Perhaps it’s no coincidence that “Wires,” Athlete’s highest-charting single to date, is also one of the band’s most subdued tunes. Since the release of Vehicles & Animals in 2003, Athlete has been universally compared to Coldplay, another British band with a penchant for soaring, supersized pop songs. Both groups make albums designed for the Wembley Stadiums and O2 Arenas of the world, but Coldplay does so with more finesse, not to mention a higher degree of commercial success.
Filed alongside Keane, Snow Patrol, and Kings of Leon as bald-faced Coldplay knockoffs, South London quartet Athlete once attempted to distinguish themselves with an unrepentant weird streak that found them indulging in electronic flourishes and unconventional song structures. Over the course of three albums, however, Athlete’s sound has pushed ever closer to the midline, ultimately resulting in a lackluster fourth record, Black Swan, that sounds like the work of the purely derivative band they’ve long been accused of being. That even Coldplay tinkered with their risk calculus on their last record, the legitimately good Viva la Vida, only draws Swan‘s limitations into sharper relief.
South Londoners Athlete followed their likable quirky debut Vehicles & Animals with two albums of solemn pop that sold almost a million copies combined - so it's no surprise that that's the route they continue to tread here. Having left EMI for Polydor imprint Fiction, Joel Pott and co hope to follow fellow Fiction emigres Elbow in going supersonic on a self-made record. Whether they will depends on the public's appetite for earnest melodies and lyrics that talk a lot without actually saying anything.
“Classic” is a confusing term when applied to cultural products and practices, and music is no exception. In popular music discourse the word can often mean tried, tested, conventional, and unoriginal. Confusingly, it can also signify an avoidance or transcendence of norms. Athlete fall into the former, rather than the latter category.
Ten catchy choruses, no original ideas Paired with a Grey’s Anatomy clip in which someone dies or falls in love, Athlete’s mid-tempo rock might pack a punch. But when alone, the sweeping choruses that swarm Athlete’s fourth record, Black Swan, shoot for the rafters without any substantial emotional anchor—the songs get lost in the clouds. Blame Coldplay, a band that makes genuinely grandiose music look easy.
Had enough of the Olympics? No? Well, here's Athlete back for another gold run with their fourth full-length. But Black Swan doesn't even qualify. [rssbreak] The UK band has made a career out of repackaging light indie ballads for musical tourists who devour unimaginative, quasi-contemplative schlock. Black Swan Song - a slow piano ballad with no recognizable heartbeat beneath the saccharine ooh-oohs - captures the B-side Coldplay sound they channel on much of this record.