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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