As regularly as it can feel that the deck is stacked against Britrock, it’s never predetermined to fail. Sure, when bands come around that are blatant emulating sounds that have fallen desperately out of fashion (albeit with a marginally poppier twist), there’s little reason to presume that much is going to come from them, but when a band actually looks to push the sound forward, or at least throw a bit more noticeable spice into the mix, they can achieve something more. That looks to be the mindset of The Alchemy, taking very recognisable Britrock elements but mixing them with prominent electronics and indie-rock melodies for an overall sound that’s more languid and atmospheric, but up to now, has worked well for them. Their 2016 EP received plenty of praise and support for it, and now with Chemical Daydream, the hopes are that they can take it even further still.
But really, to say any of that might be a bit misleading, as Chemical Daydream paints The Alchemy to be more conventional than initially expected. That’s not to say they’ve been totally swallowed in the Britrock pit that few can really escape from, but the much-touted electronic side of this band seems to serve more as garnish than a driving force in its own right. That’s not too bad on its own, and as far as pure melodic chops go, Chemical Daydream feels noticeably stronger than most, but it can be difficult to deny that this can come across as a disappointment; what was originally the big selling point has been considerably diminished, and when considering that effectively shunts The Alchemy into prime position to be swept up by a prospective Britrock revival that’s really going nowhere, that can really feel like a shame.
That said, even among that crop, The Alchemy definitely have their own strengths that gives them the upper hand. Theirs is a Britrock sound built on tones that are much more robust, reliant on big, cinematic guitars and Rhys Taylors’s powerhouse vocal performance to cultivate something akin to We Are The Ocean as far as sonic enormity goes. It’s all very straight-laced, from the airy yet powerful mid-pace and vocal layering to make Better The Devil You Know and Give Me The Sky feel all the more soaring and anthemic, to a lyrical bent which remains deeply rooted in the basic semantic choices of Britrock as far as widespread themes go, but only ever dips into real mawkishness on Gateway Drug and its rather overwrought ‘love and drugs’ symbolism. On the whole, it’s all pretty standard stuff, and while that more or less solidifies the baseline of quality, it never strays too far from it either. Most of Chemical Daydream is meat-and-potatoes rock music though and through, and that can really begin to wear thin when there’s not a lot going on that really stands out. It’s why when electronics do play a more prominent role, like on the spacious, spare tap of Intertwined or the more complex melding of the two sides on A Slave To Gravity, it stands out all the more, and for the better. Otherwise, The Alchemy can come across as too toothless for their own good, sitting on an idea with a lot of potential but strangely reticent to use it in a largely effective way. Granted, it gives a bit more meat and buzz to the production to lend it some nice texture, but that feels about as auxiliary of a use as it comes, and really just serves as a larger reminder of a more interesting direction this album could’ve taken.
Still, for what it is, this is hardly bad. The Alchemy have a defter hand at this sort of Britrock than most in the modern field, and what Chemical Daydream lacks in overt innovation, it makes up for in presentation that has a lot more gravity to it. Saying that though, it’s unfortunate that good ideas seem to have been sidelined as often as they have; there could almost certainly be more to a band like this, and the fact they’ve not chosen to embrace that feels like a missed opportunity. But for their first time round, it’s a bit easier to cut them some slack, and even though the signs that Chemical Daydream could’ve been much more are clearly signposted, it also could be a whole lot worse.
For fans of: We Are The Ocean, The Automatic, Idiot Pilot
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Chemical Daydream’ by The Alchemy is out now.