Album Review: Aqualung, “Memory Man” (2007)

Aqualung has definitely grown on me. Though it took me months to appreciate Matt Hales’ (who alone makes up Aqualung) debut CD, Strange & Beautiful, once I began to enjoy the album I started to call myself a fan. Hales soothing indie rock sound is a treat to the ears- even if his music does take a bit of time to sink in.

The same could be said of Hales’ second release Memory Man. Again, most of the songs are simply composed, with smooth melodies and contemplative lyrics, though it’s easy to hear Hales’ growth as both a musician and song writer.

Cinderella opens the album and starts off with electric guitar and a crashing piano melody. The melody softens as Hales sings during the verses about feeling regretful over a situation. The best lines lie in the chorus (“Be careful what you hope and you pray for/You know you only get what you pay for”), but the whole song is a treat and a great start to the album.

Hales sings through a vocoder during the first verse of Pressure Suit, a mid-tempo track that sounds vaguely reminiscent of Good Times Gonna Come (a song from Hales’ debut). The song picks up during the chorus with a change in tempo and drums in the background, and boasts another catchy chorus that makes it worth listening to.

One of the album’s gems is Something To Believe In. The song begins with a simple piano and drums melody, and Hales voice is extremely pleasant to listen to during the first verse. The chorus is again the highlight of the song; the addition of more piano and tambourines is a nice touch, and the song actually comes off sounding like something from Snow Patrol. Even the lyrics, about searching for something to believe in our lives (“Turn out the light/And what are you left with/Open up my hands/And find out they’re empty/Press my face to the ground/I’ve got to find a reason/Just scratching around/For something to believe in”), are excellent.

Aqualung Matt Hales

Glimmer is a slow paced ballad, in which the highlight is again Hales’ vocals placed with the acoustic guitar. The song’s simplicity works well, and the track gives off a beautiful, mellow vibe. Vapour Trail continues with the subdued feeling, though the tempo picks up during the chorus. Hales seems to channel U2 in both vocals and style during the choruses, but it works very well. Hales even pairs up with his brother, Ben Hales on Rolls So Deep. The song’s hushed melody is barely noticeable until the chorus, when more guitar is added and Hales works out his upper register. The romantic lyrics are the song’s strength (“It’s like lightning in a clear blue sky/There’s a storm but you keep it inside/It’s like thunder when I look in your eyes/And it rolls…it rolls/It rolls so deep”), and the song is another favorite.

The Lake begins with a quiet piano introduction before fading into the first verse. The simple melody gives the song a very melancholy feeling, but by the chorus, the melody changes a bit and the addition of backing vocals (also done by Hales) sounds hauntingly beautiful. Even the lyrics (“Listen to me/I can only say this once/Are you listening/See these empty hands,/Know that it was all for you/Til I see you again/Down by the lake…/This house smells of ghosts”) are a bit ominous, though the song is so gorgeous that you can’t help listening. Hales should also be noted for doing a superb job with the song’s production (he actually produced the entire album).

The tempo picks up immediately with Black Hole. It seems that Hales had a lot of fun with the sound effects buttons on his Casio keyboard during the production of this song; the melody is laced with “spacey” sounds that do happen to fit in with the lyrics (“You say I’m a black hole/Singularity/My own supernova/A blazing blind catastrophe/And for once I was a star/A long time before that/Somebody’s sun”). Outside is really the only up-tempo rock song on the album; the verses are fast paced and fun, and though the chorus still highlights the piano, there’s a fun drum beat underneath that makes the song stand out.

The album comes to a end with Garden Of Love and Broken Bones. The first of the two isn’t anything remarkable really, though it does sound a lot like a Coldplay track. Hales vocals even sound strangely similar to Chris Martin, and though the song is pleasant, it definitely doesn’t stand out. Hales returns to the vocoder for the first verse of Broken Bones, and the minute of vocoded-vocals is a bit annoying. However, the rest of the song more than makes up for it. Another simple, albeit pretty melody, is presented with more well-written lyrics (“Time bends broken bones/Time bends broken bones/’Til they wrap around your throat/And snap around your fingers”) and smooth vocals, providing an excellent ending to the album.

As I said at the beginning of the review, Aqualung’s music really takes some time to get used to. You might find the quiet melodies and mild vocals passing right by you without leaving much of an impression, but a few repeatedly listens reveal that Matt Hales has a great deal of talent, and Memory Man is definitely representative of that.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Cinderella
2. Pressure Suit
3. Something To Believe In
4. Glimmer
5. Vapour Trail
6. Rolls So Deep
7. The Lake
8. Black Hole
9. Outside
10. Garden Of Love
11. Broken Bones

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgZXW8uDiOY]
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