It was a rare thing that Delphic managed with their debut album, welding rock and dance, melody and beats in a way that didn’t suck, and all the more commendable considering the depths that Hadouken! were plundering around the same time. Even three years on Acolyte maintains an urgency and immediacy that few crossover records possess: it was derivative, sure, but it made the familiar seem vibrant, even essential.
But that’s a precarious alchemy, and from the off it’s pretty clear that Collections hasn’t got it quite right. All the elements are there – the immaculate production, the rhythmic drive, the relentless swell towards an anthemic chorus – yet somewhere along the assembly line they’ve omitted any feeling, any conviction to their sound.
That’s not to say that the album wants for effort. Collections’ ten tracks are layered and multitracked to exhaustion, its palette ranged from portentous drums to choral swirl, Eastern atmospherics to petulant guitar squalls, often within the same four minutes. It’s a kitchen-sink approach that seems primed to appease everyone – and indeed, most of us will find something somewhere in here to like – but which renders the whole thing curiously devoid of personality, desperately peacocking like a high-end keyboard locked into demo mode.
Take opener Of The Young, all doomy swagger and bravado for its first minute and stadium arm-waver for the next, the outro draping strings and brass over an evening hymnal. There’s ambition here, certainly, but not much of a song, the fevered rush towards whichever subgenre is due up next preventing any one aspect from ever gaining the space to breathe.
It’s a formula that recurs throughout Collections, sadly, its tracks seeming not so much written as generated by code. First single Baiya makes a lot of noise without ever lodging anything near to a memory, shrink-wrapped dance-fare that bypasses utterly any kind of synaptic response, whilst Changes only escapes mediocrity with its extended outro – a rare example of the band paring back the layers rather than slathering them on like coats of paint on a damp-addled wall.
Acolyte worked because it recognised the chemistry behind sound, the careful balance of space and volume, whilst Collections seems focused only on the latter. It’s a shift most identifiable in the new emphasis upon vocals, James Cook’s voice having moved from a supporting role to a pretty much constant presence, which has the unfortunate effect of foregrounding Delphic’s lyrics. ‘I’m caught in a rabbit hole/you left me nowhere to go he sings emphatically in Freedom Found, and whilst it’s not fair to judge a record on its words, placing rhyming couplets this obscene so high in the mix is asking for derision. Oh no don’t let the dreamers/Come and take you away comes the warning near the album’s close, which might be excusable if the song around it wasn’t so horribly earnest, its countless layers of orchestral bluster climactically assembled as if this was a sentiment that actually meant something.
It’s telling that Collections’ most affecting moments by far are found in the answerphone-message interlude of Tears Before Bedtime, its simple piano melodies twined with minimal vocals and subtle electronics: bridged between the string-led melodramas Atlas and The Sun Also Rises the track seems placed as mere breathing space, a sonic buffer breaking up the ‘proper’ songs, but it speaks louder than anything around it. It’s not that the epic approach is wrong per se, but that it’s overused to the point of quickly numbing, the prompting to emote as contrived as a summer blockbuster.
It’s a shame, as there are some really strong moments here, lodged beside far weaker ones and deserving of better company. But at no point across the forty minutes does it seem as though Delphic really care about the songs they’re producing so much as the manner in which they’re produced: all their focus has gone into polishing the tracks rather than writing them. And that polish does sustain them, to a point: Collections is enjoyable, in the way that ready meals can be enjoyable, with their sugar hit and empty calories, their disposability and easy consumption. But who remembers a ready meal?