It’s clear from track one that the lavishly-titled Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky is another rung up from Porridge Radio’s already skyscraping previous album Every Bad. ‘Back To The Radio’ – it’s a phrase that reads like a newscaster directing very earned attention back to [Porridge] Radio. Fitting, because though Every Bad had them nominated for a Mercury Prize, it had the misfortune of being released just days before the first lockdown. The band couldn’t soak in their critical success in the flesh. Perhaps, though, ‘misfortune’ is a misdescription. The pandemic didn’t trip Porridge Radio’s (remote) climbing to prominence, and the order of global events as we know it willed Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky into glorious existence.
This, the band’s third album, is all the dramatic motion – plunges, whooshes, ascension – implied by its name. Dana Margolin’s voice is ever-powerful, sodden with enough vulnerability to be wrung out and fill a pool. ‘Raw’ is an overused word to describe vocals, but it’s difficult to describe hers with anything but the most complimentary use of ‘raw’. Margolin’s vocals are as raw as if she clawed them from the pit of her gut. The backing vocals from bandmates Georgie Stott and Maddie Ryall compliment well, light and ethereal.
Across the twelve tracks stretch tumultuous themes – guilt, forgiveness, relationship strain, self reprimanding, physical touch, existence itself, and being wholly overwhelmed by it all. “I don’t wanna be loved” Margolin repeats in track three, descending into screams. Then “don’t cut me out” is the looping lyric as track ten outros. Also in track three; “I want one feeling all the time, I don’t want to feel a thing”. The contradiction throughout Waterslide… sits on the listener’s chest like The Nightmare, undoubtedly familiar and heavy for it. “With this album, the feelings of joy, fear and endlessness coexist together,” says Margolin.
The intensity of the album, and each song, swells and crashes. There are innumerable moments in which it builds to a chest-bursting precipice, before releasing and reeling back to an uneasy calm. Porridge Radio, tactically, intend to keep you alive to hear their next track, but only just. ‘Birthday Party’ might best exemplify this. Following in the great songwriting tradition of making the birthday party a heartbreaking occasion, the track mixes images of mundanity with cries of accusation and deep existentialism. Its tumbling-over-itself rhythm feels always at the point of falling, but somehow still going, and employed once again is Porridge Radio’s rare-jewel power of being capable of imbuing a phrase with a minutely altered new meaning with each repetition. Also, as someone whose web address bar autocompletes just ‘s’ to her preferred spider solitaire site, I would also like to include a personal note of gratitude for the lyric “I’m always playing solitaire”. So am I, Dana.
“I wrote these songs for myself but I think everyone wants to feel like what they’re doing is useful in some way,” says Margolin. I’m learning to embrace both now, the parts that are for me, and the parts that are for everybody else.” Indeed, Waterslide… provides a dueling sense of comfort and discomfort; its content is deeply personal, but universal, an exorcism for its creators and a corroboration for its listeners. It has hordes of likeminds in its introspection. It is a gift for all.