There's a dilemma in reviewing the new Temples album. The record was never going to live up to the sublime pleasures of Sun Structures, was it? And yet, to state that and thereby criticize this new effort is to somehow fault the band for taking the considerable chances they've taken this time out, rather than give them some credit for their bravery as musicians. Volcano, out Friday on Fat Possum, is a fine record on its own terms. In some ways. However, I probably shouldn't introduce that element of doubt into my review so early on, should I?
Still, it's worth noting the abject horror that greeted this listener with the first spin of lead single "Certainty", the switch in styles from album 1 to this so jarring, so unexpected that even a casual fan was excused for recoiling in horror. That said, by the time the band gets around to "I Wanna Be Your Mirror", the absorption of this new keyboard-heavy style seems to have been more successfully achieved. Here, as on the absolutely perfect "Born Into The Sunset", the band have found a way to merge their own sound with that of earlier peers like Spiritualized and Butterfly Child. Temples, at least on a bunch of the cuts on Volcano, have bridged the styles of their own first album with something grander, a big music that's not just neo-psychedelia. Elsewhere, the MGMT-like "In My Pocket" swoons and coos with a nice sense of near-abandon, the huge hook never too far away, while the bright "Mystery Of Pop" recalls both Sparks and Nik Kershaw. The less said about "Roman Godlike Man" the better but things are set right by the serene charms of album closer "Strange Or Be Forgotten", all early-Eighties Roxy Music dressed up with a whole swath of keyboard figures from a Phoenix or Air record.
At their very best, Temples still display a knack for crafting electronic-textured rock with big, big hooks. When they succeed in achieving their goals as a band they seem to have hit upon something transcendent in the most ordinary of rock forms. I suppose the degree to which you think they've succeeded this time out, on album number 2, Volcano, depends on how much you are willing to tolerate keyboards that -- to some -- sound like they are well past their sell-by date.
[Photo: Ed Miles]