CD Review of On the Outside by Starsailor

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On the Outside
starstarstarno starno star Label: Adrenaline Music
Released: 2006
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For a British band that doesn’t appreciate comparisons to Coldplay, Starsailor doesn’t do a lot to dissuade the resemblance. On their third studio release, On the Outside, most of the elements are consistent with a typical Coldplay release – the serious subject matter, the polished production, the big beats and the even bigger chords. However, Starsailor is fronted by James Walsh, who simply doesn’t have the universal appeal of Chris Martin – lyrically or vocally. But that doesn’t keep him from trying.

“In the Crossfire” opens the disc in a big way – it’s a rocker complete with jarring guitar riffs and loads of drum flourishes. Reading the lyrics, it appears that Walsh is contrasting his own insecurities with the United Kingdom’s role in the world. Poetically, it doesn’t really work, but the song’s grandeur could easily fill an arena (musically, at least). The prepositional titles continue with “In My Blood,” and Walsh’s use of cascading notes while singing the chorus complements the Collective Soul-ish guitar in the bridge. “I Don’t Know” is carried by its chorus in which Walsh laments, “I don’t know what love is / but I think I had it.” At first listen, this song seems to be about a love gone wrong, but Walsh abruptly segues into a murder mystery, singing, “there’s a killer on the loose / and he meets the description.”

Confused? I certainly am.

After several listens, it becomes clear that it’s best not to try to decipher Walsh’s meaning. Take “Keep Us Together,” where he calls out California, singing “They live out in the province / to find their kingdom come / the suffering of the father / the sins of the son.” These cryptic lyrics are lost in the band’s powerful arena rock and are long forgotten by the time Walsh repeatedly belts out “Oh!” with good results. Whatever point Walsh is trying to make is lost on this reviewer, but maybe it’s better that way.

~John Paulsen