With 2006’s album The Trials of Van Occupanther, Texan band Midlake perfectly recreated that sunny, kaftan wearing feeling of the early 1970s. All Fleetwood Mac and Eagles, songs such as ‘Roscoe’ and ‘Bandits’ could easily have come from the era.
Three years on and their follow up The Courage of Others once again visits that time. But while The Trials of Van Occupanther had a distinctly US feel to it The Courage of Others has more of an emphasis on folk-rock and in particular British acts of the early 1970s such as Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull.
Other points of difference with The Trials of Van Occupanther are The Courage of Other’s crisper sound. This makes it less laid-back and somehow more British and stiff upper-lipped. The greater use of flutes also adds to this classic British folk rock feel.
Overall it will please fans of The Trials of Van Occupanther with its attention to detail and ability to take the listener back to that bygone 1970s era. It also mirrors the previous album’s ability to sound like the most mainstream of albums in places yet retain the band’s alternative credentials. It’s a neat trick that another pastoral sounding band The Fleet Foxes also pull off well.
The Courage of Others starts off pretty tamely, with opener ‘Acts of Man’ just about the weakest on the album. ‘Winter Dies’, brings the pace up a bit and is far better. But it is the middle section of the album that has the standout tracks.
The soft ‘Fortune’ sounds like The Byrds, with its twinkling acoustic guitars. Next track ‘Rulers, Ruling All Things’ is epic stuff, pompous folk-rock warts and all. ‘Children of the Grounds’ is another standout.
However, as the album progresses the tracks merge more and more into one big folk-rock-athon. More flutes, more twinkly guitars, more imagery of nature. The guitar solos seem to get longer and by the time I got to final track ‘In the Ground’, just like music buyers at the end of the folk rock era, I’d had enough.
On the plus side at least Midlake have the good grace to keep most of the tracks down to a sensible three to four minutes and not move into true folk-rock territory and torture us with 11 minute flute and drum solos.
Comparisons with The Trials of Van Occupanther are inevitable and sadly this is where Courage of Others ultimately falls down. It’s impossible to match the impact of that previous album and this latest offering essentially serves up a similar retro feel without having a track to match the wonder of Trials of Van Occupanther’s ‘Roscoe’ or showing a band that is keen to progress.
Courage of Others is good enough, but for their next album they will need to alter their sound further, and perhaps look forward rather than backwards if they are to last longer than the folk-rock acts of the 1970s they seek to emulate.
by Joe Lepper, Jan 2010