Truth Is A Beautiful Thing (Dew Process/Universal)
As second albums go, this is a tricky balancing act of forward and backwards movement. Whether it works will depend on if your vision for, or expectations of, London Grammar matches theirs.
Truth Is A Beautiful Thing is a cross between a conservative circling of the wagons (retreating to the core of singer Hannah Reid, drummer/programmer Dot Major and guitarist Dan Rothman, and few extraneous voices/perspectives) and a bold expression of exactly what that core believes is their raison d’etre.
Take out the Eno-period U2 of Big Picture (dangling guitar line, close atmosphere, and a rhythm which suggests momentum with an inevitable end that actually holds in its release) and the album is committed to a minimalist tone in almost all aspects.
Songs are measured rather than made for movement: slow electronic and analogue drums; guitars filling rather than carving spaces and pianos almost stately. Letting things unfurl at their own pace is the London Grammar method.
The temperament is similarly restrained: it’s not gloomy but it certainly is a night-time, indoors, taking it all in/thinking it all over mood. Even when the swell of piano and strings climaxes Hell To The Liars the feeling is of a thickening of thought rather than any escalation of tension.
Above all of this - literally too in the sense that the production places it so comprehensively in advance of all other sounds – is Reid’s strong, compelling, narrow but intense voice. This, if you’re wondering, this is core London Grammar.
In Bones Of Ribbon (a rolling shoulder bassline) and Rooting For You (bell chime guitars), Reid is so commanding that it takes a second or third listen to really grasp what’s happening behind her. She works both low and high, and invites you in.
By contrast, the title track ends the standard album (the deluxe version has a further seven offerings) by making Reid almost impervious. As distant piano and even more distant ghostly keys waft, her voice has a fierce certitude that doesn’t need to trifle with anger and hints at the work of the excellent Australian singer/composer Lisa Gerrard.
For me though this is where the façade, which had begun to crack in an earlier song, Wild Eyed, opens up a fissure. Reid doesn’t have the variety or the subtleties to really make these melodies and atmospheres breathe and expand.
Maintaining a mood is one thing and Truth Is A Beautiful Thing manages that. However, exploring the variegations within that tonal palette, the kind of work which satisfies beyond the superficial pleasures, asks a lot more from any band.
More than this band, and in effect this singer – because, as I said earlier, that voice is core London Grammar – can really achieve just yet.