Some albums immediately strike you as being great. Melodies fire your emotions and hooks lodge themselves into your conciousness from the very first listen. You find yourself singing songs under your breath before you've even remembered the titles, and end up enthusing about the music to anyone who'll listen. Still Life, the second release from Aqualung, is not one of these albums.
Sadly for Matt Hales, the man who records under the sub-aquatic pseudonym, this is where a lot of listeners will stop; possibly writing him off as that chancer who got a song onto a Volkswagen ad, and who can't follow-up its freak success. And to be fair to his detractors, Still Life hasn't progressed from the sound of its self-titled predecessor at all. Hales is still trading on a sound which owes way to much to Radiohead, albeit a Radiohead which even Radiohead themselves have turned their backs on.
However, it would be a tragedy if Still Life was discarded so thoughtlessly, as a bit of perseverance will soon encourage it to reveal its charms, albeit agonisingly slowly.
The first track that'll work for you is undoubtedly lead single Brighter Than Sunshine, which self-conciously follows Strange And Beautiful (I Put A Spell On You)'s template of fractured delicacy without ever sounding derivative. At this point the rest of Still Life's ten tracks will seem to be indistinct shadows of this album opener.
Stick with it for a few days and you'll realise that Brighter Than Sunshine is not alone in its excellence. Soon Left Behind and You Turn Me Around will be accompanied by your feeble attempts to match Hales' singing pitch, and you'll start to get a sneaking suspicion that Still Life may - just may - be better than you thought it was.
Finally - possibly weeks after you first heard it - all of this CDs tracks will tug at you heartstrings, and it'll be obvious that there's not even one filler. Aqualung's Still Life is one album that demands your time and effort, but will eventually repay your dedication, and hopefully turn into one of your favourite discs of 2003.
:: Rowan Shaeffer