Like the best of today’s ‘prog’, Amplifier have never really been prog. Part dirty-ass Zeppelin stomp, part early-Verve sprawling dreamadelica, minus the latter band’s annoying tendency to implode acrimoniously between every other song. That said, a little ‘creative tension’ can serve to freshen the creative punch-bowl, as it were: four albums and a slew of EPs into their career, Ashcroft and crew were still sounding vital and full of ideas: Forth is as good as anything in their oeuvre. Zep. Four. Nuff. Alas, the same cannot be said for the Amp boys this time around.
Don’t get me wrong, Echo Street isn’t a terrible album by any means, it’s just that it has the unenviable task of succeeding an amazing one, and suffers for it. The Octopus is that rarest of beasts; a double-disc opus which, if not quite wall-to-wall brilliance, is worth hearing from start to finish. At a little over half the length, this album is at times an uphill slog, too rarely rising above the pedestrian. Whilst the addition of Steve Durose (ex-Oceansize) on second guitar and harmony vocals adds nuance and depth, particularly in quieter moments, the fundamental problem is that musical ideas are somewhat thin on the ground this time around. It’s a rather low-key affair, rarely approaching 11 in either pace or volume: the title track a case in point; harping on for six minutes without ever really getting going. Paris In the Spring is pleasingly infused with a Wilson-esque melancholy, though at nearly nine minutes could also benefit from tightening up. Album trailer, Matmos (see below) is perhaps the best thing on here – though the extra minute-long fade-in left off the ‘single’ edit adds nothing – along with Where The River Goes. Both follow a proven ballad—heavy bit—back to ballad arc. Between Today and Yesterday is a pleasant, wistful acoustic interlude and as such stands out from the rest of the album; as does The Wheel: with it’s bass and drum (as opposed to drum’n’bass) groove and spacey feel it’s perhaps the closest thing to The Octopus on here.
Despite some good songs, Echo Street feels somewhat too loose and directionless, perhaps because the songs were developed in a short time thru jams, and doesn’t really cohere as an album. Changing up the pace with something groovier and harder-rocking, along the lines of Interstellar or The Consultancy would have helped.
Listeners who pre-ordered the limited 60-page digi-book version are better served on two counts: firstly because the packaging – designed by frontman Sel Balamir – is handsome indeed, but mostly because the inclusion of the Sunriders EP raises the overall standard of songsmithery several notches. The relative brevity of the four songs work in their favour: where Extra Vehicular is flabby and meandering, the likes of Sunriders and Close manage to sound both epic and dynamically-satisfying. Equally, if not more important, the band sound like they’re enjoying themselves on this disc. I’d actually have been happy with just the EP, but since it doesn’t appear to be on sale separately I wholeheartedly recommend forking out the extra £6 for the digi-book from the new Amplifier site (assuming it hasn’t sold out already) and they’ll even sign it for you if you’re lucky. Upcoming tour dates can also be found on that page.
Sadly I’ve not managed to catch the band live this time around but there’s a review of what I missed to be found here.