It’s always hard for any band to replace their lead singer of many years, especially when it’s someone as talented and much-loved as Heather Findlay, and frequently the new singer has an uphill struggle to win over diehard fans. Add to this the fact that the past two albums, while they certainly both had their moments, both met with a decidedly mixed reaction from many fans, and you can see why Go Well Diamond Heart, Mostly Autumn’s ninth studio album, is really a make or break album for the band.
Former backing singer Olivia Sparnenn has already made a strong impression on stage during the spring tour in her new role as lead singer, but the new studio album is the way the revamped lineup will ultimately be judged, especially by those who haven’t had the chance to see the new-look Mostly Autumn live.
So does the new album succeed? After a few listens, I think it does.
This album is definitely one of those classed as “a grower”. While a handful of tracks made a strong impression on the first play, much of the album didn’t really come to life until I’d listened to the whole thing half a dozen times. I’ve read a one or two forum posts from people who seem to have written it off as ‘not very good’ after one or two plays. They should stick with it; it will be worth it in the end.
While some of the songs are not quite as immediately melodic as previous releases, the melodies are still there, they’re just a bit more subtle. The production is a lot rawer; rather than the polished approach of earlier albums this one has a very “live” feel to it, especially Bryan Josh’s guitar sound. Quite a few songs begin on acoustic guitar, switching to distorted electric part-way through. One thing that’s very noticeable is the number of times Bryan really cuts loose on lead guitar. On the last album, “Glass Shadows” I felt his playing was a little bit too mannered and restrained, with relatively little lead guitar; this time around he plays a blistering solo on almost every song.
Fans of Breathing Space will of course be aware of Olivia Sparnenn’s talents as a singer. While her predecessor is inevitably going to be a really hard act to follow, Olivia acquits herself superbly. Her singing continues to develop; while she’s clearly not trying to sound like Heather (which would have been a mistake), she’s not singing in the quite same way she did with Breathing Space either. There are certainly moments where she uses her power and range to great effect, such as the closing section of “Deep in Borrowdale” where she demonstrates the voice that can allegedly shatter wineglasses.
And it’s also great to hear Iain Jennings back on keys. While it seems ages ago that he rejoined the band for the tour promoting “Glass Shadows” in 2008, this is actually the first Mostly Autumn studio album he’s played on since 2005′s “Storms Over Still Waters”. It’s also worth noting that while Gavin Griffiths has also toured with the band extensively in recent year, it’s the first time he’s played drums for them in the studio.
The first disk, which will be released as the retail edition in November starts extremely strongly with “For All We Shared”, with it’s lengthy celtic-style atmospheric introduction featuring Troy Donockley’s Uilleann pipes leading into Bryan’s acoustic opening verse before building into a superb mid-tempo rocker with Olivia singing lead. With it’s quintessential Mostly Autumn sound it wouldn’t have sounded that out of place on the album of that title. In contrast, “Violet Skies” (Now there’s a Mostly Autumn song title if ever there was one), also sung by Olivia and dedicated to Heather Findlay is a catchy four-minute pop song which would make a great single. “Deep in Borrowdale” and “Something Better” are both hard rockers; the latter musically excellent but somewhat spoiled by some truly awful lyrics.
The title track is quite harrowing if you know the back story. It’s dedicated to Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson, a Mostly Autumn fan serving in Afghanistan, critically wounded by a landmine. The album closes with three songs co-written by Olivia Sparnenn, the last of which “And When The War Is Over” again featuring Troy’s pipes, and to my ears is has the same feel as some of Roger Waters’ solo material, musically if not lyrically.
The second disk, available only in the limited edition is more a diverse collection of songs, but these cannot be described as left-overs; the best songs are as good as anything on the first disk. High points are the atmospheric “Ice”, co-written by Iain Jennings, “Hats Off” dedicated to the late Richard Wright of Pink Floyd, and Olivia Sparnenn’s soaring “Forever Young”, very reminiscent of her work with Breathing Space.
I was a bit worried when I read the announcement that the special edition was to be a double album. I remember 2006′s “Heart Full of Sky” where the band had stretched themselves too thin trying to come up with two albums worth of material in a short space of time, resulting in an album that seemed rushed with too many songs that sounded half-finished. This time they’ve managed to avoid that; while there are one or two songs on the second disk that don’t quite work (at least for me), there is far more that one CD’s worth of great material here.
The 2-disk limited edition is available from Mostly Autumn records while remaining stocks last. The single-disk retail edition goes on sale in mid-November.