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Album Review
The Sparrow

The Sparrow
by Lawrence Arabia


Review Date
10th July 2012
Reviewed by
Gareth Meade

It’s easy to underestimate The Sparrow on first listen. Its tonal shift from Chant Darling, Lawrence Arabia’s previous album, is so sudden that you immediately have to readjust your expectations. The breezy hooks and layered harmonies that defined Chant Darling, are mostly gone, replaced instead by something more grandiose, but also more intimate. The Sparrow evokes hazily lit nights in less frequented parts of town, where musicians play for themselves rather than for an audience. Although that gives the album a personal quality, it also carries a sense of imperfection; melodies not quite mastered and ideas not quite fulfilled.

This sense of imperfection tends to make the times when everything comes together as obvious as when they don’t. The attractive string arrangement that introduces ‘Travelling Shoes’ falls squarely in the former category, feeling less superfluous than some of the orchestration that garnishes songs further down the track list. It’s organic in nature and works as a nice counterpoint to the slightly seedy funk of the guitar led outro. James Milne’s narration remains as familiar as ever, it’s the setting that’s different, but the pieces are a comfortable fit. Similarly, ‘Lick Your Wounds’ shows off Milne’s wonderful falsetto and helps to realign what the listener might have expected The Sparrow to sound like.

‘The Listening Times’ and ‘Bicycle Riding’, on the other hand, are perhaps one shift in atmosphere too far. While the first few notes of ‘Bicycle Riding’ shows that Milne’s voice can carry the weight, the songs lack direction and each suggests experimentation that hasn’t been fully realised. It will inevitably be a case of personal preference, but songs with a spring in their step fit better with the persona that Milne has cultivated as Lawrence Arabia.

Interestingly, the highs and lows do tend to work in pairs. Following the jaunty ‘The 03’ and the finely tuned groove of ‘Early Kneecapping’ comes the lacklustre ‘The Bisexual’, a tongue in check effort that aims for drama, but mostly winds up feeling like it has gotten away from everyone involved. It’s then followed by the instrumental ‘Dessau Rag’, which by its very nature lacks the strongest element of any Lawrence Arabia album, namely Milne’s voice.

Nevertheless, by the time you reach the end of The Sparrow, it’s hard not to find yourself drawn back to the beginning. This is mostly due to the album’s finale ‘Legends’, which is the culmination of everything that has come before it. The mood is perfect, as is the mix of drama and delicacy with which the song draws to a close. Yes, there are disappointing elements throughout The Sparrow, but subsequent listens reveal that they cast less of a shadow over the material that works wonderfully well, which is enough to make this a good album, if not the great album everyone might have hoped for.


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