Written by Jack Andrew Cribb
I’m wary of any new Enter Shikari release, having found that their albums are very hit-and-miss in terms of composition. Common Dreads (2009), A Flash Flood Of Colour (2012), and The Mindsweep (2015) were composed of mixtures of genuinely interesting tracks; colourful, raucous, and sometimes moving, interspersed with tracks that lacked feeling or form, narrative, and seemed to be created with an electronic ease, just for the act of getting a message across. After many attempts at messages of politics, equality, and environmental protection (amongst others), these messages felt stilted. I’d argue this was because of the lyrics the bands decided to use, full of poor metaphors and hackneyed descriptions. It’s an issue with politicised music, that the message can take precedent and ruin the aesthetic of the track. Some may argue that’s not the point, but it is not my job to decry the messages projects transmit, just the actual sound. Fortunately for the four-piece who hail from St. Albans, The Spark, is a distinct sign of artistic evolution.
Sonically, this album is the most similar to their first ever release, 2007’s Take To The Skies, which I am of the opinion is their strongest release as a whole. The album had this ethereal feel, frontman Rou Reynolds use of synthesizers that created vast and dark soundscapes that wonderfully underscored the post-hardcore machinations of Chris Batten, Rob Rolfe, and Liam ‘Rory’ Clewlow. It hovered from the metalcore leanings of Sorry You’re Not A Winner to the mathcore elements of Ok Time For Plan B. It was a stunning debut, both musically and lyrically. The Spark has travelled down this route again, having an overall dramatic feel to it.
The album begins with The Spark, a short and visceral electronic intro composed of a number of chords. It has a cheerful, futuristic sound to it, almost playful. This short opening blends into The Sights, a melodic and punchy 3:21 space-age track, where Reynolds sings ‘I’m searching far and wide to find a planet to orbit/ Far and wide, I wanna scan and explore it’, the first of Shikari’s immediately memorable lyrics of this LP. This in turn opens the album up as the most commercially mainstream to ever be released, as it doesn’t rely that heavily on the metalcore aspects they have mixed in with previous releases. Don’t misjudge though, they haven’t lost any of their classic sound, merely polished it up a bit. It’s a good opening to the album, but is lost after the poor efforts of Live Outside and Take My Country Back to provide interesting political discourse. These songs would unfortunately fit into the repertoire of the Facebook group ‘Thank Mr Banky’ – a group dedicated to exposing purportedly political artwork as cheesy echo-chamber art, as pseudo-intellectual as their ineffectiveness.
The second half of the album is much more eloquent. I think Shikari do their best work when trying harder to create a subtle and intricate metaphor than their more straightforward tracks. This song is one example of that, where the four-piece have created something genuinely touching in its simplicity. The stirring piano-lead crescendo at the end where Reynolds sings ‘Yeah, you’re down on your luck, you’re down/ But that don’t mean you’re out’ is another of the memorable lyric lines on this album, reminding us of a similar track on Take To The Skies, Adieu, which is just as moving as it was when first released.
Lyrically speaking, this is some of Shikari’s strongest, and most heart-warming work yet. Particularly interesting are the lyrics of Shinrin-Yoku, which translates from Japanese as ‘Forest Therapy’. On the track, Reynolds stated Shinrin-Yoku “is kind of celebrating nature and its health-giving properties – whether physical or mental health, it’s so important for both. And I feel like in our economic system and in our culture, it isn’t celebrated as much as it should be. It’s our little ode to nature and the beauty of it.”
It’s a song about wonder, questioning the vast expanse of nature and the universe itself, feeling incredibly minute but also at-one with things, a theme which seems to run through The Spark, distancing itself from being a Shikari album focused on politics, as this is not its main thrust of argument. This album questions our place in the world, our hopes and dreams, and what we can do for one another. Reynolds almost shouts this in one of the most eloquent phrases on the album “We are dust on the stained-glass windows/ Trying to comprehend the cathedral”.
The Spark represents a step forward for the band, who have evolved their music, and even more so, their lyricisms. We still get the hard in-your-face Shikari we all know and love in the form of tracks like Rabble Rouser and Revolt Of The Atoms, but we are treated to an ultimately more calm, reticent, and zen-like band, who are really trying to paint detailed pictures with the music they are now making. The penultimate track delivers an emotional blow, sounding both pained and also triumphant, a mixture of lyrics like “But in my chest there’s a thundering pain/ It feels like God’s in there, having a migraine”, laid over orchestral and brass compositions. It ends on this stunning crescendo, a tempestuous choral scream of bombastic virtuosity, with the final, simple lyrics that are resplendent in their universality “We all cope somehow”. And it’s true, we do, and Enter Shikari realise this, creating an album in a world full of people coping. In the end, it’s quite touching.