By Ethian Woodford (@human_dis4ster)
In today’s political climate, with Nazis everywhere and everything either being terrifying or super-terrifying, it is arguably no longer possible for musicians to be completely free of politics in their music. Even if a band decides to stay apolitical in their music, that in itself is often a stance, arguing that keeping music separate from politics allows both the band themselves and their listeners to forget about the doom and gloom through their music. Just a few years ago, Enter Shikari were one of the only bands with a clear political and social message in their music and was their main staple and they often received both praise and criticism for this as expected. But in today’s climate where politics is inescapable, some may have wondered if Enter Shikari could continue to set themselves apart from the crowd. Following up The Mindsweep, a powerful call to arms against injustice, The Spark, unfortunately, fails to build on that album’s intensity and Enter Shikari seem to be on autopilot.
With their own popularity higher than ever, Shikari perhaps felt the need to cater to a wider audience which is evident in this album. The first two tracks, The Sights and Live Outside, are the most commercial and catchy Shikari have ever sounded, and while these tracks will no doubt become centrepieces of their live sets, they have less urgency than typical Shikari single such as 2014’s Anaesthetist. They are by no means bad tracks but feel awfully safe, and that is never a word usually associated with Enter Shikari. Following on are a number of tracks that feel like sub-par versions of songs Shikari have made before. Take My Country Back calls to mind a few songs from The Mindsweep but lacks the same raw energy found on that album. Airfield is one of the stronger songs lyrically on The Spark, and finds Rou Reynolds at his typically blunt best, with pointed observations such as “it’s common for people to believe everything happens for a reason, I’m sorry that’s false, and it’s poison“. Halfway through the song awkwardly transcends into a trademark Shikari style build to climax, and both parts of the song are gripping but they don’t really mesh that well. Rabble Rouser is the only track on the album that has any aggression to it and is also the most ambitious. It doesn’t all pay off but the beat is one that isn’t easily forgotten.
About halfway through the album, it is quite obvious Enter Shikari aren’t at their best, as tracks such as Shinrin-yoku are borderline boring and the last few tracks are again hit and miss. However despite the instrumentation and lyrics being largely predictable and safe on The Spark, one shining aspect is, as usual, Rou Reynolds vocals and overall presence on the album. Already having established himself as one of the most sincere and enthusiastic frontmen working today, he grows on this album vocally, from spoken-word to art-pop influenced singing, he injects a needed jolt of life to this album and The Spark benefits largely. Unfortunately, apart from that most songs feel predictable in structure and despite having promising moments, most tracks fail to fully capture complete focus.
As mentioned in the outset, Enter Shikari are renowned for being politically charged but surprisingly they don’t bring much new to the table on this album in that aspect. Again it just find them treading familiar ground and in contrast to the unashamedly hopeful yet urgent nature of the The Mindsweep, it can’t help but seem tame in comparison.
This is by no means an awful album, Enter Shikari have always been such a genuinely inspirational band and their albums always brim with ideas and hope, which is why it’s easy to detect it is less apparent in this album. However Enter Shikari playing it safe is still enjoyable enough but for a band that has always been so intentionally unsafe, it’s hard not to feel conflicted. Hopefully a less demanding album is what the band needed to ready themselves for their next leap forward in ambition but for now The Spark will provide little new for longtime Enter Shikari fans to get excited about.