Phrases like “A plastic society won’t bring us to our knees,” “They are on the outside and they are looking in,” and “A war for corporate glory retold as a fairy story” litter the booklet accompanying Starsailor’s third full-length, On the Outside (as much an album title as a blunt description of the British band’s status in America). It’s hard to shake the sense that the quartet, while not obsequiously heralding their own genius, is deeply angry as to how they’ve fared on this side of the Atlantic.
A glance at the band’s brief, but turbulent, history as an import act might shed some light on exactly why Richard Ashcroft-via-Royston Langdon vocalist James Walsh and company feel a little raw toward us Yanks: Silence Is Easy, with its two Phil Spector-produced cuts—one of which, the title track, was one of 2004’s best songs—was meant as the splashy, widescreen follow-up to their well-received 2002 debut Love Is Here, an album which drew water from the same well nourishing Travis, Coldplay, Doves, and their ilk. But, curiously, Silence, the release of which coincided with Spector’s untimely arrest for his alleged role in the death of Lana Clarkson in late 2003, was met with indifference. For all of this behind-the-scenes drama, what’s lost in the shuffle is that Starsailor, aside from producing a few stray clunkers, is a pretty solid, engaging rock band that falls into the same category as Stereophonics, Muse, and Elbow—well-intentioned, unassuming, and talented Brits who, for one reason or another, never can quite crack the American airwaves. Tracks like “Don’t Know” and “Keep Us Together” feel like half-finished sketches and none of the 12 songs here have the immediate punch of “Silence Is Easy,” but while many of the tracks melt into one another with little distinction (the inert drama of “Counterfeit Life,” the melodic self-loathing of “In The Crossfire), nothing on On the Outside is truly awful—it’s just, well, good, which these days, isn’t quite enough to get the attention of a well and truly fickle nation.