Raw emotion and an intense live presence have always been Augustines’ draw. While discussing gut-wrenching topics like death and the loss that comes with it, they’ve always put their heart, soul and all their happiness into their recordings resulting in a melodic emotional spectrum as the finished product. But if Augustines put absolutely everything they have into their recently released third album This Is Your Life then it’s definitely been lost in translation, as the majority of its ten tracks sound a bit, well, uninspiring. Once the initial impact of frontman Billy McCarthy‘s unusual, distinctive voice wears off, the only thing left is just how middle of the road a lot of this material is. There’s a strong start with fist-pumping anthem Are We Alive, but the pace literally and figuratively begins to droop from then. And what doesn’t help is that lot of the songs on This Is Your Life use annoying drum machines or build up to a dissatisfying subdued climax, like in The Forgotten Way where a long overdue full band accompaniment comes in at the tail end of the track and is barely noticeable.
Then there’s McCarthy‘s voice. It’s without a shadow of a doubt unique enough to be the focal point of this record, and it is, but that’s only because the standard guitar / bass / drums setup backing it is so simple and bland. His voice is husky and deep but the conviction and rasp it’s capable of only sees the light of day a few times on This Is Your Life. The fact that it’s most often used to sing monotone lines on below average, laggy songs seems like a huge waste. Comparing McCarthy’s crooning to that of Guy Garvey’s from Elbow should be a wake up call for him to use his vocal talent the way it should be used already in future.
Anthemia is obviously what’s been intended here and although not executed in the best way, there’s some thinking outside the box sonically on this album, thanks to multi-instrumentalist Eric Sanderson. The aforementioned The Forgotten Way runs on a string and rolling piano backing while When Things Fall Apart goes in a more ’80s direction with its synth undertones. But the biggest surprise is a genius burst of traditional African singing from Senegalese duo Pape & Cheikh which acts as a defibrillator for the flatlining May You Keep Well. Improvements these aspects may be, but it’s just frustrating how a featured artist provides the jaw-dropping moment with this album when Augustines have someone with such a range of talents in their ranks as Sanderson does.
There are a couple of gems and glints of promise on This Is Your Life, and if Augustines had made this album with these as a blueprint there would be no issues. No Need To Explain and Running In Place perk things up a bit, but it’s the title track that’s in a league of its own. It’s beautifully textured and utterly euphoric, with its middle eight providing a chill up the spine moment – probably the highlight of the whole album. McCarthy‘s voice soars and really comes into its own while the song itself inclines and flows effortlessly. This is their intended anthemia done right, and one of the only moments on the record where the passion the band have bleeds through the wall of sound to almost become an instrument itself. While the title track should be a standard for their future discography, it’s the bland and monotonous contributions that tip the scales when thinking of the balance of tracks on this record. And let’s be honest, when has bland and monotonous ever worked?
For fans of: Mumford & Sons, Elbow, The Temper Trap
Words by Georgia Jackson
‘This Is Your Life’ by Augustines is out now on Caroline International.