There’s a Journey tribute band in Austin named Odyssey. There’s also an AC/DC tribute band named Big Balls. And now we’ve got a Talk Talk tribute band named Shearwater.
Frontman Jonathan Meiburg has always glanced at a Mark Hollis impression, but now he’s staring it full in the eyes. Maybe I’m reaching too much, but that drum break on “Home Life” sure reminds me of the drum break from “New Grass.” And those clarinets sure are reminiscent of those clarinets from Mark Hollis’ solo album. And “Lost Boys” sure does sound like “Westward Bound,” though not quite as much as “I Was a Cloud” does. The line between homage and plagiarism can be thin, and it’s no coincidence that the B-side to the album’s single (“Rooks”) is one of the most straight-ahead, unimaginative covers I’ve ever heard of “The Rainbow” by Talk Talk.
The songs here tend to go nowhere for a quiet couple of minutes before bursting randomly into tightly composed melodrama, which could be mistaken for actually going somewhere. The majority of the songs feel half-finished at best and end before they really get going: “Century Eyes” gets rocking until the band cuts it off right after the two-minute mark -- there are better ways to nod to “Ascension Day.” When Shearwater tighten up, they sound less like Talk Talk and more like a faceless rock band fronted by Mark Hollis. It’s no surprise that the one song they allow to stretch out, “Home Life,” may as well be on Missing Pieces. Of its own accord, Rook could be a pleasant enough listen, but it acts more as another lesson that the only person who should be attempting to sound like late-Talk Talk is Mark Hollis. As if late-Talk Talk wasn’t lesson enough in itself.
Mark Hollis wrote two of the most adventurous, respected, and beautiful albums of their respective decades three years apart. The realization of Laughing Stock was so close to what Hollis envisioned that he couldn’t write another album for seven years. And when his solo album’s realization surpassed even that, he retired from music figuring he couldn’t do it again. Maybe the fact that I’ve had Spirit of Eden, Laughing Stock, and the Mark Hollis album in constant rotation for the past six months has clouded my vision. Or maybe the fact that Shearwater’s been doing the exact same thing has clouded theirs.