When a fire starts to burn, right, and it starts to spread
The debut album from this Brit electronic group, made up of two brothers, is striking and compelling in a lot of ways. But it’s part of a trend I’ve been noticing of late to make albums far longer than they need to be. Is this an overreaction to the fact that songs can be downloaded one at a time now? I don’t know, but I just know that I’ve continued to run into this issue and it’s really crippled some albums that might have been great if they’d been shorter: Daft Punk’s seventy-five minute Random Access Memories is a great example; it would be a great album with just two or three songs cut, but as it is, it’s simply a good one. And the less said about Arcade Fire’s Reflektor the better; there’s a lot of really great music on the record, but it’s almost an hour-and-a-half at a whopping eighty-six minutes. Of course, if you bought the deluxe album, you got more music and the album’s ultimate running time ends up being a hundred-and-thirteen minutes. The idea that any artist would release a non-box set album that long would have seemed laughable even five years before Reflektor.
But back to Settle, to say that it starts strong would be an understatement. There’s an intro track that’s about a minute long and then the album bursts into the stomping, high energy When a Fire Starts to Burn. Next up is Latch, a soaring track with Sam Smith. Then the rather forgettable F for You segues right into White Noise, the unbelievably great track with AlunaGeorge. So, the album’s three greatest songs (I might be tempted to say the ONLY truly great songs) all come in the first five tracks. This is a fourteen track album. I’ve rarely seen an album sequenced so dreadfully. I get it; start with a bang. But you can’t put all the best stuff in the first third of an album. It’s incredibly unbalanced and the album gets less interesting as it goes along. It’s only a minute over an hour, but it feels about as long as Random Access Memories. It isn’t that these songs are horrible, they’re just . . . uninspired at worst (like the quite bad Defeated No More) and middling at best (with the exception of You & Me, which I think is quite lovely). The middling songs wouldn’t feel, I don’t think, quite so bad, nor the album so interminable in the back third if, say, the two or three worst tracks were cut. You’d have, in my opinion, a brilliant forty-five minute album; a lot tighter, better sequenced record might have been a true masterpiece. As it stands, this album has some dead periods and, unfortunately, the biggest one is at the end where the last three tracks just kind of run together.
Still, Disclosure has a strong and unique vision for electronic music with their bubbling effervescence. (The dark track Voices is an attempt to be brooding and it really doesn’t work). When that vision really coheres, you get something like White Noise or When a Fire Starts to Burn and those are life-changingly great songs. And it’s worth remembering that when this album came out, the brothers that make up Disclosure were nineteen & twenty-two. The fact that, essentially, a couple of kids came up with White Noise is mind-blowing. And it also makes me want to cut them a little slack with the missteps on this album. Anyway, it’s definitely an exciting album, both in terms of some of its content and in terms of what it foreshadows for this group. With all its flaws, it’s still a very good album – no album with the great songs this one has could be less. But it might have been a great one with a little restraint. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – electronic duo’s debut is exciting and mind-blowing at its best & never really awful, but it could stand to have two or three of the mediocre filler songs trimmed. 3 ½ stars.