Up to now I still don’t have any idea how to approach Never The Strangers’ self-titled debut. Come to think of it, this should be easy: decent, melodic alt-rock music teeming with big choruses and hooks, with two or three songs standing out in the pack. Examined as a whole, it stenches of maudlin sentimentality, but not compelling enough to make the entire joint impenetrably solid.
There are flashes of brilliance as in the case of “Davenport,” a glossy, synth-pop charmer with danceable tempo played at its strength. “You” is as interesting and engaging, a call-to-arms anthem that flaunts their influence at best—post-Rivermaya Rico Blanco, Coldplay, Keane, Dove, Travis, Switchfoot. And sometime early this year, I remember how I’d barge in my room and play “Alive” on repeat just to get lost in a day’s wilderness. However playful, inspired, and at times, enjoyable, their new record doesn’t explore any further, contented with just roaming around a safe, guarded territory for commercial breadth’s sake.
I’m confused. I honestly want to like the album. Most of the tracks, although polished to studio standards, sound beaten down to tried and tested formula, handpicked for the purpose of getting radio airplay. While not half as bad as what you may think (read: Somedaydream, Sponge Cola, Calla Lily etc.), the overwrought sentimentality of the songs and the dead-serious corniness of how they were delivered, makes for a cringe-worthy experience. “Moving Closer,” inarguably their biggest hit of the moment, works just fine as a sprawling piano ballad. But the lyrics, made to appeal for a toothpaste commercial, proved to be a contrived, last minute project aimed to meet the demands of corporate sponsorship. Whatever charm the song has dissipates at the thought of how it’s been made.
The rest of the tracks alternate between being somewhat pleasant and being totally banal. Listen to any song on NTS and you will get the same feel—that sense of youthful romanticism wrapped around pretty, delicate melodies and modest arrangements engineered for a crossover chart smash. One can easily see the potential in there despite the disparate elements juggled to compromise with a more mainstream sound. And for a debut, they still managed to spread some modest charms. Give them a year or two perhaps, and I’m sure, they’ll figure out what needs to be done the second album around. B-