Bruce Soord has lately enjoyed critical acclaim for this excellent solo record, “Luminescence”. Now it’s time for the latest release of The Pineapple Thief, the band he founded and with which his name is largely synonymous. The arrival of elite drummer Gavin Harrison for their 2016 “Your Wilderness” was a watershed moment for the band, something Soord has spoken of, in the way which it changed the band’s attitude towards its own music, and the two records which followed occupied a fairly similar sound world.
Given its name, it may be ironic that this latest offering from the four-piece is strikingly different from its precursors, though it is certainly immediately recognisable as Pineapple Thief music. Whatever “it” is, it has led them to a very interesting musical place. From the opening phrases of “Put It Right”, we are shown this will be different. There is no clear guitar figure. Only the double-octave vocals that are part of the band’s trademark sound hold that door ajar. Next, “Rubicon” presents a very new face of the band, edgy, polyrhythmic, aggressive and progressive in equal measure, until we get to the chorus, which is as catchy as anything on the record or anything the band have done before. These three voices carry across the whole record. At times, it is a cinematic record, full of sweeping keyboard sounds, reverb guitar, open textures, and gentle evocative vocals, while at other times it is dark and explosive, attended by more familiar Pineapple Thief sounds.
The title track is more familiar PT fare, a staccato riff, the vocals, the melancholy lyrics that allude to relationships in turmoil or recovery. Likewise “The Frost”, the recent single, though this is also the first track where Harrison’s drums are clearly foregrounded, his style standing out from the rest of the music in a way which is does not so much in the earlier tracks.
“All That’s Left” has a 1980s atmosphere coming most from the Steve Kitch’s keyboards, which play a central part in the whole record’s sound. But in case you had forgotten the madness of “Rubicon”, Soord throws in a searing whammy pedal guitar solo. This is the beginning of the second half of the record, where there is a synthesis of the cinematic and angular qualities of the earlier pieces. The songwriting again feels different to their earlier work, even if the melody lines are familiar. It is the chords, arrangement and atmosphere that take us to a different place.
On “Now It’s Yours”, the vocals are at their most delicate before the heavy guitar work of the middle 8. There are guitar breaks across the album, but this is the first place where it is most obviously a solo in the strict sense, the guitar stepping out to the front of the music, and it is wonderfully gritty. As with the opener, this is a piece of considerable sophistication and subtlety, with changes in tone, direction and style.
Jon Sykes’s bass is a strong presence throughout – one of the good things about the record is how balanced the use of the instruments is. Rarely does one instrument stand out in the arrangement. That said, you can’t miss the quality of Sykes’s playing on “Every Trace Of Us” – this is going to be a treat live, especially with another gutsy guitar solo from Soord as the track boils away to a sudden close.
The record closes with “To Forget”, it’s central lyrical idea that forgetting is harder than remembering, which is a nice poetic conceit. This is an utterly beautiful, lyrical piece, again with an arrangement which is only somewhat similar to their earlier work. Still, it seems different enough to raise an eyebrow, if you’re not being completely drawn in by Soord’s voice and, once again, the cinematic qualities of the music. Even the duet vocals are different here, no longer separated by an octave, but harmonised. True to the rest of the record, we are then into more adventurous and animated territory, with a blistering guitar solo and another shift into a more upbeat rhythm, as the songs grows around us.
The strength of this record lies in how it steps away from their earlier sound world, without completely turning their back on it. Critically it sounds new and fresh. It is a well-crafted, varied, and subtle record marked by different styles and textures while also sounding like a whole. Despite each song being quite different in composition, and having been written over nearly three years, they belong together, and I do not think this is a trick of production either. Rather, it is the balanced and full contribution of all four members of the band to the record which brings it together, combined with what can only be seen as a deliberate choice to add some new sounds to their vocabulary, and it is these newer sounds which mark this as a record of some quality. This is not a return to form, it’s a delayed acceleration of their musical transformation and enrichment.
5/6 | Alex Maines
Release date: 9 February 2024