Nearly two years on from their debut Breakfast, Teleman return with Brilliant Sanity. Breakfast was generally warmly received for its (very happy) marriage of pop sensibilities with an oblique emotional tone. This led the record to be intriguingly cast as a bang up-to-date reworking of late ‘70s synth pop. Start thinking Gary Numan with a few more guitars and effects pedals and you won’t be a million miles off. Alongside the immediacy of the music were the unnerving lyrics, suggesting a threatening intimacy, a sense of risk and danger offset by the jangle and shine of the music.
Is Brilliant Sanity a worthy dish to follow Breakfast? It continues with the core principles of fine pop music with hooks galore throughout the record. No other album this year will set out with a catchier trio of tunes. ‘Dusseldorf’, the latest single off Brilliant Sanity, opens wonderfully with monochrome keyboards and sparse guitars pulsing urgently under the vocals of Tommy Sanders. Sanders implores us to “Put on, put on/Your favourite song” as the “ice caps melt all around” - a sly dig at those of whose lives are too taken with music perhaps? Whatever the theme, it rushes to a finely balanced and succinct ending. This ending is a sweet set-up to ‘Fall in Time’ with it’s foreboding piano motif making Sanders’ voice sound even higher and more plaintive. Then the shift comes with Sanders imploring that “I want you/Can’t afford not to fight” over and over again as the music plays out an intense battle between light and dark. Surely the indie soundtrack for adolescent heartbreak for 2016? How many desperate lovelorn WhatsApp messages will quote ‘Fall in Time’ in a bid to regain romantic favour? Then comes ‘Glory Hallelujah’ which is almost ELO-esque (not a criticism) in it’s breadth of appeal and glinting pop magnetism. (Adopts Greg Wallace tone) choruses don’t come much bigger than this. It will surely end up the feelgood anthem of the summer; rolling through festival crowds up and down the land, remaining lodged favourably in everyone’s brains long after the sunburn and cider have receded to a distant memory.
And then things start to wane a little. Not drastically by any stretch of the imagination but the early momentum of Brilliant Sanity is noticeably slowed. ‘Brilliant Sanity’, the song, is diverting with it’s weird low bass frequencies. ‘Superglue’ is another fine pop piece not dissimilar to ‘Fall in Time’ and is equally as enjoyable without quite carrying the immediacy of the latter. Then we arrive at ‘Canvas Shoe’ which is a slushy mushy piano ballad which would not be out of place on the B side of the Electric Dreams soundtrack. This is a real low point and leaves a deeply unappealing cloying feeling. Imagine being force fed white chocolate mousse by the ladleful and you will begin to get an idea of it’s saccharine texture. Unfortunately ‘Tangerine’ is no zesty pick me up either. It seems to amuse itself more than it wishes to engage it’s listener rendering it quite forgettable. Which is the point where you begin to notice Brilliant Sanity has a significant flaw in its make-up; it sounds soft and overdone. In parts this seems to be due to the shift away from guitars to a more keyboard led sound. The icy edges of the sound have melted to a warmer, lusher noise which curiously leaves the listener cooler, less intrigued than before. It is all a bit vanilla. Songs like ‘Melrose’ for example pass by and leave no trace of their being, like some kind of antiseptic aural wash.
What might be behind this shift? Clearly the record’s producer Dan Carey has a role to play here. Carey has had his hand in more great records than most but there is something in the production that impedes Teleman. The weird angles and sharp edges have been smoothed out, filed down to make something much safer, supposedly more palatable. The penultimate track ‘Drop Out’ is a victim of this treatment. What could of been a brooding invite to consider, “strange love” and to “drop down in the dirt” becomes a track with a bouncy sheen. This doesn't dull the quality of the song, as it remains a fine tune, but it seems oddly lacking an edge or two to really define it.
In an era where Foals are selling out Wembley Arena maybe Teleman can see a similar career path beckoning. The production certainly suggests a push towards having a broader appeal with a trimmed uniformity apparent across the whole record. Discussion of the making of Brilliant Sanity mentions lots of work on whiteboards and being ‘very professional’. Such statements from the band could easily be tongue in cheek but it does raise the question as to where this record is aiming. Teleman, with Brilliant Sanity, could be heading for bigger things and good luck to them. The danger is that such a trajectory means that they dumb down on some of their unique character - sane perhaps, but not brilliant.