Ah, Turin Brakes. A band I love dearly, but one that could be referred to as Marmite by other people. I get the impression that you either love them or you’re not that fussed. This confuses me on some level as they are actually so very talented it’s ridiculous. But alas, they do not get the credit or the exposure they deserve, which is why they are a perfect candidate for the rediscovered series.
Turin Brakes first came to my attention with the release of The Optimist LP back in 2001, and it was probably Underdog (Save Me) that I heard first of all. I was very taken with the whole stripped back approach: just 2 guys with guitars playing rather pleasing tunes. When I saw them support David Gray the following year, I kind of knew I’d be heavily involved with this band from then on. I was correct. Their second album, Ether Song, is still a firm favourite of mine and gave them their most commercial success when the single Painkiller (Summer Rain) was released. But I’m not here to talk about any of that or the fact that whilst wearing my Brakes t-shirt at work recently my friend said to me “Oh Turin Brakes, I remember them”. Yeah, they’re still together actually. Sigh. Nope, I’m here to discuss their fourth studio album Dark On Fire and tell you why you should listen to it.
I chose to write about it for a couple of reasons, but mainly because this album took a swerve from their usual style and for a lot of folks this didn’t go down well at all. I mean, they were an acoustic duo so how dare they make an album with a highly produced full band sound? Reading back over the reviews at the time of the album’s release in 2007, there was a lot of negativity around the lyrics, the sound, and especially the departure from their usual style. I don’t really see why any of this is an issue; by this time they had been around for coming up to 10 years so why is it so wrong to try something new? I’m pretty sure lots of other artists reinvent their sound and it’s deemed acceptable (Madonna anyone?). But not here though?
Dark On Fire is quite a brooding piece of work. It’s not all doom and gloom - there are some upbeat tracks peppered across the album that hit hard. The opening track Last Chance sets the scene pretty well with a 40 second intro before we even get to hear the strum of a guitar. There’s some big sound on the instrumental breaks and lead vocalist Olly Knights proves his amazing range by going for some fairly lengthy notes throughout. This continues with the next track, Ghost, which allows guitarist Gale Paridjanian to give us some great electric guitar sound and a wonderful riff in the middle.
Two singles were released on download from this album: Stalker in September 2007, and Something In My Eye in January 2008. In my opinion (and it’s just my opinion) I think they chose wrong with this though as I reckon they would have fared better by releasing Timewaster as it’s one of the standout tracks on the record. The lyrics of that song hit me each and every time I play it. And that’s the power of good songwriting and why I disagree with the reviewers that say the Brakes don’t have the talent to write a decent tune.
In the reviews I read, one of them made a point of mentioning that’s they did not like Olly’s voice very much, which I was not very impressed with. It is rather unique in style I have to say, but if you actually listen to the way he can tailor it to the different range of songs he performs and recognise the incredible power behind it, he has one of the best voices I know of. It sits perfectly with what Turin Brakes do and the fact that he has the ability to replicate it live and be faultless proves that he doesn’t need to hide behind some fancy studio tweaking to sound half decent.
Dark On Fire was mostly a live recorded effort and by playing direct to an audience it proved helpful in shaping how the songs ended up sounding. The album charted at number 36 on release and dropped to 81 by the second week. This was not as good as their previous efforts and unfortunately this trend continued with their fifth album Outbursts in 2010. They did fare better with We Were Here in 2013, though, and I’m hopeful that the new album they are currently working on as we speak will be a return to form.
To appreciate Dark On Fire you need to take it for what it is: a moody, well written and performed effort sprinkled with some real stand out tracks such as the title track and songs such as Real Life. It was a completely different sound for them at that time, possibly because of producer Ethan Johns, but perhaps because they were not afraid to try something new. Some felt this album was a return to the quality of The Optimist LP, while others just didn’t get it. I can honestly say I love this album and feel that it has been sadly overlooked, which is why I wanted it to get a new lease of life if possible. I’m not saying it’s their best piece of work to date, but as an attempt to up their sound and be a bit different from the norm, I think they did a pretty good job. Fans of the band will totally get it, but for those of you who may not know much about Turin Brakes, I think it will give you a feel for what they are capable of. And you never know, you may just be surprised with what you find.