More mid-tempo, more introverted, more subdued, more, more, more. Lifeline, the sparkling sophomore set from Manchester, England-based indie pop phenoms The Answering Machine, is a world apart from the brash, barnstorming guitar anthems of the band's early singles and 2009 full-length Another City, Another Sorry. Instead, Lifeline is a startlingly mature record for such a young act; The Answering Machine, it seems, has (metaphorically) jumped straight from album one to album four. How much of this has to do with fronter Martin Colclough assuming the role of producer for this collection is unclear. But the massive step forward in songwriting -- just have a listen to the orchestral final minute of album opener "My Little Navy" -- is clear.
The set was launched with two great singles, "Animals" and the title track. The former served to introduce fans to The Answering Machine's evolution toward a pensive, synth-friendly attack (and perhaps to startle older fans with its melodic similarity to Foreigner's "Waiting For A Girl Like You"). The second, the bracing belter "Lifeline," was a staunch reminder that the quartet retains its facility with big anthems. At the same time, the second single displays a more sophisticated rhythmic sensibility -- in the bass playing in particular -- that evidences the band has more than great songs and deep energy these days; it also has chops.
Thematically, Lifeline captures The Answering Machine in transition. The collection is laden with the emotional wreckage of relationships that aren't working. The band made trips to Brooklyn and Los Angeles during the writing process, seemingly as part of an effort to be very cautious about what statement The Answering Machine would make with a second record. But more apparent than that conservatism is the gentle melancholy that pervades Lifeline, with its songs about hospitals, escape and wistful yearning.
Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is one of the greatest albums of all time. We'd argue it is the best album by The Cure. But those who know us well know we always say the same thing about the 1987 tour de force: we'd love to hear it without so many keyboards. Similarly, there's a lot of keyboard on Lifeline, more so than we've heard from the band previously, and it makes us wonder what the band would have sounded like had it opted to just track more guitars instead of the plentiful keys. Of course, certrain tracks (we're thinking of "You Should Have Called" in particular) from the act's cracking debut evidences the band has been flirting with keyboards as part of an expanded sonic pallet for years. But the prominence of keyboards on Lifeline approaches '80s fetishism. Even so, the sturdy frames of The Answering Machine's characteristically ace songs carry their weight well, and in some cases exceptionally well ("Hospital Lung," for example). And there is certainly more than synths here; the spectral ballad "Rules" is not only a fetching tune, but its minimal percussion and acoustic guitar show that the quartet can solve its pop equations a number of ways.
Heist Or Hit released Lifeline Feb. 21 in a variety of packings, including some limited edition bundles with t-shirts and handmade rarities complilations (the shirt package is already sold out) and more. Rarities compilation you say? Why yes -- based on the photo at the band's online store the track list is the 2006 demos of "Romantic And Square" (which we love),"Answer Me" and "The Wind Up;" the 2008 demo of "Emergency;" and the 2009 demos for "Hospital Lung" and "Winter Without You." The band has created and posted a flash-based flip-book -- not unlike a CD insert -- that features Lifeline's music, lyrics and simple animated artwork. It's charming, check out "Lifeline Digital" right here. The Answering Machine recently played a series of well-received performances at the annual South By Southwest music confab in Austin, and is now back on its native soil touring in support of Lifeline. You can inspect all live dates right here.
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Previous Answering Machine Coverage:
YouTube Rodeo: The Answering Machine's "Lifeline"
Today's Hotness: The Answering Machine
Message Received: The Answering Machine Storm California
Footage: The Answering Machine's "Emergency (Acoustic In New York)"
Review: The Answering Machine | Another City, Another Sorry