Preachers

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For this, their second album, My Jerusalem frontman Jeff Klein claims to have been inspired by the idea that “Nobody ever paid money to see Harry Houdini escape being buried alive. They wanted the small chance of seeing him killed by the weight of the earth on top of him”. It’s a fair indication of what’s to come: images of drowning, burial, suicide and sickness permeate the songs and the overall tone is one of unrelenting bleakness. The title track sets the scene. "We’re all animals in the wilderness …. We’re gonna drown in the river" mutters Klein. Here and elsewhere on the album, Nick Cave seems to have been an inspiration, both lyrically and sonically. However, without the eloquence and pitch black humour that underpins all of Cave’s work, Preachers all too often ends up sounding overwrought and, at its worst, very silly indeed. "Death Valley" illustrates this problem perfectly. "Under the blood red sky, under a pumpkin moon, run for your life, they’re using flesh for food" sounds like something from the Rocky Horror Picture Show; so much so that you wouldn’t be surprised if they broke out into "The Timewarp". Klein, however, appears to be completely unaware of this, delivering every line with grave sincerity. The over-egging of the musical pudding also filters through to Klein’s singing. Though the lyrics hardly need any further emphasis, on "Born in the Belly" he adopts a somewhat unconvincing howl throughout. When he screams "I’m still coming for you!" you’re left less than terrified. Lurking behind the lyrics, Preachers offers some decent moments, but nothing of any striking originality. "Mono" shows a lightness of touch with guitar arpeggios over a gentle groove, while in its quieter moments like "Devoe" and "Between Space", the album recalls The National’s brooding indie rock. On the other hand, there are some jarring missteps, especially "This Time" which, with its bouncy, lo-fi Americana and gruff vocal, sounds almost exactly like an off-cut from an M. Ward album and completely at odds with anything else on offer here. Meanwhile, with its chugging Southern rock backed by perky horns, "Oh Little Sister" ends up sounding a little like Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass backing Kings of Leon circa 2003. In the end, Houdini wasn’t buried alive, despite what the paying public may have secretly hoped for. Instead, it was peritonitis brought about by a ruptured appendix that did for him. It seems absurd that a man who spent his life risking death in the most thrilling ways imaginable should die such a mundane death, but such are the subtleties and absurdities of life. Unfortunately, this is a record that has little time for either of these things and, as a result, fails to make any real emotional connection.