The Simpsons started off as a punky upstart of a television show (don’t worry, I’m going somewhere with this). It was a spiky brat that shot from the hip commissioned a nascent television network with nothing to lose. Over time things changed. The network, Fox, grew to the mainstream and The Simpsons was its flagship. The show changed as a result. The humour devolved from snarky wit to broad, lazy observations and characters who were caricatures of their former selves; the sharp edges pared away so it didn’t offend anyone. Before they knew it, they were unable to keep up to date with the new upstarts; South Park, American Dad, etc.
The same has happened in other television shows (Friends for example) and is part of a well established model in the growth of companies. It also happens with music. Bands establish a core following through an album or two and rather than continue to experiment, they play it safe so as not to ‘alienate their original fans’. This usually ends with the band alienating their original fans. Kings of Leon, Interpol and Green Day are prime examples. While Kings of Leon and Green Day proved that it’s not commercially problematic to do this (Fox is still milking their animated cash-cow too), they have lost that nuanced edge that made them popular in the first place.
It seems that TV After Midnight have skipped the edgy upstart phase and started out edgeless with debut album ‘Arrivals’. Opener Running Full Circle is a prime example. After an interesting opening the whole thing comes across a bit… well… Hoobastank; complete with bland power-chords and unconvincing sentiment.
On the likes of Out On Your Own and Icarus the influence of the like of Foo Fighters or Biffy Clyro can be seen. TV After Midnight just seem to lack the courage of their convictions; both to their sound and to their emotion. As a result, everything ends up coming across embroiled in blandness. Drowning too, suffers the same fate. Starting off like a cross between Foo Fighters’ My Hero and The Frames Revelate and having an early Ash guitar sound around the chorus sounds very promising but bland verse after bland verse taints the whole recipe.
The Commoner seems to be the only track that doesn’t fall into the trap. Hints of Super Furry Animal abound with the inviting riff before the chorus kicks in with a very Shoot the Runner feel. The solo at the three-quarter mark, and closing repeat of the chorus may be very formulaic, but they’re formulaic for a reason: they work.
It’s the missed opportunities that frustrate more than anything else on ‘Arrivals’. The aforementioned Drowning had a lot of potential while Faith Won’t Falter could have been a proper rocker and Puzzle a slow-burning epic. Closer Crazy Hearts too had potential to be a quiet, emotional tear-jerker but instead gets caught up in grandiosity and power chords and loses anything special it may have had going for it.
There is certainly nothing to actively dislike on ‘Arrivals’, but its lack of a unique makes it thoroughly dispensable.