After 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 the corner.
-- Justin Hardison
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