Augustines have always dreamed big and it has paid off. After opening for Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds on their recent tour and headline shows including the Brixton Academy in London, there is no stopping them. Can their third album This Is Your Life live up to the high expectations they have raised?
While their debut record Rise Ye Sunken Ships (2011) dealt mostly with the death of singer Billy McCarthy’s schizophrenic brother and mother, their self-titled sophomore record (2014) showcased their musical growth and ventured into the more general themes of love, loss and pursuing your dreams like you’ve got nothing to lose. This Is Your Life carries on these topics but, while it doesn’t lack ambition, it often suffers from overproduction and lack of inspiration.
The album starts out with a bang: “Are we alive / or are we just kidding ourselves?“ Billy McCarthy’s belter beckons on the album’s opening track. Already a constant in their setlist, Are We Alive is full of life-affirming sing-alongs that McCarthy belts vigorously (“Honey, we’re alive not dead“; “Love is like an arrow straight to your heart“). It is not until the penultimate and title track, This Is Your Life, that Augustines come back to this initial question with an answer: “This Is Your Life, You’ve just forgotten it yourself“. Both tracks are roaring anthemic rock hymns that will make excellent additions to their live set and your summer road trip playlist.
Video: Augustines – Are We Alive
The powerful opener delivers a somewhat wrong first impression as the remainder of the album strikes a slower note. The ballad Landmine, for instance, which McCarthy has played frequently on his solo stints, shows Augustines at their best with heart-on-sleeve lyrics and stripped down instrumentation. Towards the end, the song is unfortunately overwhelmed by strings and choral backings which is a recurring problem of this record.
On When Things Fall Apart, a brainchild of Queen’s Radio Ga Ga, Augustines step out of their comfort zone. The song is a grower and sees the band play around with synths and beats. However unexpected at first listen, Augustines can perfectly get away with this sound.
Apart from these standout tracks, however, things fall apart rather swiftly. While Landmine shows McCarthy at his most poetic, some of his other lyrics seem strangely generic. Ballads such as May You Keep Well, Hold Me Loneliness, and The Forgotten Way meander along with humdrum lyrics (such as “You need something to believe in”; “Can’t we turn this around, I’m here all on my own”; “Baby, it will be alright”) and mixed metaphors such as “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “Can’t see the forest through the trees”.
Video: Augustines – When Things Fall Apart
With all these songs about love and loss one begins to wonder how many “baby“s and “darling“s McCarthy has alienated during the band’s relentless touring and his motorcycle journeys through Latin America. Despite the emotions still bleeding through his husky vocals, the words have become less refined.
These weaker songs are drowned out by drum effects and choirs creating an emotional distance that is in sharp contrast to the closeness Augustines exhibit during their life shows. While the overall sound of This Is Your Life is similar to 2014’s Augustines, the composition is much more straight forward and chorus-orientated. It is evident that this album aims at radio appeal.
There are flashes of brilliance on power ballad Running in Place but too often the song is overpowered by the production and African choirs. Towards the end of the record, No Need To Explain sees Augustines tread on more familiar ground of buzzing guitars.
While many bands struggle most with their second record, which is usually written in the back of a tour bus, for Augustines, this seems to be the case with their third outing. While the album has a good amount of standout tracks, the remainder is not particularly memorable. The overblown production and everyday lyrics are often a far cry from McCarthy’s honest and heartfelt songwriting on Rise Ye Sunken Ships or Augustines.
In the end, This Is Your Life is a solid rock album with stadium-sized production that will sound great live but compared to Augustines’ previous efforts it’s a little underwhelming.
This Is Your Life is out on June 10th.
Augustines will play a run of festival shows across the UK and Europe this summer followed by headline dates. Confirmed dates can be found below.
Also published on Medium.