REVIEW: Fair To Midland – Arrows & Anchors

fair-to-midland-press-photo-3-2011

Artist: Fair To Midland
Album: Arrows & Anchors
Genre: Hard Rock
Label: E1

When I was about 15 years old, growing up in Maryland, one of my favorite things to do on a Friday night, was to drive out to Rockville with my friends, and go to the Guitar Center and the Tower Records out there. Maryland sure sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Now the name, Tower Records, might not sound familiar to some of the younger readers, unfortunately, but that used to be a chain of enormous CD stores, and believe it or not, people actually shopped there, myself included. I almost always bought something when I went to Tower Records, and it was usually something I hadn’t heard before, or a band that I had been meaning to check out, so spent money on this unknown band, and I bought their CD. Novel idea, I know. One Friday, my friends and I drove out to the Tower Records, and I ended up leaving with Porcupine Tree’s Deadwing. I hadn’t heard Porcupine Tree before, but a friend had told me to check them out, and I knew this album had just come out, so I picked it up on a whim. I loved that album, it was an excellent mix of heavy instrumentals, with spectacular clean vocals. And for whatever reason, after hearing this album, it even inspired me to go out and buy a used bass for $60 when I went to Guitar Center that next weekend, the album had that big of an impact on me. In my early teens, as an aspiring musician to be, I loved progressive metal like that, it was a delightful mixture of pleasant noises, and impressive technicality, two traits that rarely coincide together in the real world. And while that is really just a relic of my past, that is precisely the memory that came to mind when I heard Fair To Midland’s new album, Arrows & Anchors, it appealed to me in exactly that “Porcupine Tree” sort of way. Rather heavy, but still nice to listen to, and quite interesting and catchy.

I did, however, feel like that sort of music was merely a part of my past, I thought I was over it, no reason really, but I still felt like I had grown out of it. When I first heard Arrows & Anchors that only reaffirmed that thought, I was convinced I didn’t like it, it seemed too tech-y, and just sort of on the boring side. Unimpressed, I turned off the album, and went to go do something else, something more interesting, was the plan. But a odd thing occurred while I was off doing said more-interesting-thing, I found the chorus to “Whiskey & Ritalin” stuck in my head. Curious, I thought, I wonder why that had happened. So I decided to go back and give the rest of the album a fair listen, and I’m glad I did. The album turned out to be much more interesting than I had first thought, and while I still think my initial assumptions weren’t completely unfounded, Fair To Midland almost convinced me otherwise. As the album drones on, some of the instrumentals do become a bit monotonous, and the lyrics aren’t exactly inspirational, the vocal melodies are excellent, but there isn’t much point in paying attention to the lyrics. They almost seemed like an afterthought in the grand scheme of the album, as if they were there only to have an excuse to use the vocal melodies they came up with. I also feel like the instruments are, at times, a bit muddy, thus adding to the monotony of the album. The vocals, while they are quite good, are a bit much at times. It all just seems a bit over the top, it feels like the band was trying too hard. Songs like “Uh Oh” And “Amarillo Sleeps On My Pillow” just don’t really do it for me, they aren’t all bad, but the completely uninspired lyrics sort of ruin it for me. The album didn’t really meet my renewed expectations when I came back for a real listen, but I’m still glad I gave it a chance.

In the end, I’m sort of torn about this album. Yes, some parts are catchy, they seem to be a quality rock/progressive band, but it is just not quite the same as bands such as Porcupine Tree and the like. I am glad I came back to this album and gave it another shot though, because it certainly deserved a solid listen. But while I did enjoy parts of it, I don’t really see this album making it’s way on to my regular rotation. It did inspire me to give Deadwing another spin, though.

SCORE: 6/10
Review written by: Michael Hogan

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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  • ZOMBIE FETUS

    I feel that if you gave Fair to Midland a deeper listen you would probably find your opinions changing, especially your view on “uninspired” lyrics. It took years to make this album, the lyrics are full of connections to the band’s struggle, religion, love, and death, maybe you just weren’t listening… You specifically talked about Amarillo, which is one of the deepest songs on the album. Can’t you hear him screaming into your brain? GET GONE.

    As much as you seemed to have enjoyed it you still gave it a rather low score, comparing it to something you feel is similar, rather than focusing on Arrows and Anchors itself. I suggest you take a 3rd or 4th listen, maybe a 5th or 6th, then go listen to other Fair to Midland, or maybe check out their entire history at FTMfans.com.

  • DickTits

    That was a terrible review. The first two paragraphs are about P Tree (who is nothing like FTM) and circle-jerking with friends at a CD store. Neat!!!!

     Uninspirational lyrics? Really? Wow. Go enjoy some Linkin Park.

  • Sjones

    What a backhanded review.  Obviously you don’t get them….but come on Michael compared to bands like God Smack getting played on the radio you’re telling me you don’t think these guys kick ass????  I suggest you go check them out live.  This review really pisses me off…..finally a band comes along that is trying to do their own thing and they get shot down by you because “you think” they don’t have meaningful lyrics opposed to cliche lyrics like “your so cold” or “pushing the pain below”.   Maybe the lyrics are meaningful but they just go over your head?  I give these guys an easy 8/10….for fuck sake the last thing we need is another band writing songs about Crying like a bitch.  Granted you are entitled to your own opinion but in my opinion this review is a 2/10.

  • DickTits

    This was the opening line of another review by the same guy.

    Theory Of A Deadman single-handedly saved my belief in rock and roll

    Enough said.

  • Anonymous

    Different writers

  • Awful review. Fully agreed with other people who commented. If you got paid for this it is a great shame.

  • Mike Hogan

    I do understand what you’re saying, oftentimes an album takes many listens before lyrics really set in, and perhaps that is just the case with this band. You have to understand, that with reviews like this, we work on very tight schedules. I was assigned this review Sunday night, and I turned it in Monday night. That really doesn’t give me much time, I’m really going on initial impressions. I will definitely give this album a few more listens, maybe it will make more sense to me then. I will be honest, I’m not very well versed on this band, I did a bit of research before writing the review, but I’m far from an avid listener. I really appreciate your input on my review though, every once in awhile, some people just don’t get an album right away, and based off all the comments, I’m going to say this is one of those cases.

    -Hogan

  • Mike Hogan

    Different review. I have no problem with Theory Of A Deadman.

  • Mike Hogan

    You’re completely right. Compared to radio-friendly rock bands, Fair To Midland is leagues above them. I would never argue that fact. But truth be told, I don’t listen to music like that, so I don’t use that as my benchmark, so I’m not comparing them to bands like Godsmack, I know they’re better than that. I’m comparing them to other progressive-rock-ish bands, and in that sense, as per the score I gave them, they’re about middle of the pack. But keep in mind, this is merely my personal opinion. Everyone listens to different styles of music, and everyone has different opinions. I try to keep an open mind and listen subjectively, especially if it’s a band or genre I don’t listen to often. But I also try to hold them to other bands that play a similar style to them.

    And once again, I speak personally, the lyrics didn’t do much for me. I’m sure they are very deep to some, and they mean a lot to countless people, but I just happen to not be one of those people.

    And thanks for the feedback on my review. As a writer, I’m always trying to progress, some of my reviews are going to be better than others, and that’s just a fact of life. And more over, regardless of how good or bad my review may be, not everyone is going to agree with my opinion. I respect that you like this band, I would never fault anyone for saying they like Fair To Midland. If they said they liked Godsmack, then I may think slightly less of them. I personally just didn’t enjoy this album as much as I was expecting to.

    -Hogan

  • Mike Hogan

    I try to inject a sense of personality into my reviews, to give readers a better sense of where I’m coming from, to be able to draw their opinions based on my opinion. I’m not telling people they shouldn’t like this album, I’m giving them my opinion on the album, and nothing more. You’re entitled to like them, just as much as I’m entitled to not like them.

    And I don’t listen to Linkin Park. I know what I consider to be inspirational and interesting lyrics, your definition seems to be different, but based off my definition, this doesn’t quite cut it.

    But either way, thank you for responding, now people reading this review will get both sides of the argument. I urge listeners to give this CD a chance, and draw their own conclusions, they were just reading mine.

    -Hogan

  • Rob

    “uninspired lyrics” I had to laugh at that. Truly.

    Don’t kid yourself, you can’t even understand half of what Darroh is saying with one listen. There are threads upon threads on the internet where people try and decode the lyrics…I’m not even talking about the meaning of them, just what he’s actually saying. If you look on lyric sites, the lyrics between sites aren’t consistent. You know why? Because they’re hard to make out..not because the production value is low either, it’s because they’re genuinely difficult to listen to precisely BECAUSE they’re not “monotonous” and “uninspired.”

    You’re funny.

  • Mcrummett

    !?!?  Fair to Midland lyrics are some of the smartest and well thought out lyrics of any band i’ve heard. absolutely awesome lyrics!

  • Fabre1

    While I respect everyone’s opinion on music; knowing that everyone has their own tastes, I would implore you to look into FTM’s previous release “Fables From A Mayfly”. I would welcome a retort about lyrical content after you’ve heard that one. As a dyed in the wool fan I can understand that this album may not be the best entry point into FTM’s universe. It is, however, their logical progression from Mayfly. They’re also quite amazing live. You should see them.

  • Interesting review.  If you care to, I would highly recommend giving the
    lyrics a closer look.  They are abstract, they are hard to understand,
    but they are in no way uninspired.  They often use images and cliches to
    say something simple, which seems like beating around the bush but to
    me it’s all poetry. 
     
    From “A Loophole in Limbo”

    “The little man straddles the fence

    He never loses, never wins with confidence

    Then more power to him” – (The person who refuses to take a side, lets
    say in politics, never loses, never wins, but is confident that he’s
    seeing any issue with unbiased eyes, and more power to him in America
    where to be popular in politics you have to be hardcore to one side or
    the other)

    “He doesn’t need a telescope (But at the same time, it’s plain to see)

    To figure out he’s jumping rope, hand over fist” (that he’s going nowhere fast and hard)

    Darroh’s lyrics are like a puzzle, and that’s probably one of the
    reasons I love the band so much.  And it’s funny that you should mention
    Porcupine Tree in your review, because I thought they would be an
    amazing fit for Fair to Midland to open for.  And as much as I love Porcupine Tree, their lyrics are extremely tired.  Though I completely agree with him, I don’t know how many ways Steven Wilson can say that the world is on too many prescription drugs; he brings it up on every album.