I’ll be the first to admit that when approaching this second full length offering from St Albans quartet Enter Shikari I was full of cynicism. Their 2007 debut, Take To The Skies, at the time offered something new to the ever bloated UK rock scene, with the band’s mix of synths and samples contrasting well with the more conventional drums, bass, guitar and vox. However listening back, TTTS does feel a bit too adolescent and shouty. And with dance / electro / rock / indie mash-ups just about everywhere now, from the likes of Pendulum to Crystal Castles to Passion Pit, the Enter Shikari boys clearly have their work cut out.
Two years on, and whilst I know I’ve grown up a lot, it’s overwhelming clear I’m not the only one. Make no mistake, Common Dreads is still an Enter Shikari album and existing fans of the band will find plenty to agree with. There’s still ample energy and belting choruses (just don’t expect anymore well placed handclaps), but the dramatic difference is that it’s used more sparingly, and consequently to much greater effect. Instead of pounding the listener in an unforgiving fashion, the heavier parts are now managed better, with the use of more synth and electronics to counter-act the louder parts.
Lead single ‘Juggernauts’ is the perfect example. Launching straight in, before mellowing out with Rou Reynolds unintentionally delivering his best Mike Skinner impression, before heading back into a thunderous chorus. Equally impressive is the balance of social commentary. Despite Reynolds rallies of “Constantly relying on consuming to feel content” and “The idea of community will be something displayed in a museum”, as sickly as they may read, they’re used minimally and never feel too overbearing. It’s certainly up there with their best work to date.
Elsewhere, tracks such as ‘Solidarity’ and ‘Step Up’ pick up from where Take To The Skies left off, taking the band’s blend of rock up a notch or two, this time around being more confrontational and more deliberate. Later on, ‘No Sleep Tonight’ is a track bound to divide opinions; as repetitive as it may be, it will be stuck in your head for days. However weighing in at 15 tracks, towards the end you can’t help but feel Common Dreads runs out of steam, not through the fault of any one song, just as the band’s consistent shifting and mixing of styles does catch up with you. Thankfully closer ‘Fanfare For The Conscious Man’ provides the album a finish worthy of its start.
Enter Shikari may not have, and probably will never be able to fully win me over. However, Common Dreads showcases a band that are capable of more than just providing the soundtrack to another year’s share of boozy nights out. Whilst it may not be fully realised potential, there are certainly promising signs and hints of more meaningful substance for the future. Don’t write them off just yet.