Album Title: Radio Voltaire
Date Of Release: 23 March 2018
Regular readers of manofmuchmetal.com will know just how much admiration I have for John Mitchell. The guitarist, vocalist and songwriter has littered the world of progressive rock with some amazing performances within bands like It Bites, Frost* and Arena, and has been almost solely responsible for two excellent albums under the Lonely Robot banner. There was also the one and only Kino album, ‘Picture’, that was released back in 2005. Admittedly, given its more pronounced pop leanings it was never a huge favourite, but I still enjoy enough of it to play occasionally.
And then, somewhat out of the blue came the announcement that Kino were to release a brand new studio album some 13 years after their debut. Featuring the workaholic Mitchell, alongside the equally busy Pete Trewavas (Marillion) and drummer Craig Blundell (Steven Wilson), with John Beck (It Bites) guesting on keyboards, ‘Radio Voltaire’ was a prospect that I felt I must check out.
However, in the spirit of honesty, having now heard the album in its entirety, I have to conclude that this isn’t Mitchell’s finest hour. I don’t find myself being as dejected as I felt when listening to other albums recently and I don’t want anyone to think that this is a bad record, because it isn’t. It’s just that I don’t warm to it like I do with just about every other act that features John Mitchell. Nevertheless, being critical pains me because of the respect I have for his undoubted talents and the high regard in which I hold him and his fellow Kino band members.
It is hard to put my finger on exactly why I’m not as enamoured by ‘Radio Voltaire’ as I hoped I would but at the heart of it is a sense of a final product that, in places feels a little flat, a little lacklustre and craving a spark. In the classic break-up style, I thought it was me, not the music. And, because this album flirts more overtly with more accessible pop-style music, to some extent, it is me that’s at fault. Or my tastes. Unfortunately, I remain convinced that some of my general malaise is down to the music, too.
I also believe that ‘Radio Voltaire’ also lacks a little cohesion and direction if I’m being honest. I am all for albums displaying variety, but some of this record has a slightly disjointed feel. I’d not go so far as to say ‘messy’, but I would go as far as to say ‘hasty’ perhaps.
I feel it necessary to reiterate that ‘Radio Voltaire’ is not a bad album, because if it were, it wouldn’t feature songs like the opening title track or the closing ‘The Silent Fighter Pilot’, not to mention the likes of ‘Idlewild’, ‘Temple Tudor’ and ‘Grey Shapes on Concrete Fields’.
The title track opens the album to the sounds of radio static and distorted voices, which gives way to a glorious lead guitar solo. It soars over a tapestry of rich atmospheric synths and a strong rhythmic spine. Just as swiftly, the song reverts to a simple vocal/piano section before launching into a big, expansive neo-prog chorus that has grown on me over repeated listens. Accented by some political audio samples within an extended instrumental segment, topped off by more gorgeous lead guitar playing, it is the kind of beautiful prog rock track that you expect from such a talented bunch of musicians.
‘Idlewild’ also benefits from some lush melodies to accompany a quieter song with an introspective and slightly melancholy feel to it. Mitchell’s vocals are excellent, but it’s the crisp yet understated drum and bass combination that catches my ear most. ‘Temple Tudor’ continues the gentle theme, led by some really lovely acoustic guitar work as well as a wistful, quintessentially English sheen.
Continuing to pick out some of the various high points of ‘Radio Violtaire’, I have to mention ‘Grey Shapes On Concrete Fields’ and ‘The Silent Fighter Pilot’. The former reminds me a little more of It Bites. After a quiet opening, the chorus is an explosion of sound, but in a wonderfully euphoric manner, with a strong melodic footprint. There’s also a power and gusto that is lacking elsewhere on the record, so naturally it stands out for this very reason. The latter is possibly the most poignant, dramatic and striking track on the record, thanks to its sombre opening and subsequent blossoming, led by more excellent lead guitar work from Mitchell himself.
Unfortunately, there are a number of tracks that, to my mind at least, are not as positive and detract from my overall enjoyment somewhat. Ironically, given that it is arguably the heaviest track on the album, thanks to some forthright guitar riffing, I’m not too sure about ‘The Dead Club’. Beginning with a strange German voice, it also features some equally strange synth sounds that I’m not overly fond of. Ultimately, I find it a little too odd, a bit too abrasive and an uncomfortable listen.
Then there’s ‘I Don’t Know Why’, which is not to my tastes at all. It is way too pop, way too mainstream and despite some nice drumming from Craig Blundell here and there, I don’t warm to it at all. It’s the kind of song that is so inoffensive and beige that it could easily find its way onto Radio Suffolk – and when it comes to music, this isn’t a positive accolade as far as I’m concerned.
‘Out of Time’ meanwhile, is not great in my opinion. Again, it’s too upbeat, too mainstream-sounding and I don’t enjoy either the bold 70s vibe that bathes the song or the more orchestral section within the extended instrumental sequence. However, I’m sure this is one song where I’m likely to experience some dissent from readers.
When all is said and done, had ‘Radio Voltaire’ been more consistent and maintained the quality found within the title track and a few others, it would have been an unequivocal success. Instead, I fear that if I listen to this record again, it’ll be a heavily edited experience, with a frequent need of the skip button. I have much higher hopes for the next Arena or Lonely Robot records, that’s for sure.
The Score Of Much Metal: 7
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse