Let’s face it: The Pineapple Thief (TPT) were in a rut. They put out wonderful, nice albums that had lately become less progressive, less distinguishable, and rather unexciting. That doesn’t mean they were bad: I actually really enjoyed “All the Wars”, for example. But there has just been something missing from the formula lately that I cannot quite put my finger on, but I’ll try; perhaps what has been missing is real passion. Well, I’m happy to report that “Your Wilderness” sees TPT arise from their rut in an album that grows on you with each listen.
Now, I don’t mean to insult the band. Believe me, I started off the review that way in order to pay them a compliment. The core band returns, being Bruce Soord on vocals and guitars, Jon Sykes on bass, and Steve Kitch on keys. This album, though, features some high profile guests. Since they’ve been having trouble keeping a drummer, Gavin Harrison has stepped in for this album. Other guests include John Helliwell (Supertramp) on clarinet, Geoffrey Richardson (Caravan) on strings, and Darran Charles (Godsticks) on guitar. Obviously, this is an amazing group of musicians, and it most certainly does affect the final product of the album.
“Your Wilderness” is apparently a concept album, though I’m not privy to that concept yet. Bruce hasn’t been talking about it, but I do have to say that the lyrics seem rather normal for a TPT album, so don’t expect anything totally “out there”. The story is obviously emotional, full of longing and regret; and the cover art really conveys the surreal, almost stark nature of the story, while also showing the brightness therein, too.
The music, however, has received an extra boost, not only from the new musicians, but also because Bruce’s writing has found that progressive edge once again. Songs are no longer straightforward as in the past few albums, and there is a sublime atmosphere that permeates all of them with harmony and contrasting textures. In other words, there is a little more Radiohead this time around, combined with the classic TPT sound, and there are many more layers that are being built one by one.
The musicians are simply wonderful here. Bruce’s vocals always sound amazing, and his acoustic guitar feels almost magical this time. Jon’s bass is also a wonderful highlight as he accents the album with deep bassy notes in all the right spots. Steve’s keys, too, provide a great atmosphere along with some surreal passages. The guest musicians really elevate this album, too. Gavin’s drums are what you would expect: Excellent off kilter beats with fantastic fills. John’s clarinet and Geoffrey’s quartet are also wonderful accents on certain tracks, especially “Fend for Yourself” for the former and “The Final Thing on My Mind” for the latter. Finally, Darran’s electric guitars add a real punch to the sound, sounding fierce and very purposeful.
All of these performances wouldn’t mean anything without excellent songs. TPT always produces excellent songs, even if sometimes they feel a bit one note from track to track. “Your Wilderness” does not suffer from this, however, as the songs, for the most part, have a very individualized sound to them. “In Exile”, for example, sounds bright and very harmonious, almost in an addictive way. “Tear You Up” features some amazing heavier guitar work that sticks in my mind, while “Fend for Yourself” contains beautiful clarinet.
My favorite song on the album, though, is “The Final Thing on My Mind”. At nearly 10 minutes in length, it is considerably longer than most TPT songs. It also features a great structure with highs and lows, not to mention a beautiful appearance of the stringed quartet from Geoffrey. It is a layered, complex song that I really have come to love.
“Your Wilderness”, then, is an album that is emotional and multilayered in all the right ways. Bruce sounds great, the musicians’ performances are all tight and fantastic, and there is simply far more going on in this album. This is my favorite TPT album since “All the Wars”, and is even rivaling “Someone Here is Missing” for my favorite TPT album overall. It’s good to see these guys back at the front of the pack.