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Monday, April 4, 2011

Amplifier - The Octopus: B-

For The Octopus to be truly worth your time, its length would literally need to cut in half. At about two hours, the album is Manchester’s Amplifier serving up a plate of prog rock that’s really prog rock in length only. The first musical instrument heard on the album, at the end of the positively virile introduction, “The Runner,” is a piano, which is later revealed to be manned by a singer with a strangely ordinary voice playing what would appear to be a very ordinary song. Sel Balamir, that singer, resembles The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon for sounding particularly self-referential and particularly British, qualities that do not fit with the vast scope of The Octopus. That first actual song, “Minion’s Song,” sounds like a wry send-up of Industrial Age theatrics that Hannon did very well on his 2010 effort, Bang Goes the Knighthood. The difference between Amplifier and The Divine Comedy, though, is that Hannon can get his point across in less than four minutes; “Minion’s Song” needs almost six. This is a trend that becomes quite prevalent as The Octopus continues.

To Amplifier’s credit, The Octopus is not a customary concept album that’s bloated with senseless instrumentation or an intrusive narrative. However, if you’re going to have me listen to an album whose length spans the entirety of the Ramones ‘70’s output, there needs to be something for me to latch onto. There are some cool parts to momentarily treasure (I could name them, but nitpicking with an album this large would take up far too much space), but, for those who even finish the damn thing, Amplifier will come off sounding like a wannabe Porcupine Tree that thought they could one-up the prog factor in all the wrong ways. I’ve never felt trapped listening to an album, but, when you realize somewhere between “Trading Dark On the Stock Exchange” and “The Sick Rose” (which both might as well be recordings of appliances humming they’re so unmemorable) that you’ve still got another hour to go, it’s hard not to wonder how many better things you could be doing with those sixty minutes, an option of which may very well be doing nothing.

The Octopus doesn’t receive an F, because, on a track-by-track basis, it is a lot easier to digest, and, thus, a lot easier to appreciate. However, it’s rather daunting to be placed in front of those irrevocable two hours when planning to listen to it, and I’m here to tell you that, unfortunately, it’s as tough getting through them as it appears. Amplifier have the potential to be an excellent rock band, as evidenced by The Octopus, and the album certainly sounds better when you give it the chance, but it’s an unfortunate possibility that so many will choose not to hear it, because of its rather unnecessary length.


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