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Crystal Sounds
Thirteen Senses Crystal Sounds
Released 18 February 2011
Producer Tom Welham
Label B-Sirius
Length 64:35
Genre Alternative, indie rock
Website www.thirteensenses.com

Let me take you back to a time long, long ago. A time before Coldplay. A time before Snow Patrol. A time when the new U2 were.....U2. A time when Kings of Leon were a dirty garage rock band. Twas an innocent time, but alas, tis gone forever. We live in the age of the stadium rock behemoth. We live in the age of bland.

Cornwall four-piece Thirteen Senses are unfortunate, in two respects. Firstly, their quite promising debut The Invitation came out in 2004, at precisely the time when Coldplay were going global and Snow Patrol were making the transition from indie no-marks to arena filling monsters. As a result, record companies were throwing silly money at any group of clean-shaven, well-spoken twenty somethings who could work a reverb pedal and write a vaguely anthemic chorus. Remember Athlete? Didn’t think so. Thirteen Senses had a lot of competition from the start.

Secondly, to be brutally honest, Thirteen Senses are unlucky insofar as they were never particularly good. True, The Invitation spawned three Top 40 singles, including 'Into the Fire' which has soundtracked Match of the Day and Grey's Anatomy, but second album Contact came and went with little fanfare, and they found themselves cut adrift, dropped by their record label because their pleasant balladry just didn’t have enough to set it apart. To put it simply, Coldplay and Snow Patrol were doing the same thing, only much, much better. And in 80,000 seater stadiums. One of the major drawbacks of stadium rock is that it doesn’t quite work in dark, dank club in front of a few dozen punters.

Which brings us to 2011, and Thirteen Senses return with Crystal Sounds, their third effort, this time on their own label, and, to be brutally honest, it’s hard to say anything about the album that isn’t either damning it with faint praise, or worse still, patronising beyond belief. You see, it is a very solid effort. It is quite good in parts. It is well recorded; it sounds great. (Can you see where this is going?) It just, frankly, doesn’t have an ounce of originality in its sixty-two minute playing time. It’s all been done before.

The eponymous opening track kicks the proceedings off in encouraging fashion: celestial voices, shimmering strings, gentle piano, plaintive vocals building to a swirling, heartfelt chorus. This formula is repeated throughout, and over an hour of music, it struggles to hold the attention. It’s pleasant, but, crucially, there’s no sense of a band pushing themselves, or experimenting; at all corners they play it safe, taking refuge in huge sweeping choruses and a widescreen polished sound: by the end of the album it is hard to pick a single standout track, a melody that sticks in the head, a refrain that you could imagine a packed stadium singing along to.

The failure here springs not from lack of effort, musical talent or even sense of purpose. The failure is, quite simply, the lack of memorable tunes. Because in truth, whatever you might think of Coldplay or Snow Patrol, their implausible success is down to their knack of being capable of writing tunes that go for the emotional jugular and manage to connect with millions of people. It’s bland, it’s inoffensive, it’s dull, you can say what you like about it, but it’s not an easy thing to do. Which is why Thirteen Senses, having tried gamely to replicate the formula over three albums, will sink without a trace.

- Ken O’Meara