I felt an immense disappointment after the first play through of "The Spark", for it was as if the spark itself had gone from Enter Shikari, a band who Ive followed from my local schools to headlining festivals over the past decade. On reflection "The Mindsweep" is an immense record from a band who can sweep you up with their passion and persona without having to write subjectively brilliant music. That record was the moment where their identity found a new level, a musical brilliance that could possibly see it as their magnum opus, it was also my favorite record of 2015.
With repeated listens I found my way into the record and have my finger on the pulse of my initial reaction. The bar had been raised, expectation were high but Shikari make an artistic shift in direction that rubbed me the wrong way. The links to Metal and Hardcore have been severed, distortion guitars, breakdowns and explosions of energy are no more and these were often my favorite moments in their songs. The rest of what we know remains intact but we also hear a fervent shift to a more vulnerable emotive form of Rock that reminds me distinctly of Radiohead. This is especially so on a handful of songs where Rou opens up his voice for an honest softness to resonate over light instrumentation.
You can hear this new direction best on "Airfield" which leads straight into the contrasting "Rabble Rouser", a song that depicts the old Shikari perfectly. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a song left over from their previous direction. Its an electronic party club track with some light, overdriven chopping guitar licks in the build to a where you'd expect to find an explosive break down of sorts. Instead the track never finds climax despite being a solid track. I can't help but feel there is a conscious decision at work to not go down that avenue, even if the direction can still be felt in the music they write.
Change is always welcome, can't expect an artist to spin the same tricks forever but with a step to the side we also take a step back. "The Spark" is a fine record with a plentiful offering of emotionally warm music. Shikari tone down the aggression and flesh out the themes and lyrics of their songs with rich, colorful instrumentation, interweaving many electronic tones with light guitars in an uplifting spirit. "Undercover Agents" may brush up along side the currently popular "woah-oah-oah" chants but where they get excessively catchy and accessible it still seems very authentic and genuine. Given the current state of affairs, Rou's lyrics tackle the events of recent years that have shook many people with poetic turns of phrase that make for captivating hooks and choruses.
As a collection of songs its a fine affair but the flow of the record is somewhat choppy as the tone, mood and intensity fluctuates between and within the tracks. It really does feel like a transitional record for the band however this doesn't hinders the brilliance of these musicians from charming us with another swell of great musical ideas again. It has a fantastic production, a lot more creativity in the percussive department and with less reliance on the guitars they can still muster the sing along spirit that will have you bopping along at the live show! I hope they will grow well into this turn of pace.
Favorite Songs: The Sights, Live Outside, Take My Country Back, The Revolt Of The Atoms