Blue Aeroplanes Cavaliers

Back in the early ’90s, there was no band better than the Blue Aeroplanes. Each subsequent album was better than the last (peaking with 1991's Beatsongs) and they had managed to cultivate an impressive fan base that even included R.E.M. They could do no wrong. Then their output slowed to a crawl, and they more or less disappeared off the face of the planet, apart from the occasional compilation. Considering that it has been five years since the band’s last new album, Cavaliers is not what I expected. All 12 tracks are entitled “Cavaliers” (“Parts One through 12,” not surprisingly) and it clocks in at a mere 26 minutes — hardly an epic album like they made in days gone by. But they manage to condense a whole lot into those 26 minutes; a few tracks clock in at under a minute, leaving plenty of time for some songs to develop. Vocalist Gerald Langley still plays the part of beat poet, half-talking and half-singing the lyrics over layers of guitar — considering that the band used to boast seven guitarists playing simultaneously, this feels a little restrained at times. Sometimes less is more, though, and even the quieter tracks sound rich and complex. But when the guitar count reaches those higher numbers, the clamour is inspired. The companion disc included, Roundheads, is a collection of rare, unreleased and live tracks, and for the most part you can understand why they remained rare or unreleased. Far too many of the songs couldn’t really be classed as the Aeroplanes best work and so it doesn’t really feel like much of a bonus at all — you can’t help but feel that a better retreading of their glory days would have been a lot more satisfying. The Blue Aeroplanes were always good and time hasn’t changed that. They have aged, though, and maybe even mellowed a little, making Cavaliers a surprisingly challenging album for both fans and people discovering the band for the first time. (Dutch East India)