Release Date: Jan 24, 2012
Record label: Fire Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Cardinal fans had long given up on hearing another album from Richard Davies and Eric Matthews, whose partnership dissolved in acrimony after a single LP -- but did lead to a couple of charming solo albums from each. Then, no less than 17 years later, the duo quickly and quietly pumped out a sophomore follow-up, Hymns. If the intended result for fans is just hearing the combination of Davies' arch lyrics with Matthews' majestic arrangements and occasional breathy backing vocals, then it's mission accomplished.
These days the name Cardinal might be met with blank looks and shrugged shoulders but once upon a time they were deemed to be among the brightest hopes from the US underground music scene. Formed in Boston at the outset of 1992 by Californian multi-instrumentalist Eric Matths and Australian singer/songwriter Richard Davies, their back-to-basics approach to crafting songs was a welcome antidote to the grunge explosion happening all around. Indeed, alongside the likes of Sebadoh and The Posies, the expectations were for Cardinal to use such old fashioned values for a new era whilst embarking on a long and prosperous career themselves.
Eighteen years ago, a multi-instrumentalist from the West Coast and a songwriter from Australia released an album under the name Cardinal. It wasn't a huge hit, but it did exert a big influence as one of the first albums of the 1990s to explore lush chamber pop in any depth. (Chamber pop is pretty much a nucleotide in the DNA of indie rock today, which makes it easy to forget that it wasn't always that way.) The original 1994 Cardinal album was met with a flurry of acclaim, but its spending many years out of print-- it was finally reissued in 2005-- meant not many people heard it after that initial burst.
Richard Davies and Eric Matthews are, in a way, unsung chamber-pop heroes. When they released their eponymous debut as Cardinal in 1994, it flew under the radar, but it ended up becoming one of those hidden pop gems. Its understated, lush yet gauzy orchestration, its penchant for near-neo-classical flourishes, and its bittersweet, dreamy feel made it an often arresting listen.
In the grungy trenches of mid-‘90s pop, English baroque had become a thing of the past. So naturally, in the grand tradition of circular trends, a movement emerged to reinstate the lush strings and harmonies of The Beatles and Left Banke. International duo Cardinal was one of the first to do so with its 1994 self-titled debut before similar bands like Belle & Sebastian arguably eclipsed Cardinal’s notoriety.
American duo [a]Cardinal[/a] released their sole album of gleaming chamber pop back in 1994. Proudly out of step with the times, it was ignored by most but loved by a few (including [a]Gruff Rhys[/a], who raved about it in NME’s Greatest Albums You’ve Never Heard issue). Now reformed, whatever magic Cardinal once had has evaporated in the intervening 18 years.
The notion of taking an incredibly long time to release a follow up album can do wonders for any self-respecting band. Look at The Stone Roses, My Bloody Valentine and, erm, Guns n’ Roses. The interim period can create all manner of intrigue and wonder surrounding the band’s activities – has the drummer really succumbed to a chronic glue addiction? Is the new album really influenced by jungle, Pantera and Bucks Fizz?Well, the eighteen years between Cardinal’s eponymous debut and ‘Hymns’, their follow-up, has seen guitar-based indie rock take a bit of a beating at the hands of all manner of genres and micro-genres but it doesn’t seem to have registered with Cardinal.