2014 has been a pretty good year for Scottish music, or at least looks to be. During the last eight months or so Fatherson have released potentially the year’s best debut record, with the likes of Lonely The Brave and The Xcerts yet to release highly anticipated albums during the next four months. Things are set up nicely then for Twin Atlantic to continue the charge with their third album Great Divide, and given their track record you’d wholly expect them to release a record to contend with the year’s best – even outside of their borders. They haven’t, and after two fairly exceptional albums, the bands third is completely underwhelming, disappointing even, and it’s by far the weakest collection of songs they’ve released thus far.
With each batch of new material Twin Atlantic have matured and grown, and Great Divide sees this trend continue, although not for the better. The bands third record is a tamer affair; it’s refined instead of raw, losing some of the previous explosive factor in favour of a slicker release. This is made apparent instantly with opener The Ones That I Love (Intro), a three-minute piano led track which doesn’t really make an impression despite expressing some relatable sentiments (‘You can tell that the youth of today have lost their voice / No-one questions we all just accept we are told’). It’s labelled as an introduction, and it sounds like one, unnecessary to an extent, but it sees the band try something relatively new, and it half works, half doesn’t – which is perhaps a better introduction to the record than the songs content itself. Great Divide is the term ‘hot-and-cold’ embodied musically. From the offset, almost every other song seems to be a reserved, sentimental ballad sandwiched between a more dynamic rock song, and neither side comes out on top upon conclusion. Great Divide very on-off, unable to commit to a single confident sound, and there’s something very unconvincing about it all, and it doesn’t help either that its lyrical content is inconsistent to say the least. Songs which aim to inspire thought and revolution fall between tracks about partying and reminiscing, and again, the band seem unable to choose a focus, stuck between rousing ambition, or soundtracking a good time. Songs like Cell Mate are boisterous and loud, but when they’re followed by pensive, sorrowful songs like Rest In Pieces they very quickly lose their impact; solid at the time, but quickly forgotten afterwards as things slow down and simmer out. The lyrics of these softer songs are often clichéd, and there aren’t many lines which stand out for the right reasons; vocalist and lyricist Sam McTrusty seems to be trying too hard to write something he thinks sounds quite profound but ultimately ends up sounding clumsy. There’s shades of Biffy in more playful lines like ‘I put the sun in an elevator, and took it to my home’ but a lot of the time these more abstract lyrics fall flat, and in this particular instance it doesn’t quite fit when second track Heart & Soul shifts to a triumphant but disappointingly weak chorus. Single Brothers & Sisters has a chorus big enough to distract from lines like ‘Please don’t leave me here in a sea of weird’ but it still doesn’t quite feel right as a Twin Atlantic song despite more familiar sentiments echoing that ‘there’s nothing wrong with being a dreamer’. It sounds unusually shallow, and although the record is well suited for light listening it’s tough to really become invested in it like past releases have encouraged. The songs here are decent enough as long as you don’t really dive into them, at which point they begin to sound forced and lacklustre. It’s a shame for a band who’ve built their sound on their own charisma and ambition, but Great Divide sees Twin Atlantic grow, but it actually sounds like a step back despite an attempt at maturation in their song writing.
Towards the end Great Divide establishes a clearer train of thought, with the final few tracks focusing more so on inspiring a change, but by this point I’d become tired of it all, and the messages fell upon weary ears. It’s a stark contrast to Free, which definitely made a mark ending with We Want Better Man, but here Why Won’t We Change? (which preaches a similar sort of coming together) comes far too late to hold any hope of a repeat effort. That spark isn’t there, and Great Divide doesn’t have enough memorable moments to carry it through to an emphatic finish. That raw edge no longer exists, the foot has been taken off the gas, and it seems as though the band are catering more so to an audience who prefer a pop-rock approach. Grand choruses often don’t reach the heights they aspire too, and verses often suffer from weak lyrics and a reserved delivery, building to frequent anticlimaxes. Seventh track I Am An Animal is an exception, raucous enough to match its title, and it’s one of the rare moments in which the band get it absolutely right; it’s energetic and fuelled with a bounce to it which is tough to resist, but that’s as gritty and memorable as it gets. For the most part Great Divide is content to play it safe; it’s too clean, too polished, too diluted, too… ordinary, and at times it struggles to find a cohesive identity. The Twin Atlantic I’ve come to love over the last few years were slightly weird (Old Grey Face), very catchy (Audience To Audio) and there was a real fire to their music (Edit Me). Great Divide falls short in each of those areas (for the most part), and it shows, and suffers throughout because of this lack of imagination and perhaps motivation.
Granted, Great Divide isn’t quite what I wanted it to be, but there’s no denying the quality that does exist there on occasion. In my opinion, Twin Atlantic’s third album is average, but even an average Twin Atlantic album does have highlights – it just doesn’t have as many as I’d have liked. Third track Hold On is one of the best songs the band have ever released, standing out here, electric and infectious, as well as featuring one of the better choruses, during which a message is received by a listener. It’s one of the most notable instances in which Great Divide really communicates something worthwhile, and it does it alongside instrumentation which packs a punch. In terms of the slower content Oceans stands head and shoulders above; a stripped back, delicate track with some real thought behind it. McTrusty’s vocals are well suited; there’s a subtle whimsy to Scottish accents which benefits daydreaming songs like this one, and as the song drifts on calmer tides it flickers with life, perking up towards the end as strings enter the picture. Oceans is a firm highlight, but it’s quality stands out more so when compared to entirely forgettable ballad-like tracks Be A Kid and Rest In Pieces, which are very difficult to take seriously in light of their fairly cheap content.
Great Divide should have been the record to really cement Twin Atlantic as one of the best bands in British music. After the success of Free they looked set to shake phrases like ‘the next Biffy Clyro’ and really establish themselves this time out. Great Divide is no Puzzle, and if you discount Vivarium as a debut full-length (as some do) then this is definitely a ‘difficult second album’, to use another phrase. Great Divide lacks conviction, and it fizzles out all too quickly, extinguishing the bands trademark spark early on, meaning that when it ends you’re left with a few stand-out selections and a lot of tracks which should have been much better.
Listen to: Hold On / Oceans / I Am An Animal