All hail optimism? Well in times of negativity it’s something that seems rare but do not despair entirely as although musically Anathema, as is well documented, are a long way from musical origins, narratively their lyrical themes are still to a certain point quite crestfallen. The thing I picked up on straight away here was the cover art and the striking similarities to their excellent 2001 album ‘A Fine Day To Exit.’ The suicidal contemplation and introspective story-telling that it dealt with was left incredibly open-ended. We never knew quite what happened to the person involved within the framework of the album and here things are explained by Vincent Cavanagh stating that “The opening track title [32.63N 117.14W] is the exact coordinates for Silver Strand beach in San Diego – the last known location of The Optimist.” Much like Fine Day we are quickly immersed in the life and routine of the character as we breathe with him, listen to radio changing frequency, phones ringing and everything else you would associate with day to day life. I’m not going deeper into narrative here as I shall probably be picking up the finished disc and immerse myself fully in it then. The music however is something that can fully be appreciated on a simpler level and dipping into that is a delight in itself.
Once things fully open with ‘Leaving It Behind’ the car having roared off , the tempo is in line with it rolling down the road with a new beginning in mind and quite up-tempo and even jubilant. The vocals are full of passion and the melody totally catchy with a pitter-patter drumming rhythm developing into a big meaty ballast. You can imagine this one surging through a live audience and getting people bouncing, it’s incredibly up-front and even has some trip-hoppy sounding close to drum and bass parts during its persuasive melody. As great as the brothers Cavanagh vocals are since Anathema introduced Lee Douglas into the band they really brought another dimension to their sound. The first of her songs drops the charge and with sorrowful sounding piano ‘Endless Ways’ broods full of poignant but gorgeous heartfelt emotion. “Stay with me” she pleads and the track builds and soars in a fashion that’s enough to leave you breathless. The sound is massive and by now you should be totally lost and enchanted by the music. I have only listened to this on sunny afternoons but it is as the title track expresses no doubt one for “driving at night in the slow lane.” At least that is where we find ourselves on the road to quirky instrumental San Francisco. As is the case with Anathema there is a great sense of maturity about everything we hear and it’s obvious that they have sweat blood and tears into painstakingly constructing this album. No doubt proving how they have risen and both retained so many fans and gathered new ones through the years.
The excellent song-craft continues with the lilting lushness of ‘Springfield’ with Douglas crooning “I don’t belong here” and the band rising to occasion and breezing in at full strength and power behind her. It’s one of many fantastic moments found within the folds here and enough to make a grown man weep. Musically it’s a fluid trip and one that is oft to change styles, there’s no real pigeonholing Anathema and things move from the towering magnificent flight of ‘Can’t Let Go’ to the sultry dark, jazz lounge vibe of ‘Close Your Eyes, Cavanagh and Douglas both absolutely nailing these respective styles. Do we get a happy ending to this story? Well you are just going to have to listen right up to the end of last track ‘Back To The Start’ and try and deduce that answer for yourself. One thing I can say is that we have another classic album from Anathema here and it’s one that’s very easy to fall in love with! All hail optimism indeed.
(8.5/10 Pete Woods)