Newcastle has been the starting point of some of the most interesting guitar music to be made in the UK over the past few years. Members of Maxïmo Park, Field Music, Kubichek and Shitdisco (via Glasgow) have all either met, been born or grown up in the city, and now we have The Orange Lights. One drawback - this band are about as solid an addition to that line-up as Titus Bramble is to the Newcastle United back four.
'Life is Still Beautiful' is possibly one of the most polished debuts you’ll hear this year, given a crystalline sheen by Coldplay producer Ken Nelson and Chris Potter, who worked on Richard Ashcroft’s solo output. The former is a good point of reference of this album, especially as vocalist Jay Hart’s vocals often stretch into Martin-esque falsettos.
And so, on this collection of mid-tempo acoustic songs, The Orange Lights aim for such emotional highs as you'd expect from the Oxford world-beaters, but they only really reach the vocal ones, instead plodding along like Embrace after too many Yorkshire puddings. From the moment opener 'Let The Love Back In' strums its way politely in, we know in for a smooth, safe and inoffensive ride. The tracks pass slowly by the windows as the band cruises along, refusing to move out of first gear. By the time we arrive to closer 'Guardian Angel', we’re so drowsy it’s hard to remember where we were meant to be going in the first place.
Are there Orange highlights? Well, kind of. The title track pushes commendably for the defiance of The Killers’ “All These Things I Have Done”, while 'Click Your Heels' contains traces of the same bare magic that was heaped liberally on Engineers’ mercurial debut. In truth, none of the songs here are badly played, badly sung or even badly written – it just feels like there’s a band here capable of cycling across mountains but unwilling to take the stabilisers off.
Given the right exposure to the right audience, The Orange Lights could sell records, and with producers like Nelson and Potter on board they could generate some kind of interest. However, to the casual ear, there’s nothing to mark this band out from, say, Cord. Life might indeed be beautiful – but this record isn't.