A little more than two years ago, I wrote in my review of Enter Shikari’s excellent The Mindsweep that the British group were always a step or two ahead of their peers. While that’s always been true of the electronicore pioneers in the past, The Spark finds Shikari shifting into an altogether different gear. The majority of the record traffics in the type of 80s-inspired post-punk/indie rock that’s been en vogue a surprisingly long time (for good reason). However, as has always been the case, when these English lads go into something, they go all in, and this makes The Spark a true triumph. By (mostly) scaling back the hyper-aggressive genre hopping sound of the past for something a little more… tender, perhaps…. the band’s pure songwriting genius has come alive. No longer do you have to dig past layers of sound to appreciate Shikari’s craft.
They’ve laid themselves bare on their fifth album, and the results are spectacular. Sure, songs like “Rabble Rouser” and “The Revolt of the Atoms” retain a good bit of that famous boisterous energy; the former is a particular highlight and carries one mammoth hook. Actually, that’s part of what makes The Spark work much better in practice than the idea of a stripped-back Shikari would be in theory. The band’s sense of adventure and swagger is still here in spades, but it manifests itself now in the form of haunting piano ballads (“Airfield”), electro-power-pop-meets-Queen anthems (“Undercover Agents”), and arguably the most cathartic song of the band’s career (“An Ode To Lost Jigsaw Pieces”). The second half of the album, starting with “Airfield”, is much stronger than the first, but that’s more because it’s much more progressive and less focused on pumping out flu-level contagiously catchy tunes. Also, “Take My Country Back” is a little too on the nose for its own good.
The star of the show here is vocalist Rou Reynolds, who really opens up about his personal life and anxiety throughout the record. Turns out his singing voice is surprisingly powerful, too. By focusing more on intimate than global issues, The Spark is a much more affecting listen than any in Enter Shikari’s past. Sure, we could have seen the transformation coming with the more streamlined The Mindsweep, but the group’s latest is a splendid sonic shift. The Spark carries on the adventurous spirit of the band’s past work, and a emphasis on songcraft over bombast results in a uniquely affecting and powerful album. Enter Shikari’s latest is fantastic.