releasing a memorable and emotional debut album, creating
a follow-up can prove difficult for any artist. Music critics
watch your every move and you may already hear your audience
standing around the record shops crying, "it certainly
isn't as good as your first record." In too many cases
bands jump ahead of themselves and unleash all their ideas
at once, creating over the top concept albums and rock operas
that leave you wondering what went wrong. Fortunately through
all of this, Alpha's Andy Jenks and Corin Dingley never succumbed
to the pressure. Their latest, 'The Impossible Thrill' is
a natural artistic progression from their debut. You can still
hear the Jimmy Web and Burt Bacharach influence and their
euphoric Sunday afternoon sounds still edge down the back
of your spine. However, Alpha adds a complex dimension. They've
replaced the samples by writing original source material with
a number of musicians and created material deeply layered
with melodies and dubbed out studio production.
In a recent conversation with member Andy Jenks about the
new album, he said that when they began writing, they wanted
to move away from the lounge sounds of the first album and
move into other influences like dub and American rock music.
When Alpha completed their first album and attempted to take
their sample-based tunes on tour, Jenks said they "found
the situation to be limiting when using drum machines and
samplers." So instead of using the same hip-hop production
techniques for the new album, Alpha went into the studio with
a goal of reproducing their sample-based sound using live
instruments. With these changes, Alpha hopes to give themselves
a lot more freedom with the next round of shows.
Expanding their options for live improvisation was not the
only thing affected by these changes. "Impossible Thrill"
is darker than their previous efforts. The shift may be subtle
but it has a far more intricate and layered sound. New elements
seem to emerge and mysteriously creep up on you with each
listen. On the other hand, Alpha has kept their rich cinematic
string sound. At the mention of their work with a live orchestra,
Jenks sounded so excited about the experience, that you'd
think it was their first time. "It's really mind-blowing
to hear them perform something you've created." Jenks
said when describing the experience.
Despite the subtle changes and similarities in the sound,
you can't please everyone. "Come To Heaven" was
more minimal. The listeners that were drawn to these elements
may have trouble appreciating the new album. Jenks admitted
that reaction to the album has been mixed and that "some
listeners got lost in all the detail and melody" but
said his friends eventually understood it the more they listened.
This sort of detailed, organic sound, a sort of suspended
ecstasy, may be exactly what they intended. In fact, when
asked about the album's title, he said that "It sums
up how we feel about the album, trying to get somewhere you
can't. Like your trying to pick up a football and everytime
you reach down you kick it further away, like the perfect
drug or the orgasm that lasts forever."
Unlike artists in the past, Alpha won't be considered another
casualty of second album syndrome. In fact it seems like they
have a hundred new projects up their collective sleeve including
a France-only release with the Alpha vocalists singing in
French. They are also working on some "banging dance
material" possibly under the name Vacant and are producing
material for reggae veteran Horace Andy. They have also worked
with Pulp's Jarvis Cocker on a cover of the Richard Harris
song "This Is Where I Came In." Now that Alpha has
successfully completed their sophomore effort, watch out cause
that rock opera or three CD concept album might be right around
-- Justin Hardison
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