Artist: Sixpence None the Richer
Album: Lost in Transition
Label: Credential Recordings
Sixpence None the Richer have been on the go for so long that it seems they’ve perfected the art of the tastefully inoffensive. Far from pushing the boat out with Lost in Transition, they’ve scuppered a rather exciting and evocative opening half by letting it slip into wayward and unsatisfying repetition. That there were lengthy delays and problems surrounding the album’s release is clear in its music – not because they seem sloppy or piecemeal, but rather in that they’re undernourished. The opening tracks have life and vitality, but the album’s second half is marked by dreariness, as though the ideas were noted but never developed. As a result, Lost in Transition has the air of something overly sugary – sweet and enjoyable, but ultimately unfulfilling.
This is not helped by the fact that many of the songs are positively laced with sweetness. To be fair, Leigh Nash has such a girlishly shrill voice that it’d be difficult not to hear everything as rainbow-tinged pop, but even at that, a little more depth would have helped. When the band wants to be on better form, they’re surprisingly adept at it, which makes the descent into formulaic territory all the more irksome. Nash’s voice is actually the one element that tends to set them apart. On “Radio” for instance, her vocals are clear as day, elevating a token sad song above the ordinary. She evokes something more akin to nostalgia – something wishful, filled with remembrance. It’s slightly pained, but neither whimsical nor indulgent. Likewise, the quiet confidence of her performance on “Give It Back” brings a gentle grace to the instruments. On “Failure,” she’s a piercing presence, unaccompanied at first except for a drum. This track eventually undoes its intriguing opening by foisting one too many country hallmarks upon us, but the words are resigned and its empty, lost ending ensures it lingers in the mind. Planted in the album’s middle, it’s also the only sullen note in a sea of love songs, making it that much more distinctive.
Sixpence None the Richer are not a one-woman show however. There are other encouraging aspects, such as the pleasing and chirpy instrumentation on the likes of “My Dear Machine.” This song, the album opener, is sunny and likeable, with a kind of wandering amiability that gives it more staying power. “Don’t Blame Yourself” is lukewarm, but rescued by the phalanx of keys and percussion that bedazzle during the chorus. Unfortunately however, the band becomes overly reliant on these quirks as the record progresses. They seem to become fixated on one particularly throwaway pop style and never develop or expand beyond the basics. “Safety Line” seeks to be soft and loving, but sounds too aimless. Its affectionate overtones are underwhelming and there’s nothing to ground it into a more solid shape. “When You Call Me” and “Should Not Be This Hard” are both pretty but disposable. There’s nothing beyond the shiny veneer to make them endearing or memorable. That these tracks sound nice is irrefutable and they are an undemanding, relatively pleasing listen. But they’re just too nice – too vanilla, too insubstantial, too eager to please. They fail to form character of their own and leave Lost in Transition to peter away with barely a squeak. “Sooner Than Later” picks its way through an endless series of tragically remorseful lyrics. “Stand My Ground” is ghostly, but lacks meaning. “Be OK” ends the record on a slightly more upbeat note but while its guitars are more energetic and interesting, they can’t mask the song’s fleeting appeal.
Lost in Transition will make for an adequate comeback for the group – their first full-length in ten years, and their first since they reformed in 2007 – but more work is needed to justify this revival. In an era in which gimmickry has become the norm (whether you consider this to be a good or bad thing), it is twice as difficult to stand out when one’s material is this simplistic and shy. It’s perennially likeable, but too unremarkable to inspire or hold long-term interest. A good name and decent following are hardly enough to tide a band over, and the music needs to aim higher than this.
Review written by Grace Duffy