It’s astonishing to think Kodaline only released début single All I Want on the world eight months ago. The Swords natives are now such a pervasive force on our shores that any pop-radio listener could hardly have missed them, with follow up singles High Hopes and Love Like This taking off in a similar way. Kodaline have found themselves propelled to the nub of Ireland’s musical zeitgeist through a combination of emotive, earwormy tracks and tearjerking videos, delivered with the kind of polished professionalism that belies their newcomer status. The release of two EPs and the formation of a notable blog-backlash in the same time period simply serves to prove a point: like them or not, Kodaline are very difficult to ignore.
The release of ‘In A Perfect World’, then, is time to pull things together and in throwing in those three singles in the opening four tracks, takes the obvious route to doing so. The singles as you’ll no doubt have heard, are odes to romanticism; self-confessed post-break-up anthems that succeed in being general enough to apply to almost any listener, but also tell stories through their poetic verses.
Take Love Like This which pulls the Coldplay trick. Anyone can relate to “I never meant to cause you trouble, I never meant to do you wrong“, or “the tears come streaming down your face, when you lost something you can’t replace”. “High hopes, take me back to when we started” and “All I want and nothing more is to hear you knocking at my door” work in much the same way. The criticism they evoke is obvious: at times it’s incredibly middle of the road. The thing is, done well enough, middle of the road can be exceptional too. While Kodaline rarely push the boundaries of musical originality, they pull off something that can be equally difficult: being truly top class at a more long-standing and familiar genre.
Take the Dylan-esque mouth-organ backing on Love Like This, or the extended bridge in High Hopes (possibly the most Coldplay moment in Kodaline’s entire repertoire): it’s smart, sweet and straight out of the playbook; the sure signs of a stadium rock band. Inevitably, there’s a little of the music critic in us that wants to dislike it, that screams for an adventurous key change or nine-minute beat track. Overall though, the song writing’s just so smooth, so infectious and so – dare we say it – touching those less obvious elements aren’t needed.
Inevitably, the quality does drop a little after the singles. The confidence to omit popular EP track The Answer is a brave one, especially as After The Fall and Way Back When – the latter an acoustic number that opens with a coffee-cup slurp – are a marked step down in quality. It’s a slight shame as Way Back When is probably the biggest change in direction on the entire album. Elsewhere, though, Pray tries moody blues in its dramatic piano chords and All Comes Down To – perhaps the nearest approximation of those radio-smash singles – takes off with soaring vocals against a choral-esque minimalist backdrop, not unlike a mellow Embrace track.
The stand out asset was never in doubt, of course. Steve Garrigan’s voice is a weapon. With the utmost respect to the rest of the band – they’re a talented bunch – it’s Garrigan’s powerful, pitch-perfect vocal angst that’s by a distance their stand out asset, especially layered as it is onto songs that find their soul in the half-key changes and heady choruses. Talk shows Garrigan can do subtle wonderfully, but it’s when he lets loose that we’re left with the anthemic sound that looks likely to define the band. Best of all, Goldenplec’s already seen that delivery live, and it’s every bit as spine-tinglingly sensational.
We suspect the album can count on a comfortable Irish number one, and perhaps a solid UK chart position, too. If there’s an Irish band on their way up and heading for stadiums, this is where you’d lay your money, and you probably wouldn’t get very long odds. With another album like this and the confidence to deliver this brand of heart-on-sleeve emotion consistently, those Olympia Theatre dates later this year will quickly start to look like small shows. If being a slight throwback to the dying days of stadium rock is a criticism, Kodaline are guilty as charged: they have more in common with the likes of Coldplay, The Verve and even Manic Street Preachers than most current guitar acts. More importantly though, they’re genuinely world-class at what they do already, and it’s one seriously emotive experience. For that, we can only stand back and applaud.