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29 October, 2006

Review: 'Insider' (Amplifier, 2006)

That was curiously unimpressive.

The underpromoted Amplifier are one of the best bands I've discovered in recent years. The high-energy yet intelligent hard rock of their eponymous 2003 album was a wonderful introduction, a high standard of musicianship underlying a refreshing playfulness. This was a rare case of substantial music also being just plain fun. It was also a rare example of a consistently high-quality album without weak filler tracks, though I'd isolate 'Airborne', 'Panzer' and 'UFOs' as especial highlights.
Highly recommended!

Their 2005 'EP' 'The Astronaut Dismantles HAL' was equally good (and 'EP' is understating what was really a 40-minute album). The first time I heard the intro to 'Everyday Combat' inspired pure joy; even just thinking of it, I'm grinning.
Also recommended!

So what happened? In a sense, 'Insider' is more of the same (which is a good thing), but there's something... missing. The playing is fine, and the deeply-layered, complex arrangements are undoubtably impressive, but the new material is rather 'samey' and lacks one of Amplifier's earlier strong points, catchiness, to the point of being inaccessible and unmemorable. Experimental technique is pointless unless the music is simply enjoyable. Don't misunderstand: I don't regard 'Insider' as awful, just not so stunning as its predecessors. It's almost as if Amplifier produced enough material for two albums, 'Amplifier' and 'Insider', but put all the excellent tracks on one and all the less-inspired filler, which would be perfectly adequate interspersed by stronger tracks, on the other.
With regret: not recommended.

I own rather more CDs than available shelf space, so I periodically move those of which I've tired into storage. I think I've played 'Insider' five or six times since I bought it four weeks ago (on the release date), but I'm afraid I've had enough, and it doesn't qualify for shelf space at all. Straight to storage. If I hadn't liked (and still like) the foregoing releases so much, I suspect it'd bypass storage too, and go straight to eBay. I'm hoping that I'll suddenly 'get' it when I play it again in a few months time, but I'm not hopeful, and my initial impression isn't much incentive to belabour the attempt.


Sounds like a classic "Difficult Second Album". But I thought that was only supposed to happen to archetypal NME bands :(

Oh, wait. It happened to The Darkness, who followed *exactly* the generic NME career trajectory.

Posted by Tim Hall at October 29, 2006 11:32 AM
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