[Review of Anathema, Distant Satellites (Kscope, 2014). Reviewed from digital files and without liner notes or lyrics.]
I would give much either to have the opportunity to write a different review or avoid writing a review of this album altogether. The latter is my usual M.O. when I don’t like something or when I think something is subpar. Though other progarchists would justly and properly disagree with me on this issue, I think it important to spend our time writing and thinking about beautiful things. Life is simply too short to waste on mud, muck, and decay, and art is too precious and rare to squander or abuse it.
Also, simply put, I’m not good at writing about things I don’t like. I would also guess that spending time with things that are poor or corrupt damage my soul (and yours) irreparably.
But, I can neither ignore the new Anathema nor write a positive review of it without being dishonest. Distant Satellites is not corrupt, but it is, for the band, sub par. I wish Anathema would have taken more time with the writing of this album or simply have taken time off for a rest. Or, perhaps, the band could have released just a few of the best songs as an EP rather than as a full-fledged album. As an album, it can’t hold together.
A year ago, if someone had asked me to discuss the present state of rock music, I would have sung the praises of Big Big Train and The Tangent, correctly claiming that each band was reach so far and attaining so much that they were very close to becoming untouchable. 2014 wouldn’t change this assessment. BBT and The Tangent are not only at the very top of their game, they are at the very top of THE game. Outside of North American bands (I’m intentionally excluding Rush and Glass Hammer), I would have gladly said that Cosmograf and Anathema were so close to untouchable as to be nearly at the level of the top two. 2014, thus far, has drastically changed the prog landscape. Whereas Cosmograf has moved into the top three with its new masterpiece, Capacitor, Distant Satellites reveals a broken or, at best, wounded, decaying Anathema.
How different a year ago was. Looking at the trajectory of Anathema—from A Natural Disaster to Universal—I would have placed good money on the rise of the band. Well, not really, I think gambling is a waste of time and money. But, you get the idea. I mean, really, Universal has to be one of the best live albums of the rock era. In terms of intensity and significance, this was a band with everything. While I would not have rated the two lead vocalists of Anathema—Vincent Cavanaugh and Lee Douglas—at the level of, say, David Longdon, Susie Bogdanowicz, or Leah McHenry, they would be close.
As mentioned above, I really wish I could write a different review for the new album. I have now listened to Distant Satellites close to a dozen times in hopes of coming to love it. Every listen, though, only makes realize how poor it is compared to their previous releases. Not that it’s terrible. Overall, it’s ok, but it’s, unfortunately, not much better than ok. I find myself wanting to skip through almost every song. There are two exceptions to this. Track Four, “Ariel,” has to be one of the single best songs Anathema has ever written.
The second best song on the album, “Distant Satellites,” is fascinating, but not necessarily for the right reasons. I’m fairly sure that if I allowed 100 dedicated prog fans to listen to it for the first time without giving them a single piece of information about the track, 75 to 90 of them would claim it to be a never-before-recorded track from Radiohead’s Kid A sessions. Indeed, I won’t be totally surprised when my physical copy finally arrives from the UK, if the liner notes reveal that Thom Yorke actually wrote the track and sang lead vocals on it. It’s one thing to pay homage to an exemplar, it’s a very different thing to mimic them. I really don’t know what to make of all of this, or why Anathema decided to pursue the course it did.
I really wish I could proclaim Distant Satellites to be the finest work yet by Anathema. I would be lying, though.
If you’re an Anathema or Kscope completest, buy this. Otherwise, I simply can’t recommend it. Other than tracks 4 and 9 and, possibly, 10, it’s not worth the price. Purchasing it would be kind of like putting stock in the Skylab project a few days before it crashed into Australia.
Let’s all hope the band’s followup puts them back into orbit.