March Album Of The Month
For lovers of the classic rock revival, At The Sun’s debut album is powerful, concentrated and exciting. It is essential listening for 2019.
I’m refraining from a track-by-track review this month because the album’s strength is in the collection of songs. There are those albums where the songs are varied an eclectic, where the album is a creative journey with a start middle and end. This album is more a concentrated case of ‘variations on a theme’ – it feels more like a Greatest Hits of At The Sun’s first chapter as a band. Whilst the band hasn’t quite pipped Ed Sheeran or Drake to the top of the singles chart yet, this album feels like a collection of self-standing ‘singles,’ well-crafted in their creation and polished in their execution. There aren’t any weak links, any clever conceptual themes or bizarre musical eccentricities. What the band serves up is a relentless quick-fire of four-minute songs – any number of which could be radio singles. Pretty much any three or four songs from this album would be a match for the best 3-4 album tracks from bands in At The Sun’s peer group. And pretty much any of these songs would stand on their own two feet on a rock radio playlist alongside the likes of Stone Broken, Inglorious, Bad Touch or the Crows. The consistency of quality is the strength of this album, separating it from many new release albums that rely on having just three or four stand out tunes.
I’ve been fortunate to have played half a dozen of the songs from this album on my Friday show over the last two years. ‘Breathe’, ‘Walk On Over,’ ‘Lay It On Me’ and ‘Devil In Your Eyes’ have all had playlist runs and our recent premiere of ‘Preacher’ has been kept on the playlist for 6-weeks by listener requests. It’s not national radio but it is, nonetheless, proof of concept that so many songs on this album stand as singles and have that vital ingredient: When people hear a song once, they react – they email, tweet or call in and ask for it again.
The songs are tight and convincingly executed. The opener ‘Only A Fool’ kicks off the album with confident gusto and very much presents a scene-setter for the pace, tone and mood that will be sustained over the album’s 12 tracks. Throughout, it is the consistent quality of the vocal and guitar performances that elevate this collection of songs above the volume of releases that landed on my desk in the last month. With Harry Dale there is more than an occasional flashback to the purity, expression and control of classic Paul Rodgers, whilst Chet and Kieron’s guitar work is consistently exciting and arresting – both in the scorching guitar solos and the riffs and grooves served up in the background. The guitars growl in places, they sing and enliven in others – but they frame the entire character of the album.
At 12 songs, is the album too long though? I wondered this after my first two listens. In truth, I think the album’s strength is also its only minor weakness. Its artillery barrage at the mainstream classic rock space means, to me, there isn’t quite enough light and shade on the album. The band’s acoustic work is impressive and casts a different lens on their character and abilities. Something lighter mid-way through the album would have changed the mood and pace – and may have added an extra dimension to the feel of the album as a whole. Also, their masterful cover of ‘Human’ emphatically presents yet another contemporary dimension to the band’s talent and its absence is, I think, missed a little on this album. Like a stage set, an album sometimes benefits from breathers and changes of pace. My impression here is had the band veered a little more off centre – to the left and the right – the album would perhaps have had even greater power and adventure.
That said, I am perhaps a little snow-blind here, having played so many of the songs previously as radio singles.
Absolute stand out songs for me are hard to pick with this album, as the relentless quality of individual songs – working as variations on a theme – is uniformly high. ‘Bite Your Tongue’ I particularly enjoyed because it presented a slightly darker, more intense song that builds into a wild crescendo at the end. ‘Indestructible’ perhaps comes closest to a slightly more soulful, pop sensibility that underlines the band’s latent ability to set their sights on the contemporary music mainstream.
The album closer ‘Raise Your Glass’ is great fun, an ideal concert closer and rally cry that showcases At The Sun’s talent for crafting great anthems in the classic rock tradition.
The last five years of interviewing new, grassroots and rising bands have taken me to Scotland, Ireland, the North and the Midlands. At The Sun remind us that there is also a significant rock scene rising in the South East. Alongside the likes of Tarot Rats, StoneWire, The Rocket Dolls, Saint Apache, Gallows Circus and Matt Mitchell & The Coldhearts (to name just a few), At The Sun are part of a new regional scene – a band whose bold album debut is the result of endless months writing songs, evolving a fan base and crafting songs through gigging. The songs on this album feel like studio recordings of live songs – they are tunes framed from performance and their ultimate expression no doubt comes on stage. At The Sun is a band to get excited about, a band to back and their debut affirms their ability for quality and craft in writing their own material.
I mentioned at the start that, to me anyway, this album felt like a Greatest Hits and that drew my mind to Queen who produced the definitive Greatest Hits album – the vinyl of which is standing by the fireplace opposite me as I write this review. I pondered this further and considered: if this At The Sun album was a Queen album, which one would it be? My firm thought was it would be a cross between Queen 1 and Greatest Hits. This album is a stack of power singles, a collection of fine, self-standing tunes – and yet there is a sense that this is but a first formative statement from the band. It’s solid, well-formed and draws directly on past influences. Yet I sense the sound is going to evolve and flower from here. It feels like the start of a journey – a confirmation of arrival with grounds to get excited about what’s next. It’s a solid, accomplished start, but there’s definitely a Sheer Heart Attack on the way with this band. It’s early morning – and the Sun has only just started its rise.
‘Leave Before The Light’ is released March 2019.
At The Sun are touring the debut album this April.
Revisit some of the band’s past audio interviews with Great Music Stories:
FEATURE INTERVIEW: AT THE SUN – ALBUM COUNTDOWN: JANUARY 2019