Amber Run – How To Be Human
Though this a blog designed first and foremost to celebrate the new, I’ll fully admit to clinging on to a few old-fashioned ideas and approaches when it comes to music. I’m one of the dozens of people that still buys CDs, my Spotify Wrapped stats are skewed each year by the fact that I’m still doing most of my listening on an mp3 player, and I still cling on to the idea of an album as a distinct separate entity, rather that a batch of songs to be chopped up for various playlists. The latter especially seems to be getting more entrenched in me with each passing year. Promotion for albums is becoming a far more drawn out process, with singles, videos, even EPs of bonus tracks, being released in a near constant stream for months, or even years, before an album’s release. I get why it’s become the norm; the pressures of the music industry have forced artists to become “content creators”, pandering to a broken system that rewards treating audiences like they have the attention span of a goldfish. I can’t speak on how effective that strategy is in general, but I know that following a long trail of breadcrumbs as a way to build hype for a release has the opposite effect on me. I want to experience an album as a whole, not have half of it offered up piecemeal over many months – to the point where I avoid a lot of singles entirely.
How To Be Human had such a protracted build up that ironically enough I forgot it even existed. With Amber Run releasing singles and EPs offering tasters as far back as a couple of years ago, the new record started to feel like one of those games or films that gets teased over and over but never actually sees the light of day. However, in spite of its drip-fed delivery, it proves to be a remarkably cohesive record. Living up to its title, there is a unifying lyrical thread that to err is human and we each owe ourselves a little more patience and forgiveness. In many ways it feels like a manifesto given to our younger selves, from when we’re older, and a little wiser, and have come to realise that the wars we’ve been fighting in our own heads are often the same ones everyone is struggling through in turn. Songs like ‘Ride’, ‘Funeral’, and ‘Hurt’ offering a helping hand for when the weight of the world is holding you down, with the compassionate chorus of the latter in particular providing some of the band’s most tender lyricism to date (“When the water pulls you under, I’ll wrap my arms around you, I’ll hold you while you cry, And in the dark I’ll be your eyes“). While tracks like ”I Hope It’s Not Like This Forever’, ‘I Miss You’ and album highlight ‘The Beautiful Victorious’ are an encouraging push to be the person you want to be and seize the life you want to live, whether that’s in forging new connections or strengthening those you’ve taken for granted.
Looking past the lyricism, the vocals too provide a unifying thread that sets How To Be Human apart from previous records. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but Joe Keogh’s voice feels like it’s really blossomed on this release. There’s a greater depth and maturity to it, a sanding down of rough edges, that at times made me wonder if I was listening to a different person entirely, before one of his unique expressive quirks allayed my fears. In the album’s softest moments we get chance to hear him push his limits, with flashes of Thom Yorke on the latter half of ‘Always Blue’ and sounding stunningly reminiscent of Jeff Buckley on closing waltz ‘The Last Dance’.
But even doing my best to make this album feel like an event, blocking out the background noise from its interminable build-up, sadly it just doesn’t land with the kind of impact I would hope for. A lot of the tracks are middle-of-the-road affairs by Amber Run standards; no total misfires by any means, but very little here that resonates as the band firing on all cylinders either. Only the uplifting chorus and beefy rhythm section of ‘Hurt’, and synth-splashed joie de vivre of ‘The Beautiful Victorious’, really stack up alongside their biggest anthems. Even preserving the hype as best I can it’s not an album I find myself able to get excited about. How To Be Human is an enjoyable enough and relatable listen, but ultimately not one that will linger long in your memory the way past records have.