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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Anathema: The Optimist


1) 32.63N 117.14W; 2) Leaving It Behind; 3) Endless Ways; 4) The Optimist; 5) San Francisco; 6) Springfield; 7) Ghosts; 8) Can't Let Go; 9) Close Your Eyes; 10) Wildfires; 11) Back To The Start.

Leave it to Anathema to be inspired by the sleeve of one of their own albums (A Fine Day To Exit), enough to base the entire concept of another album on it. Allegedly, The Optimist is a musical saga whose protagonist is the unseen car driver from A Fine Day To Exit — last seen on the Silver Strand Beach in San Diego County, whose coordinates form the title of the introduc­tory track. That record was made in a transitional era, when Anathema had already largely broken out of their metal carapace, but had not yet seen the light of Heaven, so from a purely theoretical standpoint, it sort of makes sense to revisit an old friend — whom we'd earlier left behind in deep depression and disillusionment — and introduce him to the sort of Platonic bliss in which the Cavanaghs have been dwelling since 2010.

From a practical point, though, I am keeping my promise: I gave Distant Satellites a thumbs down and swore that any future album of theirs that would sound more or less the same way would never hope for a better rating. With the melodic and atmospheric qualities of The Opti­mist, I have no choice but to deliver upon the oath. This is approximately one hour of very gene­ric late-period Anathema music; the only new thing that it offers is a series of programmed per­cussion tracks (you will hear one right from the start, on ʽLeaving It Behindʼ), an element that seems completely gratuitous in this kind of music — but I suppose that Anathema just have to show the kids that they, too, can use computers.

Other than that, this is just another day in the life of Father Vincent and Father Daniel as they make another sermon for the already converted. You know what to expect: Beautiful Romantic Piano Phrasing, multiplied by Inspired Heavenly Vocalizing, augmented with High-Pitched Angelic Guitar Wailing, aggrandized by Sky-Soaring Symphonic Strings. (This is the complete package, and it is only present on select tracks, like the title one, but everything else just reads like a partial deconstruction of the complete package). Hardcore fans will be delighted; myself, I only see total stagnation and self-repetition — at least stylistic, although I'm pretty sure there are quite a few melodic self-rip-offs as well.

I have read reviews of the album that delight in giving out detailed descriptions for all the tracks; I can honestly offer no new insights, just state that everything that you hear here has already been done before — be it the tearful Lee Douglas-delivered ballad (ʽClose Your Eyesʼ), or the moody piano-based instrumental fugue (ʽSan Franciscoʼ), or the grand pathetic finale (ʽBack To The Startʼ). I'm happy for their imaginary character whom they decided to return to the right track and set straight, but I'm also feeling a bit cheesy about this. And I am honestly tired of the preachiness: there is only so many times you get to hear "stop feeling dead inside tonight!" (ʽLeaving It Be­hindʼ) before you get the urge to punch the preacher in the throat. I am not feeling dead inside, and even if I were, it would take far more than a third-rate Anathema album to make me stop. Signed, sealed, and delivered: thumbs down.

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