I like a lot of things about Enter Shikari. I like the fact that they are an innovative band who are willing to take risks. I love that they stand up for what they believe in and I think Rou Reynolds is smart and articulate. Even when their politics go a bit Standard Grade Modern Studies and ‘fuck the man’, I tend to agree with the general point. The only problem is, I’ve never got along with their music.
Which I think is an important thing to point out. If you’re a Shikari fan, your view of The Spark will probably be very different from mine. For me, the idea that they were pushing towards a more mainstream orientated sound actually gave me a bit of hope. It gave me hope that if they stripped things back, they’d manage to write something I could finally connect with. Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Because while it’s clear right from the start of The Spark what Shikari are going for, it doesn’t change the fact that a lot of this just isn’t very good. ‘The Sights’ is angled straight towards mainstream radio, and if you’d told me any number of generic pop bands had released it I’d believe you without a second thought. It’s easy to get along because it’s so light it almost floats away.
That, however, turns out to be a lot better than what is to come. ‘Take My Country Back’ takes those Standard Grade Modern Studies lyrics and turns them up to eleven. Lines like ‘we’ve really gone and fucked it this time’ are all well and good, but they’re hardly cutting edge political commentary. I think we’d all figured that out. Still, it’s better than ‘Rabble Rouser’ which sees Shikari go all grime in the most cringe-worthy of ways. That’s not my world so I’m no expert, but my ears tell me that it’s awful.
Annoyingly, when The Spark is at its best is when it’s doing what I hoped it would do. When it strips everything back and lets Rou flourish it verges on being great. ‘Airfield’ builds to a rousing sing-along and shines thanks to its simplicity compared to the electronic messiness that surrounds it. While ‘An Ode To Lost Jigsaw Pieces’ is heartbreaking. You can hear Reynold’s voice cracking as he sings that ‘fear put me in a headlock and dragged me back from the unknown’. They’re the moments on the album that feel the most genuine and are all the better for it.
I came into The Spark desperate to love it, but it just isn’t working. I still love the idea of Enter Shikari, and if any band is going to go huge (not that they aren’t already pretty big), I hope it’s one like them. One which stands up for what they believe in and has something to say. Sadly, The Spark confirms that I’ll still be watching from the outside rather than from down the front.