Although they have never officially split, 2008’s ‘Shade Side Sunny Side’ probably counts as a comeback album for For Against since founding member Harry Dingman III had rejoined for the first time since 1990. Dingman’s guitar work was one of the chief distinctions of their early albums as they forged a dreampop sound before the term was even invented. As it turned out, his return was an inspired move with the trio of Dingman, Jeffrey Runnings and Nik Buller (a more recent recruit) seemingly at the peak of their powers. Keen to repeat that form, they seem to have gone straight back into the studio to record a very quick follow up. Is it a case of too much too soon though?
The broadly pessimistic tone of ‘Shade Side Sunny Side’ seems to have been jettisoned judging from the opening to ‘Never Been’. ‘Sameness’ begins with trademark ringing guitar but Runnings – with his evergreen vocals – sounds fresh and glad to alive. Mind you, the tone of the guitars soon goes downhill and gathers intensity as the melancholy is rediscovered. Better still is ‘Different Departures’. Set to a gloriously aching melody, Runnings narrates a tale of family woes with lyrics such as “You were dealt such a difficult hand, you thought no one would understand”. Rather like ‘Game Over’ from the last album, it has a tenderness and intimacy that makes it one of the standouts of their career, let alone this album.
Even the instrumentals are beautifully delivered. ‘Black Willows’ recalls Eyeless In Gaza or Felt whilst ‘Per Se’ is a darkly subtle piano piece. The centrepiece ‘Of A Time’ represents the most significant departure for the band though. Based largely around piano, it is essentially an epic ballad but one delivered with that usual quality of controlled emotion. Finally, ‘You Fade’ is a perfect way to end the album as Runnings’ vocal disappears beneath effects-saturated layers of music.
Releasing a new album eighteen months after the last one is prolific for this band’s standards. However, ‘Never Been’ is not in the least bit rushed with each song having its own identity and poignancy. For Against are one of the minority who make a mockery of the usual rate of failed comebacks and their run of great form since the turn of the century now surpasses their early work.
The Chameleons, Kitchens Of Distinction, The Comsat Angels