) how they REALLY reminded me of Radiohead, NIN and Porcupine Tree, (the latter two in approach), which aren’t bad reference points and b) how the vocals are very samey throughout the whole of the album as are some of the songs on the album, which I feel lets the side down. I got the feeling that the band started out with some good ideas, but just didn’t know where to take or what to do with them, at times.
Nothing At Beat has an industrial feel which is themed throughout the whole track not sounding to dissimilar to NIN, with its pounding musical runs coming across as a song with attitude.
Wake Up The Dead opens with its drum and bass runs. Soord’s vocals presentation here is very good coming across as a slightly heavier Radiohead in places, but really having that Thom Yorke vocal thing going on.
The State We’re In is where the band really comes into being, but still sounding very Radiohead-ish, with its really nice layered vocals. As the song progress and opens up it becomes a very well structure and melodic affair having a very commercial edge to it.
Preparation For Meltdown has a real experimental / industrial feel to it with its no nonsense approach guitar work. The track gives you a false impression of where it is going at first with its spacey, floating soundscapes. Messer’s Sykes, Harrison and Kitch put paid to this, fully supported by Soord. I really love the instrumental approach, especially in the latter half of the track with its building crescendo’s, which all in all leads to a very driving and passionate track, probably being my favourite track on the album along with 3000 Days and So We Row. I would have loved the band to have explored this avenue a bit more on the album.
Barely Breathing offers a respite after the heady heights of Preparation For Meltdown, with its acoustic interludes and Thom Yorke flavoured vocal presentation. Kitch’ keyboard work and style really come into its own here, the way he has very cleverly layered his chosen tools, being complemented by Soords acoustic work.
Show A Little Love starts off nice enough with its basic structure, before the band drop into electro / industrial land offering a somewhat unique feel, but staying within the boundaries of NIN and Radiohead. The music is very sinusoidal in approach having some rather excellent bass work by Sykes reinforcing the intensity of the piece.
Someone Here Is Missing sounds like it should have been the closing minutes of Show A Little Love having an acoustic, electric and acoustic designed structure. The band does have a more comfortable feel when they are working with their driving guitar passages that are melodic having character and substance.
3000 Days takes the impetuous, challenging the spoken about guitar passages, utilising them to good effect, this is what The Pineapple Thief should be all about, great vocal refrain, bouncing bass lines, strong drum runs, great peddle effects and fantastic keyboard work, all contributing to a real powerhouse of a track.
So We Row the longest and closing track starts with a repetitive rhythm that builds as it progresses all the way through the song. Soord's vocals offer emotion and character, making it a very clever and challenging track. It definitely grabbed my attention and held it through out, making me listen intently.
This has been a bit of a difficult review for me personally as I have struggled to get past the Radiohead similarities. Soord's vocal presentation is good, but as soon as he starts you can’t help but think Radiohead. This apart, on the whole this is not a bad album which has its moments, the three outstanding tracks for me being Preparation For Meltdown, 3000 Days and So We Row, which offer a much better insight into what the band can achieve. The only other let down being that some of the tracks do sound a bit samey, which is why I feel I can only give it the marks out of ten that I have. Their past catalogue comes recommended by DPRP so I think it is time to go and purchase me some of their wares and see where it goes from there.
Jon Bradshaw's Review
In composing my thoughts for this review, I’ve spent a good deal of time reflecting upon whether or not The Pineapple Thief are derivative. Let me be clear, I’m not a fan, and I asked to be included in this RTR to provide some balance, a counterweight to any confirmed and resolute TPT aficionados who may be contributing their musings here. So what is it, to be derivative and is it, by implication, wrong to take a musical formula and re-engineer it through another musician’s individual aesthetic? Was this not the way of popular music for centuries, and is not equally the case today? Did not the courts of 18th and 19th Century Europe patronise musical styles according to their taste, and champion the leading lights of their preferred palate to heights of fame and infamy that prevail to this day? Great musical movements from Baroque to Romanticism are characterised by a familiarity and similarity of style without which they could not be said to have belonged to the movement at all. From Bach to Mozart, From Chopin to Beethoven, From Strauss to Tchaikovsky, whatever their individual innovations, is it not the case that these men were all subject in some sense, and to a greater or lesser degree, to the fickle finger of fashion? Moreover, is it not also the case that there is a clannish, almost tribal sense of shared values to which the members of an aesthetic movement must subscribe in order to be acceptable, not only to their audience, but also to their peers?
Excusing, if you will, my lack of rigor and the general crookedness of my exposition, if the answer to all of these questions is yes, then am I misguided in my disregard of TFT for borrowing their aesthetic, as I see it, from Radiohead and Porcupine Tree? If I were to be harsh, I would ask where the line between influence and slavish imitation blurs. If I were to be cruel, I can imagine Bruce Soord hanging dotishly on Steve Wilson’s next move. Indeed, in my mind, I genuinely misname them The Porcupine Thief. So it is that I approach Someone Here Is Missing from an unsympathetic position. However, and this is quite a big admission, I have to say I’ve largely enjoyed reviewing this offering from the TFT stable.
Essentially, what we have here is 11 punchy tracks of unpretentious pop-rock with moods that vary from dark and bruised to energetic, pulsating and vigorous. The album opens in great style with Nothing At Best which features a range of pulsing bass synths, a definite cornerstone of the album’s overall sound, to great effect as they crescendo in and out of the mix like ‘90s acid house with a crack den attitude. A simple but effective beat is thumped out on the drums, especially in the closing measures while dark and edgy guitars provide a rockier backdrop to the choruses. Waking Up the Dead features the fat bass synth again with melancholy melodies and driving, infectious alt-rock choruses not a million miles away from the sort of thing Muse might toy with while The State We’re In drifts sadly along like The Manic Street Preachers, complete with a tastefully arranged string section. As gorgeous as it is, Preparation For Meltdown could be an outtake from Fear Of A Blank Planet such is its genetic fingerprint. Back in the mid - ‘90s, Norman Cook did a funky little number called Everybody Loves A 303 (as Fatboy Slim) which refers to the Roland TB-303, a bass synth that was very prevalent amongst dance artists at the time, and there’s lovely middle section in this track that shows off the 303 at its urgent, surging best before a manic and chaotic breakdown in direct mimesis of No Way Out. Just as you think the song is about to end, they wring every last drop of life out of a fairly worn idea with this one and it goes on and on and on in it’s maudlin, shoe-gazing angst.
Unfortunately, after this fairly interesting and at times exciting, pulse-raising opening quartet the album takes a bit of a nose-dive for me as the next 3 tracks merely seem to tread water by rehashing the same ideas in one way or another. It’s not that they’re bad tracks, they are all tightly structured, coherent and well executed pieces, I’m just bored with the simplicity and yearning for something more muscular. 3000 Days doesn’t exactly deliver this but, lyrically and harmonically, this track turns over some new ground and it does exhibit a bit more bite and a bit more complexity with a greater use of light and shade, again though it overextends its reach by a minute or two. So We Row is the highlight of the album with its pounding but understated and contained energy underscoring a lilting melody that develops into a tense, rising chorus. The lovely centerpiece of the song is an extended atmospheric space-jam as the arrangement gradually strips itself down its bare bones before reasserting the theme dramatically and hypnotically into its closing measures.
When all’s said and done, what can I conclude about Someone Here Is Missing? Yes, the influence bordering on imitation is still there but this is an infectious and quite addictive album. It’s a shower, not a grower and, because it’s so accessible, I suspect that a few weeks after submitting this review I’ll have squeezed every millilitre of juice from its ripe flesh and will become quickly disinterested in the withering husk of its mediocrity, as I will no doubt then judge it. I will definitely remember one or two tracks with fondness but probably never play them again. I’ll also reflect on how stunningly well produced the album is and wish that, if only the songwriting could have been more exploratory, then... This is highly commercial stuff. Undoubtedly it is aimed at the Muse, PT and Radiohead audience and hopes to garner a following from amongst that burgeoning club. Certainly I think TPT fulfill the criteria to be considered junior members, not least in their technical studio artistry and, whilst there is plenty to enjoy for fans of the above bands, I have to say that my relationship with them will be short and meaningless. I remain unconvinced.