The phrase ‘second album syndrome’ has been overused to such an extent as to have become a cliché. Yet it remains a valid point to make. How do you progress with a second album, especially after a successful debut? Do you react against that work? Do you refine your original sound and build upon it? Or do you simply add a children’s choir and lots of strings? It’s a tricky one.

Ra Ra Riot triumphed out of adversity with their debut (drummer John Pike passed away before the album was made). The Rhumb Line was a joy, treading the fine line between art and pop to fine effect. It was a warm, engaging and clever pop album.

The follow up The Orchard is more confident but with this confidence comes a lack of nuance – and, to put it bluntly, the songs just aren’t there. It begins well enough. Opener ‘The Orchard’ is a soulful and tender reminiscence on a relationship that has fallen apart, as Wes Miles muses that ‘We both had doubts’, pushing his voice further than he ever did on The Rhumb Line. Next track ‘Boy’s’ bass line propels the song along to create an 80s stomper.

Yet the album rarely soars. It’s too self-conscious, and studied. You just want the band to let go. ‘Foolish’ plods when it should flourish. ‘Massachusetts’ is Vampire Weekend without the sunshine. Just as you think they’ve got going with ‘Shadowcasting’ the album fizzles out. Closer ‘Keep It Quiet‘ encapsulates what’s the album lacks. It meanders along, trying too hard and isn’t anywhere near as epic as it likes to think it is.

It’s a shame because when they get it right the band can be breathtaking. The smoky balladry of ‘You and I Know’ is a case in point, cellist Alexandra Lawn taking centre stage to stirring effect. Yet these tantalising glimpses just end up with you wishing for more.

Photobucket