CLEARVIEW by Poets of the Fall
Genre: Alternative Rock
Favorites: “Drama For Life,” “Center Stage,” “The Labyrinth,” “Crystalline”
Poets of the Fall have always had a fascination with carnivals and circuses. It makes sense when you consider the musical juggling act the band has played over the course of their seven albums, six of which have gone to number one in their home country of Finland. The band has taken cues from alternative metal, 80s gothic rock, acoustic folk, synth pop, and atmospheric electronica. They have a theatrical and symphonic sound that always teeters on the edge of gaudy and romantic, and “poetic” lyrics that make it clear that the band wants to be taken seriously as thought-provoking and elegant writers. To pull off such a combination requires an incredibly charismatic frontman, but fortunately, Poets of the Fall have one in classically trained vocalist Marko Saaresto. He is the glue that holds these disparate influences together, with an impressive range that can be menacing and unhinged one second, and sweet and mournful the next. Much like Amy Lee’s relationship with Evanescence, he is not simply a member of Poets of the Fall; he is Poets of the Fall.
Poets of the Fall’s last release, JEALOUS GODS, was their most electronic and poppy release yet, with a soaring sound that felt like you were swiftly riding through a futuristic city on a hoverboard. CLEARVIEW feels like you are sitting under a tree after such a ride, having a peaceful, relaxed picnic, as it shaves off most of the epicness and exhilaration from GODS. The lyrics therefore take center stage, and they are just as artistic and flowery as any of the band’s previous material, for better or for worse.
The opening track “Drama for Life” is the black sheep of this album in terms of its more straight-forward rock style, but it does give a good indication of the album’s issues. The loud, grungy guitars and drums are potent, but occasionally smother the other instrumentation, a harbinger of the sketchy production and mixing on CLEARVIEW. When the rest of the music is allowed to shine through, it’s usually beautiful, like the little blast of haunted synth that signals the chorus. The lyrics and chorus are among the best on the album, as Marko sings about how people are afraid to think for themselves because they might be labeled as radical or an outsider, so they instead engage in “aggressively primal cultural highs” and simply regurgitate what they think they should say. In particular, the spoken word passage in the bridge reads like a real piece of poetry, and the resulting silence, punctuated by the lead guitar melody that builds up to the final chorus, is one of the best musical moments on the record.
Many of the songs in the first half of CLEARVIEW have both wings that lift them up and anchors that hold them back from greatness. The wings usually come in the form of the lyrics, which tend to be embellished and obtuse in a way that would usually alienate listeners. However, Marko’s vocals give them a sincerity and passion that makes the listener think otherwise, allowing the listener to become engrossed in the seemingly disconnected imagery and metaphors the band conjures. Listeners that initially wrote the lyrics off as pretentious will be inclined to give them a second try to fully appreciate them.
The anchors tend to be in some of the odd musical styles the band tries to incorporate, in addition to puzzling production choices. “The Game” has a fluid guitar lead and a catchy chorus that effectively uses the phrase “selfie intercourse” to describe the pettiness of youth culture and how easily its manipulated and exploited, but oddly fades out before awkwardly cutting back to an outro with zero closure and background vocals so quiet they might as well not exist. The tinny harmonies and bizarre Police-esque guitar chords ruin a bouncy keyboard melody and dramatic descending drums in “Child in Me,” and these reggae chords also tarnish the following song “Once Upon a Playground Rainy.” Both songs convey the loss of innocence and jealousy over others managing to bring stability to their lives, which makes sense since the band forgot how to make their music stable as well.
The final four tracks are more theatrical and gothic, and the songs feel more well-constructed and planned out. The ascending parallel guitar and drum melodies in the chorus on “Center Stage” fit snugly with uplifting lines like “And it’s all seen through your lenses / Coloring / The images you call / To give you wings,” and it also features one of the album’s better build-ups, both in the opening and in the bridge. “The Labyrinth” has one of the most soothing and moving vocal performances on CLEARVIEW, as Marco mediates about the death of a loved one and how powerless he feels about it. At any moment it feels like the song is about to crumble from depression, thanks in part to Marko’s vocal inflections and cracks, and it puts the listener on edge for a musical and emotional explosion that somehow never happens.
The highlight of the album is the penultimate track “Crystalline,” an inspiring track with Marko at his most comforting and elevated. He is in relationship with a girl who seems to be going through a difficult time, still having doubts about their chances together. However, Marko convinces her to see the world of opportunity awaiting them together, and promises her that they can work on all of their problems. In true Poets of the Fall fashion, the song manages to pull off a juggling act of being uplifting without being corny. It acknowledges the bad, but asserts that the bad is only as bad as you make it out to be. The song benefits from being much more toned back musically, allowing the power to come from Marko and his words.
Your enjoyment of CLEARVIEW will likely rely on your previous exposure to the band. If you have never heard a Poets of the Fall songs before, Marko’s conviction and sincerity, the powerful and attention-grabbing melodies, and the band’s poetic lyrics that never feel outside of their comfort zone will likely hook you. However, veteran fans are a slippery bunch, and will likely be put off by some of the band’s sloppiness in terms of volume control and poor production, as the music never feels as polished as their previous material. The album is like a gateway drug; a good first introduction, but there is far more potent and powerful stuff in the band’s discography.