If there’s one thing fans of Enter Shikari should expect by now, it’s that the British rock quartet refuses to repeat itself. And yet “Live Outside”, the slick first single from The Spark, soon faced accusations of mainstream pandering. Eagle-eyed followers were quick to unearth several prescient tweets from vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Rou Reynolds in response to Donald Trump’s election: “Our next album will bring our message to the masses,” Reynolds wrote. “I want to reach as many people as possible.”
The Spark may do just that. Undoubtedly the band’s most introspective statement to date, Enter Shikari’s fifth album is also its most accessible. Chugging and screaming are all but absent in favor of deliberate guitar parts and nuanced vocal melodies. Case in point: opening salvo “The Sights” is the closest thing to an out-and-out pop rock anthem I’ve ever heard from this band. For an account of Rou’s unplanned bachelorhood, it’s awfully peppy—uptempo verses give way to a gargantuan double-time chorus that will have listeners soaring out of their seats:
“I’m searching far and wide to find a planet to orbit
Far and wide, I want to scan and explore it
Far and wide, you’re my new planet to orbit
So fire up the rockets”
Reynolds’s optimism in facing “The Sights” may be tentative, but the song’s replay value is impossible to deny. Its curious blend of catchiness and vulnerability returns on “Undercover Agents”, a plea to abandon the false reality of social media for face-to-face intimacy. “I don’t want the glass, I want to see the truth,” Rou insists, “I want to see your body.” The desperation in his trembling voice is as disarming as the sincerity is endearing. Reynolds’s singing is stronger than ever; he set out to push his range to the limit, and the hard work pays off in dividends across the album.
All this talk about Rou, however, underscores a glaring flaw of The Spark: the band’s four- and six-string slingers have lost their identities. Chris Batten’s bass lines remain hard to distinguish from all the synth pads, while Rory Clewlow’s guitar playing is often limited to basic high-pitched riffing. Fortunately, not even the most drastic genre shifts can deny the frenzied drumming of Rob Rolfe; his efforts behind the skins continue to bridge the gap between metal and EDM. Look no further than the stomp of “Rabble Rouser”, wherein Rolfe utilizes every bit of percussion on his kit to build tension between the heavier bits.
There’s plenty of variety to go around but far less aggression than usual. Only “Take My Country Back” truly harkens to the Shikari of old, a blatantly political rant against nationalism that will surely ignite circle pits across the globe. There’s an all-too-brief breakdown on the otherwise serene “Shinrin-yoku.” On the other hand, the ballads “Airfield” and “An Ode to Jigsaw Pieces” both overstay their welcome just a smidge, while the cheeky humor of “The Revolt of the Atoms” stands out like a sore thumb among the more ruminative material here.
While The Spark isn’t as cohesive or essential as Enter Shikari’s past two efforts, it more than earns a place in their discography by way of pure heart. If the band’s maturation stays fueled by equal parts passion and inquiry, Enter Shikari could very well deliver on Reynolds’s promise: “We’re coming for you narcissistic pop. We will replace you.”
Rating: 7 out of 10